There’s no way I’d miss Soundset Festival. I dare you to find a Hip Hop festival with a line-up that has as much diversity and balance. Let’s make it clear that it’s a true Hip Hop festival through and through; 9 straight hours of beats, rhymes and life. Hip Hop is the bread basket on your table, your appetizer, your main course and your dessert.
The lineup is thoughtfully curated. You have new school headliners such as A$AP Rocky, Future and Machine Gun Kelly, living legends that appeal to the sensible old school set; The Roots and Common, up-and-comer of the moment Post Malone, the next up-and-comer in line Anderson .Paak, fierce lady femcees Lizzo, Reverie and Lexii Alijai, grizzled NYC vet Pharaohe Monch, the lovable and goofy Danny Brown, underground favorites Atmosphere, Aesop Rock and Murs and 9th Wonder… and a slew of other talented artists that if listed would definitely make this the longest run-on sentence in Soundset review history. The beat junkie in me has just reminded myself that I missed out on legendary DJ’s Marley Marl and Jazzy Joyce. Sadness.
This ninth edition of Soundset was held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. A very fitting venue. Soundset has outgrown last year’s venue Canterbury Park. Last year there were 30,000 attendees. This year I wouldn’t be surprised if they had well over 50,0000. The ferris wheel proved to be a convenient landmark to help coordinate with fellow festival-goers. The site’s layout allowed for a couple aspects of the festival to be showcased much better: the abundant amount of graffiti art and the car show. Food trucks dotted one area across the water refill station. There were many more food choices this year. The fried cheese curds are my favorite deep-fried guilty pleasure. I may have had a corndog and may have had a cheeseburger too. Gluttony. My beverages of choice were the Hard Cherry Cola and Root Beer. Thirst-quenching.
After settling in, we caught the tail-end of singer-rapper Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals at the Main Stage – South. He’s been on a good run lately, working with the likes of T.I. and Kaytranada, appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and releasing his critically acclaimed album Malibu earlier this year. Anderson’s a solid performer with great musicianship to boot. Definitely a favorite new artist of mine.
Transplanted Minnesotan rapper-singer Lizzo was a force on the stage. She exhibited such an undeniable stage presence that it forced me to part the tall trees in the crowd. Lizzo and The Big Grrrls(her dancers and dj) had the Main Stage – North crowd jumpin’ with their high-energy choreography and their contagious charisma. Lizzo’s vocal chops were on display as well, effortlessly soaring over bass-heavy beats. Time to give Big Grrrl Small World another listen!
The heavy beats continued with rapper Danny Brown. The Detroit native took us on a literal trip. The psychedelic video backdrop accompanied crowd favorites Smokin’ & Drinkin’, Blueberry(Pills & Cocaine) and Rustie perfectly. Before he finished his set we had to head off to the Fifth Element Stage to catch NYC emcee Pharaohe Monch. His set was just as good as his beard. Meaning pretty damn good! He hasn’t lost a step after nearly 30 years in the game. Head-nodding quickly turned into neck-snapping as his set progressed from infectious Oh No, to the hardcore anthem Simon Says. To cap it off he paid a nod to his rap roots by performing Organized Konfusion‘s Bring It On.
We trekked back towards the main stages and decided to take in Common from the VIP bleachers; an excellent vantage point that allows one to appreciate the vast sea of humanity assembled before the main stages. Common knows how to work the crowd. Although you’d think that his “Good vibe shit”(as he personally referred to his style of music) would mellow out the crowd, it didn’t. His man of the people persona was on display as he jumped off stage and performed within the crowd for a few minutes. Soon afterwards he took a lucky lady onstage and performed one of the dopest festival freestyles I’ve ever heard. Cleverly referencing all things Minnesotan and all things Soundset: The Twins, Prince, blessing your girl in the Lake Minnetonka, A$AP Rocky, The Roots, Future. Favorite Common tracks performed were: Go, The Corner and The Light. DJ Dummy‘s DMC-worthy exhibition was highly entertaining as well.
Catching a glimpse of Post Malone was impossible as the Fifth Element Tent was rammed to capacity spilling out well into the surrounding field. It was a sight to see fans running towards the tent once they heard the last track of his set White Iverson.
The Roots supreme musicianship was on full display throughout their entire set. Emcee Black Thought could have arguably been the hardest working performer at the show. Or perhaps he may have been better off wearing a darker colored shirt. No matter. His rapid-fire delivery and stamina were admirable. Jeremy Ellis maniacally yet skillfully finger-drumming on his Maschine drum machine was a highlight of The Roots set for me. It may have lasted a minute too long but the remixed Prince songs were a treat.
Soon afterwards host Sway introduced Future as “One of the most flattered artists of our time.” I did have some doubt with that statement but it was clear after his set that along with his tireless work ethic and enormous catalog, his influence on the current crop of rappers is undeniable. Back to his catalog; he has so many hot tracks that a fair amount were performed in 30 second to 1 minute snippets. It was pretty obvious to me that the majority of the younger demographic was here to see him specifically. Chants of Future! Future! Future! Could be heard the second The Roots finished their set. When Future stepped on the stage the amount of ganja-smoke increased ten-fold. Second-hand high here we come. The crowd was amped. I had survived his set after 2 elbows to the head, 1 elbow to the shoulder and 3 bras thrown onto the stage later.
Due to Future’s lengthy set A$AP Rocky came on slightly later than scheduled. No worries. I’ve grown to appreciate his music more lately and I haven’t seen him perform live so 10 more minutes of Future wasn’t going to kill me. Speaking of killing it, that’s precisely what A$AP did. He used the whole stage to interact with the crowd and performed with more energy than I had expected. He told security to keep the mosh pits going. The dj played House of Pain’s Jump Around much to the delight of the moshing masses. Stand out tracks such as Multiply, Hella Hoes, Goldie, L$D and Yamborghini High kept us elevated.
Next year is Soundset Festival’s tenth anniversary. We’re excited to get even Hip Hop higher in 2017. It’s gonna be real Minnesota nice!
Photography by Khammy Phanthavong
Words by Ryan Reyes
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