RESPECT. Recap: Soundset Festival’s 10th Anniversary

Soundset Festival / Photo courtesy of Ashton Howard

St. Paul, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota. Otherwise known as The Twin Cities. Traditionally, the cities have been more known for it’s sports teams, Mall of America — which, wow! — and Prince — R.I.P. While all of those things still remain atop the Mount Rushmore of the Twin Cities, the 4th and final piece has undoubtedly become Rhymesayers Entertainment. The historic record label is based in Minny and is one of the most storied backpack labels of all time, boasting underground legends like Atmosphere, Brother Ali and more to their roster. Being one of the only record labels to be rooted in Hip-Hop throughout the whole state, the group felt a responsibility to bring together the budding scene under one roof. The answer? Soundset Festival, an annual music festival that not only places a focus on ALL five elements of Hip-Hop, but also attempts to blur the lines between “traditional Hip-Hop” and the new age crowd. This year’s 10th Anniversary was a special one, bringing out artists like Travis Scott, Talib Kweli, Gucci Mane, Lauryn Hill and more under one roof. Although there were some bumps, bruises and no-shows, the show still went on…. & excelled. For more on the history of how the legendary festival got its’ legs, check out our interview with co-founder, J-bird, here. Check out our recap of Hip-Hop’s premier festival below.

12:00 P.M.: Arriving to the festival was a bit overwhelming, to the say the least. I’ve covered many shows over the past year with some of the biggest artists, but they were nothing like this. The massive St. Paul fairgrounds was getting ready to house more than 75 thousand people and it sure did look like it. With road blocks surrounding the area, music heads of all ages — ranging on average from around 12-30 — donned in their favorite band shirts, crop tops and Timberwolves’ jerseys were free to walk among the streets as they pleased; with the line to get in wrapped around the block. It was nuts. I’m not too sure what Woodstock looked like back in the ’70s, but it couldn’t have been too far from this, but more on that later.

Oswin Benjamin / Photo courtesy of Maddie Uglum

1:00: Entering the festival was way easier than I thought. Granted, I did come in through V.I.P., but so did many festival goers, and despite the massive lines and crowds of people trying to bow their way in; we made in it fairly quickly.

Soundset: 1, anxiety: 0.

Upon entry, the setup was beautiful. Rhymesayers and crew managed to turn the massive fairgrounds into a music fan’s paradise. There were vendors selling merch, EVERYWHERE, & not just any merch. Do you guys remember when J. Cole showed up to one of his shows wearing a Viking, Purple Rain-themed football jersey after his death? Yeah, they had THAT for sale. Insta-cop — okay, it was $200, so I didn’t buy it, but don’t tell anybody else. At 1, there were already performers up and getting the party started. On one of the main stages, I immediately noticed Kool Keith RIPPING down the already packed out crowd. Performing as the alias, Dr. Octagon, the rhyme-veteran got things started and then some.

Mod Sun / Photo courtesy of Maddie Uglum

1:15: This is the time I was slated to interview Minnesota native Mod Sun. Now, before the festival, I was unfamiliar with the mid-west emcee. A quick google search though, showed me that I may have been among the few to have NOT heard of him. I won’t say too much about our interview as it’ll be publishing live this week. Just know this: you’ve never met, or conversed with anybody like Mod Sun. Yes, even your hippy grandpa who attended Woodstock — second Woodstock mention!! — is nothing like this man. I’ve never had a more open and honest conversation with an artist in my life. Also, he was high as hell, and he just seemed on cloud 9, literally and figuratively.

With this being his first performance at the historic festival coupled with him being a native, Mod gave the show of his life. Originally scheduled to perform on the Rhymesayers’ stage, which housed most of the middle-tier acts like Dave East, 070 Shake and Amine; Mod benefited from a sudden dropout from Lil’ Uzi Vert — sidenote, this is the only time I’m mentioning his absence in this whole article. We’re mad at you, Vert. — and was given the opportunity to perform on the big boy stage. & disappoint, he did not! The native showed out for his hometown fans, slashing through song after song with an incredible energy that the fans themselves attempted to replicate. To put it plain and simple, Mod might’ve been the second biggest winner of the day.

3:00 – 6:00: Throughout these two hours, many many things happened. With this being my first festival, the one thing I wanted to make sure to do was keep a tight schedule and see all of the artists that I wanted to see.

Yeah, what a noob mentality for me to have, because none of that happened.

Partly to blame on the sheer distance between the Rhymesayers’ stage and the two main stages — which is honestly my ONLY complaint of how the festival was organized — as well as artists showing up late; many set times were changed. This caused me to miss T.I. — who I was told brought out Tee Grizzly — Atmosphere, Ty Dolla $ign and D.R.A.M.’s sets completely, while missing most of Pusha T‘s, but still getting to experience the 4-headed-monster that was, “So Appalled“, “Runaway“, “New God Flow” and “Grindin’.”

Pusha T / Photo courtesy of Maddie Uglum

The reason for missing these sets?? I was with the kids, bro. *Kanye voice*. During this time, the Rhymesayers’ stage as well as the Essential Elements stage — dedicated to the other 4 elements of Hip-Hop besides rap — were POPPING. The Rhymesayers stage flexed their chops for a killer back-to-back-to-back-to-back line up that included; Talib Kweli, — shame on you Soundset, he should’ve been on the main stage over Brother Ali — Dave East, Amine and the resident Teen King, Playboi Carti — fight me, Yachty. While Kweli showcased why he was a legend, highlighted by his incredible breathing pattern that allowed him to give probably the best pure vocal performance I’ve seen from a rapper; the new kids on the block showed out. Dave East took the predominantly white crowd on a brief trip to Harlem, Amine let everybody know he was more than a one-hit-wonder, but it was Carti who was the man of the hour.

Playboi Carti / Photo courtesy of Ashton Howard

Thrown in as a late addition due to Mac Miller pulling out, Carti came out and went through a medley of hits that the crowd knew every single word to. In all honesty, the ATL native could’ve put the mic down and let his fans sing the whole set and I’m not sure they would’ve missed a beat — which is something he’s done before. But instead, Carti decided to show-off his vocal chops and rap without any help from the background track, which was highly impressive. Mod Sun may have the second biggest win of the day, but nobody impressed me more than Carti did. Give credit where it’s due, the boy can rap.

While the newbies were burning it down for the crowd at the other stage, the Essential Elements stage was getting loose. DJ, Astronautica got things started with an ultra-wavy mix of songs that left me constantly grabbing for my phone to ask Siri, “Who tf is this?” The last DJ to grasp my attention with such force, using mostly Electronic music was Kaytranada; and I’d like to go out on a limb and be the first person to label her as such. She was amazing.

After Astronautica, the attentions turned to Stretch & Bobbito, two of the more legendary attendees of the event that day. If you’re unfamiliar with the iconic radio-duo, stop reading this article now and do your homework. Anyways, streetball legend, Bobbito got it started–unleashing an arsenal of Afro-Cuban records that got the B-Boys/Girls going craaaaaaaaaaazy. Disclaimer: I’m from California, and I was born in 1995. I’ve never seen B-Boys get off authentically, and this was amazing. Their moves were so fluid and complimented each-other very well. The group played like puppets, while Stretch & Bob shared duties as Gepetto. If you’ve never seen B-Boys/Girls dance, or Stretch & Bob DJ a set, add both to your bucket list immediately.

Gucci Mane / Photo courtesy of Maddie Uglum

6:00-8:00: This is when things started to get interesting. With all due respect to hometown heros thestand4rd, who were without a doubt doing their thing closing out the Rhymesayers stage; it was Gucci time. As everybody made their way back to the main stage to see the first of three headliners, the anticipation was starting to build. The weather was also starting to change. What was once a beautiful sunny day, one that required me to take off my hoodie early into the event; had now turned into a potential dust storm. All of a sudden, the wind starting blowing more trees down than Redman, and the gloomy clouds began to overtake the once enticing sky.

Nevertheless, Gucci murked it. The rap veteran went through all of the classics highlighted by, “Lemonade“, “Wasted“, “Freaky Gurl“, and “Both.” Honestly, I was shocked at how many Gucci songs I knew word for word; and at this point I had started using my drink tickets. That’s just a more responsible way of saying I was on one. Laflare then closed his set out by bringing Travis, who had recently gotten to the festival, out to do their song, “Last Time.” To this point in the festival, this was the craziest track not named, “Magnoila.” The fans went bananas–singing every lyric bar for bar, and hymning every single Travvy melody like an auto-tuned blanket had just came over the entire audience.

*Sidenote, have you ever listened to the chorus of that song? Buck up, Scott. Gucci gets a pass since he’s been locked up, and yaknow… probation and all. But you, you should be able to handle your sh*t better.*

After Gucci burned it down, the stage was set for Miss Lauryn Hill to do her thing. Backed with a live band and no recorded music playing, Miss Lauryn displayed exactly why she’s been mentioned amongst not only the greatest female rappers of all-time, but emcees period. While Lauryn never missed a beat, I did feel like her band was lacking just a bit. There were certain points in the set where I had no idea what song was playing until the chorus came on, and I’ve bought Miseducation physically, three times. Despite that, I and everybody else in the crowd collectively sang our hearts out to classics like, “Lost Ones“, “Ready or Not“, and “Doo Wop (That Thing).” It was really a sight to see 75 — nah, it looked like easily over 100 — thousand people all belch out, “THAT THING, THAT THIIIIIIIIIIIING” all in unison. You won’t know what I mean ’till you see it for yourself.

Travis Scott / Photo courtesy of Maddie Uglum

8:00-9:30: It was time. This was what everybody in the humongous St. Paul fairground had come to see, Travis Scott. As great as the festival had been up to now, the whole thing felt like a warm up for The Rodeo. Other than you-know-who being a no-show, Travis was the most talked about person of the day, and he hadn’t even been visible.

I heard Kylie was here, doesn’t he live with her now?”

Is he gonna go for the record again? Man, I hope he does.”

Dude, I saw the Bird!!!! I think he’s bringing out Brian McKnight or some shit.”

These were things that I heard in passing all day. Seriously, somebody thought he was bringing out McKnight. The crazy part? Nobody thought it was crazy.

While I was aware of certain things — the Bird was indeed in attendance, McKnight was not — there was still a mystique in the air; and now the gloomy sky had turned into a full blown rainstorm. It was incredible, man. It was almost as if Travis and his team had paid for the rain. The stage was set. Travis jumped on the mic:

Are you motherfuckers ready?!?!?!?!?!!?!

The 100+ — fuck it, I’m saying it — thousand people in the place all chanted out back at him, ready to rage. Then he let loose. I’ve personally never seen that many people in my life and they all knew his tracks word for word. Black people, white people, Hispanics, and Asians. Old-Heads, kids, hypebeasts and everybody else, it did not matter. I found myself at no less than 12 — I started counting at three — times saying quietly to myself, “This is the craziest shit that I’ve ever seen.

Not like it mattered as I was in complete turn-up mode; but at this point, my phone was completely useless which meant any ability to take notes was gone with it. So I’m going off the top here, but I’m going to name off a list of bonafide BANGERS that Travis let off: “3500”, “Pick up The Phone“, “Biebs in The Trap“, “Antidote“, “Through The Late Night“, “Mamacita” (!!!!!!!!!!), “Quintana Pt. 2“, “Don’t Play” — which was a fun, but telling social experiment with the racially diverse crowd — “Way Back” and of course, “Goosebumps.”

Travis: This is my last song. This is my favorite song on the album. (He said this four times.) I need for you motherfuckers to turn-up for this one. Are you ready????!!!!!”

The Crowd: Oh my gosh, he’s gonna do it.” 

Me: Holy shit, he’s gonna do it!”

Kylie Jenner: Fuck, man. Not again.

In total, Travis ended up playing the song six times. I won’t lie, before the festival I had told my friends that if Travis tried to break the record that I would run on stage and snuff him. After the third time running it back, that all went out the window. We all wanted him to go for the record. The Houston native had just given the performance of his life at Hip-Hop’s Coachella and personally, the best set I had ever seen live. *Kanye at the Yeezus Tour was the previous choice.* But nobody was mad at him for not doing it. The six times felt proper and he did what he had come to do. Which was tear the stage apart. May 29th, 2017 will forever go down as Memorial Day Eve, aka “The Night Travis Scott Lit Up Soundset.”

Check out our photos from the event, all of which are courtesy of Maddie Uglum unless otherwise noted.