The inner workings of the Hip Hop fan base are complex to put it lightly.
Underground heads resisting the wave of Auto-Tuned, R&B-driven rappers, and a younger demographic that shuns the deification of the elder statesmen (remember when three different rappers whose names you’ve already forgotten dissed 2Pac within this last year)? Over the weekend, the Soundest festival provided a strategically manicured blend of both worlds.
In short, it was everybody’s chance to show and prove.
Soundset was started by Minnesota’s flagship Hip Hop label Rhymesayers in 2008. Now in its 12th year, the festival filled the Minnesota State Fairgrounds with five stages, 40-plus artists, a car show and nearly 40,000 fans from all over the country. HipHopDX made the trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to experience the madness firsthand and it did not disappoint.
On the eve of the show, DJ Spinderella headlined the pre-party at one of the country’s most famous venues, First Avenue. If that doesn’t mean anything to you then you probably haven’t seen Purple Rain and shame on you. We were in Minnesota but it definitely felt more like Atlanta with an astounding array of black belt level twerkers dominating the dance floor.
The day started with two big wins for the festival: One was the weather, which was crystal clear and 70-degree weather all day. The second one came after Lil Uzi Vert canceled less than 24 hours before he was supposed to perform. On nearly no notice promoters were able to get Lil Nas X and Da Baby to share fill-in duties and the crowd did not appear to be disappointed.
After investigating the setup it was time to plan out all necessary maneuvers between the two adjoined main stages and the “Atmosphere & Friends” stage.
I started the day by checking out Taylor J’s first-ever Soundset performance in front of an already full crowd on the “Atmosphere & Friends” stage. The rising star MC got the crowd warmed up as he played hits like “Jumanji” and “Blessed” and gave them a taste of his new album Roses, which dropped on May 31.
Next it was back over to the main stage area to check out Doja Cat, the internet sensation that blew up thanks to her viral video and song “Mooo!” (47 million views on YouTube). She came out in a highlighter pink and orange bikini and was not shy with her moves. There were probably a lot of men that got in trouble with their girls for enjoying the performance a little too much. It was quite a surprise to see how many fans knew the words to her songs.
As I headed back to the artists’ area to try and snag her for an interview I saw Taylor Bennett doing interviews so I finessed my way into the queue and spoke with him about the response he’s gotten from fans and other artists after revealing via social media that he is bisexual.
“I haven’t really seen any resistance from other artists or fans and the thing I wanna break is this systematic idea that certain things are unacceptable,” Taylor replied. “My thing is that I’m here to spread love. I’m here to show people what things can be like. Not what they are or what they were,” he added.
As I left the press tent, I saw that Doja Cat was still in the artists’ area and she was glowing, not just because the sun was shining directly on her during her set, but because this was the best she has ever felt about a festival performance.
“That was the first festival where I felt 100 percent solid. That was so much fun. With festivals, it’s usually very hot. If you’ve only done it like three times you may not know to expect that,” Doja Cat noted. “This is my fourth time, I think. It’s all about knowing what to wear and shit, and also knowing your set. I’ve practiced a lot so I know my set and it all just felt really smooth.”
The day was a non-stop highlight reel from that point on but the following were my personal favorite moments from the stages and behind the scenes.
Prof. Turns The Crowd Into His Own Personal Prop
Nobody could performance coming from Rhymesayers’ own Pookie Baby a.k.a. Prof. who literally rolled a red carpet out over the crowd and rapped on top of them. The “Andre The Giant” then brought out inflatable speed boats, put on his life jacket and turned the sea of fans into a literal sea of fans.
Queens Reigned Supreme
The female presence was definitely felt this year. In addition to Doja Cat, SZA who provided the more mellow sets for the night, rookie sensation Tierra Whack (I missed her set to see DMX) packed the stage, the genre-fluid MC/singer Dessa and Dounia both left me wanting more and the biggest surprise was B.A.G. (Blimes and Gifted Gab) had one of the standout sets of the festival (check out their “Nasty” video for a taste of their sound). Overall it was a very good sign of where hip-hop is headed especially as it pertains to females.
And Then There Was X…
A personal favorite set of the day. Not only did DMX look healthier than he has in years, but his massive catalog of hits turned the fairgrounds upside down. We were watching the Hip Hop version of Metallica with the crowd rapping his every word. It was truly a refreshing reminder of just how vital this man is to Hip Hop.
Slug Fanned Out With The Photogs
When I arrived at the photo pit to check out Lil Nas X, Slug was already there filming and greeting fans in the front row. The MC/festival host filmed Sway Calloway as he brought out four members of the Minnesota Vikings, and even got running back, Ameer Abdullah to drop a mini “Five Fingers Of Death” freestyle. Then Lil Nas X came out and did a short set, of course, capped off by “Old Town Road.” Da Baby’s set was also brief but enough to indicate that, so far he lives up to the hype.
Yasiin Bey Channeled 1999 Mos Def With Black Star
When Black Star dropped their eponymous debut album, Mos Def and Talib Kweli were just two dangerous MCs that had Hip Hop buzzing. Then Mos’ career as an actor took off. He later changed his name to Yasiin Bey and his music became much more, I guess experimental would be the nicest way to put it. But as he and Talib take the stage, it was like going back to 1999. Bey came out in black jeans and a cut off shirt, devoid of any Hollywood theatrics, and he and Kweli picked up right where they left off. I can only hope this means some new music might be on the horizon from the dynamic duo.
Tech N9ne Is Still Your Favorite Artist’s Favorite Artist
It only makes sense at a festival put on by an independent juggernaut to have the ultimate independent juggernaut grace the stage. Tech and his partner in crime Krizz Kaliko showed the Minnesota crowd why their live shows are not to be missed. But the best part was after the set watching other MCs in the artists’ area embrace the Strange Music co-CEO. G-Eazy, Killer Mike and DMX all made sure to catch up with Tech, share stories and admiration. Later in the night, Lil Wayne shouted out Tech during his headlining set. You may remember that Tech visited Wayne while Weezy was incarcerated and the favor was returned when Tech dropped a verse on Tha Carter IV alongside Andre 3000 on “The Interlude.” The verse gave Tech’s fan base a nice bump.
Atmosphere & Lil Wayne’s Grand Finale
The experience of seeing Atmosphere in Minnesota is truly something I recommend for everyone, even non-Hip Hop fans. The way the crowd raps along with every verse serves as a reminder of just how much love they get in the market that built them. The timing worked out so that you could watch Slug and Ant rock the “Atmosphere & Friends” stage and still make it back over to the “Minneapolis” stage to catch Tunechi, blunt in hand, perform his vast discog of hits. It was the perfect way to cap off the day.
Dam Funk & The Afterparty
Like the pre-party, the afterparty was held at First Avenue. Dâm-Funk headlined and as he always does, transported the club into a 70’s era funk extravaganza. First behind the tables blending, and then on the vocals in the crowd. The place was funkin’ ’til 2:00 am and the crowd probably would have stayed until humanly possible.
The day was a huge win for the culture and especially for the Twin Cities. Check out more photos down below.