Soundset turned 6 yesterday. This year’s party had all the essential elements with familiar friends including P.O.S., Brother Ali and Atmosphere, as well as festival newcomers, The Reminders, Juicy J and Snoop Dogg. As a fellow writer gawked last year, the side-by-side stage set up was amazingly convenient. However, I’m a little concerned with how it might effect the smaller acts on the side stage. So many attendees likely set up camp in front of the two main stages and did not leave their spots until Snoop dropped it like it was hot.
For my cohort, Sam Koltes (Joey Kingston), and I, the day started with The Reminders. The Colorado-based couple-duo came out spitting over a Childish Gambino sample and followed with a medley of mostly familiar instrumentals. I wasn’t blown away by any means, but for an opening act it was a strong start. They’ve guaranteed gained a few fans.
As for R.A. the Rugged Man, I’d say he lost some fans. His attempts to engage the audience were feeble, complicated and poorly-explained/enunciated. Even despite his Boss Nass rapping style, his quick tongue and his son/hypeman, the audience seemed unenthusiastic. The lowest point of his set came when he called someone a f*ggot. I’m proud to say the crowd’s response had The Rugged Man quickly stumbling through an apology.
A few acts later, Aesop Rock stepped on stage and started to rile the crowd up. With the stages side by side, there wasn’t one energy for each individual act, there was an energy for the entire festival – a rolling momentum. It was with Aesop Rock’s set that I felt the crowd’s energy really begin to pick up. Unfortunately, near the end of his set, there were some audio issues and the energy staggered. The most devastating thing about Aesop Rock’s set was the lack of sound for the final song, for which Kimya Dawson came out to perform a track by the recently formed Uncluded. Again, the only pitfall here was the sound issue. Otherwise, Aesop Rock put on a great set.
For the first half of P.O.S.’s set the audience could only hear the backing instruments, tracks and his back-up ‘vocalist’, which was a little less disheartening than the end of the Aesop Rock set where we couldn’t hear anything. Of course, once Stef’s mic began to work properly, which was right around the time of “Get Down,” the crowd’s stifled energy quickly began to build again.
A couple things to note about P.O.S.’s set: Mike Mictlan’s Justin Bieber shirt, Stef’s return to the stage after his kidney transplant and the staple crowd “Ta-Dah!” at the end of his set (Yes, I know it is already a part of “Purexed”.)
One of my favorite moments of the festival was when Schoolboy Q came on stage, and a man, at least in his mid-40’s, got super excited. It made me realize how truly diverse the audience is at Soundset. When a new up-and-coming act can capture the attention of everyone from high school to ten years from retirement, that’s awesome. That’s when you know there is something unique about the hip-hop culture in Minnesota.
Juicy J’s set was one of the best of the day. He popped two Xanax, grabbed a bottle of liquor and came on stage, fully aware of his role. Spitting mostly familiar Three 6 Mafia songs, Juicy J had the crowd in the palm of his hand. This was especially apparent when he convinced many female members of the audience to disrobe and shake what the good lord gave them.
Brother Ali followed up with his usual preach-to-the-crowd ritual with fan favorites from throughout his entire catalogue. Songs like “Self Taught” and “Blah Blah Blah” (which Slug did not make it to the stage for), up to newer material from Us and Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color were scattered throughout the set. He finished with the crowd holding on to his every word and closing out with “Forest Whitiker” and “Uncle Sam Goddamn” and showing everyone why he deserves a spot on this lineup year in and year out. The man knows how to bring it.
Prof was the story of the afternoon, and he wasn’t even supposed to be here. Due to some mechanical issues with his plane in Las Vegas, Busta Rhymes who was originally scheduled, could not make the trip to Canterbury Park on Sunday. The Rhymesayers crew found Prof wandering around the festival and essentially asked him “Hey man, you wanna rap?” about fifteen minutes before the scheduled time slot he would eventually fill. To a mostly confused crowd he stepped on stage with DJ Fundo and went to work, bringing out every banger track in his arsenal (well almost, he did only have 45 minutes after all) and he even broke up a fight in the middle of his set!
While mostly known around the Twin Cities area, I can bet he made a few thousand new fans after his performance which seemed to completely revive the crowd who looked dead at times, probably due in large part to the cold, windy weather they dealt with throughout the day. Anyway you look at it, Prof saved the day and thanked Rhymesayers for “calling him off the bench in the 4th quarter” – I think its Rhymesayers that have him to thank for the amazing clutch performance.
With the crowd still riding high, Tech N9ne jumped in and fed from the energy. With painted faces, karate gis, and some smooth choreographed dance moves, the duo had Soundset going crazy.
Mac Miller was next and to be honest his set was pretty disappointing. He appeared to be really high and/or drunk and while a lot of artists tend to do the same to maybe ease the nerves before a big performance, he was just sloppy. He stumbled over his words in between songs, bearing resemblance to Lil Kev of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and had a tough time keeping the crowd going. While the sets were running a few minutes behind already, he managed to exceed his time still and “counted his songs wrong,” forgetting to play a couple of sure crowd pleasers before he closed out. This definitely cost him and the crowd lost some momentum going into the day’s final two performances.
Lucky for us, Atmosphere would be next to grace the stage and would be running into open arms per usual. Slug and Ant opened the set with a brand new song which will presumably be on their upcoming album due out in the next year (announced via twitter at the end of the set). They ran through everything from Lucy Ford all the way up to their most recent The Family Sign and mixed in staples like “God’s Bathroom Floor,” “Sunshine,” and “Trying To Find A Balance.” Even a rare performance of “Say Shh…” came late in the set to a very happy audience.
I think the real surprise here was that for the first time in Soundset’s six-year existence, Atmosphere would not be closing out the evening. It might have been just as a precaution to make sure they would get their show in after last year when a tornado threat ended Lupe Fiasco’s set early and completely cut Atmosphere out of the day’s agenda. It also might have been that Atmosphere finally had someone they deemed worthy of passing the torch to in the legendary Snoop Dogg (or Lion, whichever you prefer).
Snoop then came out to a raucous crowd and was preceded by “California Love” over the speakers as well as some scantily dressed dancers who were all over him during his set. He started very strong performing a medley of his most popular tracks and feature-ettes from a number of others. His most fitting moment was captured in the picture at the very top of this post while sitting in a chair surrounded by his dancers and holding a blunt in the hand you can’t see very well. It captured exactly what everyone had expected and wanted to see. Later in his set he brought out a couple of guests that no one really cared for which took away some energy and had literally hundreds of fans heading for the exits early which was unfortunate to see for such a big closing act. He finished off the set with “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and sent fans (the ones who stayed at least) home happy.
The day brought us a roller coaster of excitement with plenty of ups and downs regarding the sound during certain performances and the somewhat gloomy weather, however, it was still another successful year for Soundset and it’s fans. I think what we learned is that the Twin Cities is great for having random, “heroic,” nonscheduled performers wandering around and that Atmosphere needs to close this festival regardless of who the other artists are. I have never seen so many people leave Soundset halfway through the final act. While Snoop is a legend, this festival, as far as many fans were concerned, was over once Atmosphere left the stage.