Nicola: I’ve been hearing about Soundset from Matt O for a full year. Ever since he had his first experience with a press pass, he’s been counting down the days until he could return for the tenth Soundset, and his seventh. Although it is the biggest one-day hip hop festival in the world, I hadn’t heard of it before last year. Maybe that’s because I only moved to the US a year ago, but I mention it to many people and usually get the same blank face. However, once you start reeling off the lineup, the blank face changes to one of surprise, usually followed with, “how have I not heard of it before?” With all this build-up, and a line-up worthy of global recognition, I was incredibly excited to see Soundset for myself.
Matt: I look forward to Soundset every year but don't get really excited until I pull into the parking lot and hear the bass banging from the mainstage. Over the years, I have seen most of my favorite artists perform and have been introduced to so many more. There are a lot of things that I love about Soundset but the two that stick out the most is their diverse lineup of old and new artists. The other thing that I love about Soundset is that they showcase all aspects of the hip hop culuture in a positive environment. I can't wait to go back next year but until then take a look at this years recap below.
Amped from the pre-party the night before at the legendary First Ave venue, I was ready for a fully immersive day of all things hip hop. Walking into Minnesota State Fairgrounds on a beautifully sunny day, you could feel the good vibes permeating throughout the site. Making my way through the merch concessions and food vendors to reach the VIP / press area, all I saw were groups of people out to have a good time. After getting my bearings, I made my way over to the Fifth Element Stage to see Oswin Benjamin. However, the route took me past the skateboarders and through the car show, which are a few of the non-musical elements of Soundset that make it truly a hip hop festival. It believes in supporting the culture as a whole, which means the festival isn’t just artists and food trucks. Rhymesayers might be a label, but they fully understand all the reasons people love hip hop, and that it’s not just about the music.
Oswin Benjamin really held it down. With Sway watching in the wings, he was interacting confidently with the crowd, even though not everyone knew the tracks. At a few points, he sat on the front speakers for a more intimate setting, which was appreciated by the crowd, including me. I thought that was my Oswin dose for the day, but as we were waiting for Pusha T to perform on the Main Stage, Sway brought Oswin out for an acapella freestyle. For a relatively new artist, this was the largest audience he had ever performed in front of. But he completely killed it, and I’m sure picked up a few new fans on the way. Shout out to Sway for continually repping upcoming artists in all ways he can.
Matt: I first heard about J. Plaza at the end of last year when I started to see his videos all over my Facebook feed. I was immediately impressed by his flows and high energy so I hoped his performance would match that. I was thoroughly surprised that it did. From the second he stepped on stage to the second he jumped into the crowd, J. Plaza's performance solidified him as an artist to watch in 2017 and beyond. A big congratulations to him and his new group FREEWIFI for their newly penned deal with Rostrum Records.
Matt: As I rushed across the Minnesota State Fair Grounds to get to Brother Ali's set, I couldn't help but stop and take it all in. In front of me was roughly 15,000 people patiently awaiting the artist they were there to see, to my left was a stage that had DJs and B-Boys & B-Girls, a car show behind that, live graffiti to my right, and so much more behind me. It's amazing to think that the power of hip hop brought all these people together. After taking it all in, I ran to the photo pit to catch Brother Ali because I was not going to miss one second of his set. I've been a fan of his for years and his latest album is incredible. He performed a lot of songs from it but also a handful of fan favorites. In true Rhymesayers fashion, he brought out deM atlaS and Slug for a track which always gets the Soundset veterans excited.
Matt: E-40 was a last-minute addition to the festival but I'm glad it happened because it brought me back to high school when me and my friends would listen to his hits on a regular basis. He performed like a true veteran of the game giving the fans everything they hoped for.
After a delay and schedule change, we were able to see the G.O.O.D Music CEO, Pusha T, on the mainstage. You can’t go wrong with G.O.O.D Music tracks, and viewing from a slightly elevated platform meant I could see the full extent of the hype. My personal favorite is always Mercy - you don’t get much better than that hook. I definitely felt it was significant to have someone with that much influence on the Soundset stage. Pusha T is continuing to be a major force within hip hop culture, and it’s important to see an artist like that performing live. He also announced a new album being released this summer, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of Pusha this year.
This was hands-down my most magical part of the day. After realizing that press could go onto the side-of-stage viewing platform, I went right up. Because of the scheduling changes, I didn’t know who I would be seeing perform, but I figured it didn’t really matter as the line-up was so strong. Then I saw T.I.’s name on the stage pieces and knew what was coming. After watching the production set-up, and spotting Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner side of stage (facts), I was ready to see what T.I. had for us. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. T.I. has been in the game longer than most, but sometimes those aren’t always the best performers. However, that was not the case here. T.I.’s energy was exceptional. There was no ego to speak of; just a set full of bangers, new and old, from someone who knows exactly how to work a crowd. He regularly stood on the speakers to be as close to the crowd as possible, and in true T.I. style, ended up topless – no complaints.
He brought out a few members of the Hustle Gang, Young Dro and Tee Grizzley, which mixed-up the tempo and meant that an hour-long set completely flew by. With a live band, an incredibly strong repertoire of tracks, and the energy of a 20-year-old, T.I. smashed Soundset. Personally, Bring Em Out was the one for me, having been totally obsessed with it as a teenager – you can’t beat nostalgia.
Matt: It wouldn't be Soundset if Atmosphere didn't perform. Accompanied by two DJs, Ant and Plain Ole Bill, Atmosphere packs decades of emotion into every set. The music they make and their performance puts them in my top 3. Don't even try to argue with me. Every time Slug steps on stage and starts telling his stories through his lyrics, the energy shifts. It's just something you have to experience first hand. Every time they come to my city, I go and I will continue to do so until they stop coming which I hope is never.
Lauryn Hill is someone you’ve listened to a thousand times, but personally not someone I’d ever thought I would see live. Although she’s been touring (and just announced her joint tour with Nas) I didn’t feel it was in the stars for me. So I was very much looking forward to seeing L-Boogie in such a vibrant setting. With a full band and array of beautiful backing singers, Lauryn Hill is everything. What made it such a special performance were the new arrangements of her songs. Hardly any tracks were played as you hear them at home, which is really what live music is all about, especially festival sets. There are no duds, no skip-overs, no interludes – no tracks you aren’t grateful for seeing live. Throughout the set she was giving directions to her band and sound team, demonstrating that she is a true musician, playing close attention to every little detail to give the desired effect. As well as most of her solo tracks, and many from The Fugees, Lauryn performed To Zion, which she introduced by saying they didn’t always perform, and so made it all the more special to hear. Emotions were certainly running high, with a mix of awe, nostalgia and love, Lauryn Hill is the definition of a legend.
And then there was Travis. From his recent tour photos all over the internet, everyone knew the set design and energy from Travis Scott was going to be something else. Out of his control, but entirely appropriate, was the thunderstorm that hovered over the crowd for the first 15 minutes. With a rainbow behind us, rain coming down on us, and lights emanating from the stage, Mamacita, Butterfly Effect and a few others tracks were performed with an aesthetic that no production team could fabricate. It was perfect for the fantastical stage, complete with a giant, robotic bird which he brought out towards the end, seemingly moving to the beat. The crowd went extra crazy for Father Stretch My Hands Part 1, Antidote and the show closer, Goosebumps. You realize when all these songs, and others like Beibs in the Trap, Sweet Sweet and Pick up the Phone are played in sequence, just how many hits Travis has created in a relatively short career. That’s not even including the countless tracks he’s contributed to, both on verses and production. He was just what the festival needed as a headliner: intense energy, a creative set design and a flawless set list everyone can turn up to.
Not ready to turn down just yet, we headed to the official after-party back at First Ave. It felt right to end the experience as we had started it, continuing to embrace the festival atmosphere for a few more hours. Happy listening to a good DJ set, we were lucky enough to watch a spontaneous freestyle from a handful of artists, most of them local, including deM atlaS, Sean Anonymous, AmirSaysNothing, Black Liquid and Dwynell Roland. Then the Sounset icon himself came out, Atmosphere. You can imagine to a mostly local crowd who grew up listening to him, what an impromptu mini set in a small venue felt like. The perfect way to end one of the friendliest and well run hip hop events I’ve had the pleasure of attending.
Nicola: Even with the year-long build up from Matt, the Soundset experience was everything a festival should be. It was well organized, with a stellar line-up of local and national artists performing within a site full of nods to hip hop culture. It will be interesting to see how Rhymesayers takes Soundset forward next year. It’s at the tipping point where if continues to grow, it risks losing some of its charm. But on the other hand, it has built a successful platform that showcases local artists to a wide audience, which should not be taken lightly, especially outside of the East and West Coast hubs. Whatever happens, we’ll be there to witness it next year.
Matt: Every year I leave the Soundset, I'm exhausted and full of joy. This year I was especially excited to see Brother Ali, Pusha T, T.I., and Lauryn Hill. Every single artist did not disappoint. I was one of a couple photographers that was turning up in the photo pit. Yes, I was there to take photos but I can't not enjoy the music. I'm always a fan first and Soundset is built for the fans so mark your calendars for Memorial Day 2018 so you can enjoy it too. MORE PHOTOS BELOW.