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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

This year's Soundset brought out some scorching performers who might just have the Sun beat as far as what is really hot this summer.

Minnesota kicks off the summer festival circuit with a whirlwind day at Soundset

I’m beginning to think that I cannot attend a music festival unless it is blisteringly hot outside. After the infamous heat of Tennessee, Austin and California where other popular festivals are held, I was looking forward to the hip-hop festival in the cool, early-summer weather of my Minnesotan homeland. However, the scorching heat present at this years’ Soundset festival wasn’t enough to stop the Rhymesayers crew from continuing their tradition last Sunday, May 27 on the plains of Shakopee, MN, with the help of nearly 20,000 avid fans.

Honoring the four bases of hip-hop culture, Soundset gives audiences the chance to explore art in DJing, MCing, graffiti and break dancing, in addition to talented skateboarders, varied cuisine and custom car competitions. Yet of course, the main crowd draw is the stacked lineup of excellent rappers and musicians that grace the many Soundset stages each year.

Although I was disappointed Brother Ali played host to the event rather than performing his own set, Ali ran the main stage beautifully in an innovative set-up switch from years past—he divided the stage into two, where artists switched from right to left between each half-hour set, preventing a stifling build up of crowds on either side.

On the main stage, I Self Devine (joined by two hype men and a DJ) attempted to kick off the festival to the best of his abilities. In the face of a thin crowd and incredibly difficult opening spot, I Self Devine did a decent job of getting the crowd focused, present and moving. Following him was New York’s Action Bronson, who seemed to feed the crowd a lot of energy it didn’t accept graciously. Despite the crowd response, his live presence was notable and his musical quality was engaging—I would highly recommend checking him out if you haven’t heard his work.

The first artist to get a significant amount of crowd response was Prof, a Minneapolis-based MC (or “Gampo,” as he likes to call himself) that has been gaining attention in recent years. Personally, I think there is a place for gimmicky lyricism and performers in hip-hop and that Prof just isn’t it. However, his energy throughout his set truly got the crowd going for the first time all day, which is absolutely invaluable at a rap show. The free copies of his album given out at the merch booth couldn’t have hurt, either.

Grieves and Budo were the first artists, on the other hand, to truly impress me in their performances. Grieves, a Seattle-based rapper who has ties to the Midwest in his hometown of Chicago and influence from Atmosphere, put out an excellent album, Together/Apart, in 2011. He drew from the album throughout his performance, which I was thrilled about. Budo, Grieves’ longtime partner joined him onstage, adding the dynamic chemistry that only a great hip-hop duo can bring. Budo also has his own repertoire of solo work, which is available to listen to online at

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis continued the energy started by their Seattle-based brethren, bringing a trumpeter, violinist, back-up singer and cellist on stage with them. The live instrumentals alongside their relatable lyrics and just-plain-tasty beats made for an excellent show. On top of their musical quality, they both had a ridiculous amount of energy—climbing on top of speakers, crowd surfing and all-out dancing should happen at more hip-hop shows.

The next two artists represented some of the most hyped-up sections of the current hip-hop scene. The self-proclaimed “country boy” Big K.R.I.T. brought his hype and aura to the festival in full force, accompanied by a DJ and a vocalist. Although he didn’t play his most popular track, “Country Shit,” his commanding stage presence and decent flow was note-worthy. Kendrick Lamar followed this set, hot off of his blow-out album Section.80. A member of the Black Hippy crew and associate of Dr. Dre, Lamar is excellent in the studio but was somewhat underwhelming in the festival setting, being visibly uncomfortable with the large crowd.

Minneapolis-based crowd favorite P.O.S. took the stage after Lamar, joined for a bit by Astronautalis and Mike Mictlan. He previewed several tracks off his upcoming album, to be released in September, and it made me absolutely thrilled to hear it. The classically entertaining and poetic form of P.O.S. was reflected in audience enthusiasm—his performance was one of the best of the day.

I missed much of Aesop Rock’s performance, but their professionalism and straightforward hip-hop emanated through the crowd and I was pleased to catch the last of the set. With the legendary name of Wu-Tang Clan behind them, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon had a lot to live up to. Luckily, their ability to bring individual originality to the stage while honoring their long-time fame as a group exceeded my expectations. Although bringing audience members on stage for the most cherished classic track of “Protect the Neck” was an uncomfortable mistake when they realized most people didn’t have the lyrics memorized, their performance blew their predecessors out of the water.

The headliners, Lupe Fiasco and Atmosphere, were a bit of a disappointment after the barrage of quality MCs before them. Although Lupe Fiasco came through with some of his crowd favorites and classic hits as well as newer tracks, the rock-band style was a little too Lenny Kravitz for my taste. Atmosphere was fittingly upstaged by a natural disaster, as a tornado blew through Shakopee and prevented their headlining set, to the dismay of the crowd. Ah well, there’s always next year, Slug.

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