Soundset 2016: Most Known, Locally Grown


Back in 2008, Rhymesayers had the crazy idea of holding a Hip Hop festival in the Metrodome stadium’s parking lot. With gloomy skies overhead, expectations were not dampened as fans enjoyed some of the biggest names in independent Hip Hop. While the Metrodome has been long since demolished, Rhymesayers went all out to return their wildly popular festival, Soundset to the heart of the Twin Cities by way of the sunny skies above St. Paul’s Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Packed with Hip Hop icons such as Common, The Roots, DJ Marley Marl, and Pharoahe Monch as well as modern heavyweights like A$AP Rocky, Future, and Danny Brown; Soundset has become one of the most trusted sources of live Hip Hop in the world. While many fans attend to see their favorite artists for a reasonable price, it has also become a coveted opportunity for the local Hip Hop community to flex before an appreciative audience.

As giddy attendees paced through the enormous parking lots, Soundset brought everyone together on the Midway stretch of the fairgrounds while having series of vendor booths interwoven past the gates. Showcasing local clothing lines, community organizations and record labels, these were the smiling faces that gave the tender-hearted tourists a taste of our renowned courtesy. Among the sprawl, visitors recieved their first musical inclusion into the vibrant Hip Hop scene from the Open Mic tent. Hosted by the enlightened voice of The Godcast, P Murda, the stage allowed some of the TC’s finest DJs to rock with the five finalists of the Open Mic free for all to showcase their emerging talents. Including DJ BVCKWOODS, SoftPoreCorn, Why Khaliq and Radio Ahlee, the enthusiasm was a great introduction into what has attracted many industry figureheads to the land of lakes.
As fans pasted by the spectacular stray painted portraits and custom cars lined about the paths, Soundset found its place among the Midway as the three stages stood at each elemental direction.  To the left stood the Essential Elements tent, which became a popular destination for those looking to experience the culture beyond the mic as they highlighted many overlooked mediums. The day started off with the production showcase, The Last of The Record Buyers, as the brothers, Big Quarters set aside time for 15 of the most exciting soundsmiths to reveal their talents. Drawing together the vibrant audible delights from Big Cats & Eric Mayson, Garlic Brown, Bionik, Talia Knight and John Shrimpno
se, it set the stage for this year’s headliner, Durazzo as he utilized his dual MPCs to perform an astonishing look into the possibilities of the music production. Soon after the producer’s unplugged their equipment came the breakers to defy gravity and body’s own limitations to the legendary sounds of DJ Marley Marl. Local crews from the Twin Cities House of Dance stepped up and showed out before one of the culture’s most significant producers to entertain those looking for a break from the sun and the mic.

Directly across the Essential Elements stage stood the contrasting Fifth Element stage, which held the majority of this year’s local performers. Fresh from his Apple Music/Vice Documentary “Reservation Rap,” Baby Shel unleashed a cinematic performance and proving to all that he is the lightning paced linguist that won the respect of Heather B. and the crowd a like. While keeping his set mainly to performing songs from his acclaimed EP, Baby Shel’s World, the Red Lake representative brought out local favorites J. Plaza, Chance York, Metasota and Mike The Martyr to show the talent the Twin Cities’ is hiding.


Being that it was St. Paul, the budding brilliance of Lexii Alijai worked to show the world that she was at home on the Fifth Element stage before hundreds of screaming fans. Channeling her vulnerability with songs from Joseph’s Coat, the 18 year old’s delivery and poise allowed many first time listeners to take a trip into her most intimate thoughts, reminding many of the healing after the heartbreak.

After selling out Hollywood’s Palladium Theatre with Big Sean, Finding Novyon proved that Minneapolis has more than just “emo-rap” as his adrenaline infused performance left the crowd turnt to the 10s. Mixing together favorites from his crew, The Rotation, and his latest solo offerings, it was apparent that he is bound for the main stage in the coming years. No moment was more compelling to that claim than when he invited out his Stand4rd standby, Allan Kingdom to perform the Twin Cities anthem “Lots” as they gave the crowd everything they needed to celebrate the community’s influence.

As a slew of indie stars strutted across the stage, the local powerhouse of 9th House stole the show with their expansive and righteous waves that has reflected the current awakening throughout the state. Lead by the legendary duo of Muja Messiah and Rhymesayer’s OG, I Self Devine; the cosmic array of truth radiated throughout the house monitors and elevating the collective consciousness. Closing out with bandanna clad backup dancers, 9th House also echoed the cries from the Black Lives Matter movement with their new chant “We Ain’t Scared” as a defiant outcry for the systematic accountability for the deaths of many within the community.


The Fifth Element stage was closed out by the DIY dynamos of Doomtree as they unleashed classic material along with new selections from their colossal new collection, All Hands. Backing up the diverse set of styles from their rowdy roster of rappers, the pulsating soundscapes from Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak tested the wattage of the amplifiers to give the audience a chance to feel the flutter of the wings and teeth. And with the ever sharp and brash lyrical combination of P.O.S., Sims, Dessa, Cecil Otter and the recovering Mike Mictlan; it was a welcomed alternative to those unimpressed with syrup drenched raps that has claimed the mixtape world.

While these two stages held their own, the main attraction was without a doubt the mammoth Main Stages that hosted many of the hottest talent in music today. Backed by towering monitors and stories high scaffolding, it was a platform that only Shade 45’s Sway Calloway could host and hold everything in balance. As dynamic duos from Murs & 9th Wonder as well as Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman reminded the fans of the necessity of lyricism, the queen bee of the Hip Hop hive, Lizzo showed out for all the ladies in the world. Dressed in an unapologetic black spandex, she made the afternoon a PRTY with her mix of soulful wails and captivating attitude that has made her a rising star.  Along with her backup army of twerking big GRRRL dancers and trusty DJ Sophia Eris, the decadent diva reminded everyone that women are the future of Hip Hop.


Not shortly after the GRRRL PRTY general made her exit, the Powderhorn Pierrot, Prof, returned to give the gampos their moneys worth with his most extravagant Soundset performance yet. With his stunning breath control and whimsical stage presence, Prof proved that he is more than just another party rapper with songs tailor made for the festival such as “Ape Shit” and “President” energizing thousands of cheers. Paired with goliath sized wacky wavy tube men before a sea of beach balls and various inflatables, the most impressive feat came during his last song as he performed “Church” from the center of a giant raft as he took crowd surfing to new heights.

As temperatures continue to rise and water bottles vanished from concession stands, the Southside stalwarts, Atmosphere, took to the main stage to keep their Soundset streak alive and prove that they still know how to keep the love in bloom. While continuing to breath life into the revered classics that made Rhymesayers one of the most beloved independent stories, fans were delighted to hear the announcement of their next album, Fishing Blues would be dropping this upcoming August. With Slug’s witty and charismatic quips before Ant and DJ Plain Ole Bill’s sonic scenery, it is no mystery why they are universally adored by all on the Midway that Sunday.

While the day was filled with countless smiles and excitement, the loss of Minneapolis’ favorite musician, Prince was still weighed heavy on the festival nearly a month since his untimely passing. From graffiti murals to notable tribute to Common’s onstage freestyle, the void left in the creative community had renewed the Twin Cities influence throughout the world and opening the door for international interest in the Minnesota music scene. One of the most unforgettable moments arose during The Roots cohesive set as they turned the spotlight away from Black Thought and ?uestlove to the legendary sample artist, Jeremy Ellis as he pounded classic after classic from Prince’s lofty catalog in a glamorous glitch infused tribute from his MPC that left left many speechless. With a fervent finale that resulted in Ellis smashing his own skull into the pads, it was one of the lasting highlights in an already powerful Purple Summer.

The sun slowly dipped behind the Ferris Wheel as Future and A$AP Rocky astounded all, the weary attendees sauntered to the gates closing out the best Soundset to date. As fans enjoyed the free metro transportation, many were overjoyed knowing that this year’s festivities did not result in mud covered garments that claimed an astronomical of amount of clothes throughout the Canterbury Park era.  Yet after all the booths and stages were closed and torn down, it is safe to say that Hip Hop has finally cultivated a place in the heart of the Twin Cities and reaffirming the state fairgrounds as the setting of “The Great Minnesota Get Together.”

Relive Soundset again through the photos below featuring many of your favorite artists and see you next year.

Photos by Justus Sanchez, not the video.