For Minnesotans everywhere, Memorial Day weekend has become a sort of Hip Hop Christmas thanks to Rhymesayers Entertainment who have devoted their resources and integrity to deliver a one of a kind festival. Starting out in the cement plot outside the Metrodome, Soundset has morphed throughout the years to become the premier place to experience the intrinsic spirit that makes Hip Hop so nourishing for the soul. Since taking over the Minnesota State Fairgrounds last year, it has now risen to one of the state’s tourism boards top events and this year proved that it is only getting bigger. Despite numerous last-minute cancellations and even more remarkable replacements, this year’s Soundset proved that it was the best year yet with legendary performances and promising talent at every turn. Although we might not have been able to witness every detail, these are just a few of the highlights that will live on for years to come.
Fifth Element Stage
Tucked away on the cross streets of Judson Av & Liggett St of the Fairgrounds, the Fifth Element stage had grown into the behemoth platform that the best and brightest deserved. Set off by the rousing and bleak bars of Richmond, CA MC Black Liquid, the tone was set that this was the place to be to witness the greatest without the glitz that corrupted larger acts. Emerging from the word of mouth and local acclaim, the Southside luminaries of Nazeem & Spencer Joles used the platform to deliver an impassioned reason to remember their name. In a set full of unreleased songs that ranged from riotous to heartwarming, their composure defied their age as they transcended into a new space that many veteran performers have only dreamed. Following up their energetic set, former GRRRL PRTY performer and Go Radio personality Sophia Eris decided that it was time to bring the fans back to the feel-good vibes of the 90s. Starting off with a new song, she was joined by Manchita as she flipped between smokey harmonies and sassy flows with stage presence learned from her time on the road with Lizzo. And as if out of state fans needed another reason to believe in the Twin Cities, J. Plaza took charge of the stage alongside Daddy Dinero and Tha Rift as their newly formed group FREEWIFI. Switching between his dexterous flows and cadences, Plaza left the crowd gasping for air as the non-stop frenzy rolled through and leaving the future of the group well anticipated.
This opened the door for the latest Rhymesayer signee Sa-Roc to electrify the stage with her mystifying rhymes that spoke volumes to her talent as an MC. Touching on selections from her latest EP, Metamorpheous, it is easy to see why she has won over legends such as Black Thought of The Roots and David Banner as fans. Among the stellar cast of lyricists, the freshly Nas co-signed artist Dave East came out to prove why he was one of the grimiest cats in the game. Touching on gems from his Hate Me Now mixtape and his latest project, Kairia Chanel, fans were fully satisfied by the potential in one of New York’s finest, despite rapping over his own vocals.
As the afternoon set in, one of the livest performers in the new school of MCs took the stage and proved that they were not slowing down. His name was Denzel Curry as the Carol City representative showed no mercy in his stage presence bordered on otherworldly, launching the crowd into the same level of hysteria. From hits like ULT and Knotty Head, it was clear to see that the future is bright for the Imperial one. The energy never let up as underground club wrecker Playboi Carti tested the security of the fairgrounds with his turnt tendencies and powerful chants. Carried by his mega-hit, Magnolia, the A$AP Mob affiliate had proven his worth and was a welcome addition to the ever-changing lineup.
While Anime sang and swagged his way across the stage, the day belonged to the local supergroup, the stand4rd as the long-awaited reunion proved to come at the perfect time as 3 of the 4 members had new projects freshly looming. Instead of sharing new music as a group, Allan Kingdom, Bobby Raps, Psymun and Corbin drew inspiration from Doomtree as TIIIIIIIIIIP made a game of it by drawing different solo cuts from his mixer and had the Twin Cities celebrate their already impressive accomplishments. From Allan Kingdom’s Kanye West collaboration, “All Day” to Bobby Raps’ new single “Desensitized,” it was a fitting end to the overlooked stage as the party waged on into the holiday weekend, back into the local haunts that had captivated the internet and the world over.
The sounds of ZuluZuluu echoed over the State Fairgrounds with their funky spirit allowed everyone arriving through the gates to release all their stress and enjoy the magic that rolls from the speakers. Dressed in various African cloth, the heirs to the Minneapolis Sound truly astounded all those that showed out with skill and class. The local love continued on as the bold and beautiful Brother Ali took the stage to share his new album All The Beauty In This Whole Life for the first time before his home crowd. With very little cursing, if any, the good Brother showed warmth and charisma throughout his half-hour set to share in the deliberate compassion that has allowed his name to hold space next to some of the greatest MCs to hold a mic.
As the day continued to unfold, the G.O.O.D. Music President Pusha T delivered on why he is one of the most honest and electrifying storytellers that the culture has to offer. Touching on many gems from his solo work as well as a classics from The Clipse, King Push solidified the Main Stage as a suitable platform for rap’s royalty. Among the same ilk, the last minute addition of the legendary E-40 was a fitting sight as the innovator of slanguage spew a taste of the Bay before the receptive audience. Despite the hypy fueled madness, much of his anointed words were cut short as the sound system to have difficulties with his microphone. To add to the lists of greats, Kool Keith and Dan the Automator blasted off into their fan favorite group, Dr. Octagon as the crowd was able to recite line after line despite their debut album being released 20 years ago. With a touch of the strange and pristine, it had seemed that their chemistry was on point for a long-awaited follow-up project.
While fans had swarmed the stage eager to hear the Soundcloud sensation of Lil Uzi Vert, it had appeared that they had been stood up. Yet this would not dampen the spirits of Rhymesayer hopefuls as the titular Soundset act, Atmosphere returned to rock the festival they had built. With Ant and DJ Plain Ole Bill maning the turntables, Slug joked and shared his joy with his hometown audience as they wove together classics from across their immense catalogue. Right as sceptics could say they had seen the same show last year, Slug welcomed out the estranged third member Spawn to share in the sunshine as they took it back to their debut album, Overcast nearly 20 years ago.
This had raised the bar considerably, but this standout list of performers was no match for the polarizing force of Tha King, T.I. as he came out roaring with hit after hit drawing fans back to the late 2000s. Accompanied by a live band, TIP took total command of the festival while even bringing out the up incoming Tee Grizzley to do his underground hit “First Day Out.” While the ATL star whipped the audience into the festival frenzy, the East Atlanta Santa Gucci Mane came out to deliver his syrupy splendour to the Soundset stage. Shuffling through his decade of mixtape gems with the onslaught of
new music, Guwop proved that he was for the people by captivating all with his tales from the trap and Metro Boomin production.
While pretentious purists would have joked in any other context, Gucci Mane left the stage ready for the regal elegance of the incomparable Lauryn Hill. Set among a large band and back up singers, the Fugees great not only controlled the crowd but the sound engineers with her awe-inspiring vocal range and iconic stage presence. By masterfully blending together various touchstones in the catalogue, it was a moment fans of all ages and era will hold dear when speaking about the greatest live performances in their lifetimes.
As the annual rain clouds moved into formation, it had appeared that the energy was right for one of the most raucous performers in Hip Hop history to close out the night. As Sway came to introduce him to the crowd, the sky opened up and let loose a downpour, drenching the sunbathed Soundset crowds. Almost like it was choreographed by Prince himself, lightning flashed above as the massive curtains opened to reveal an ominous backdrop covered in leafy vines and sinister birdcages before a shirtless Travis Scott stood before the astonished audience. From poised to purposed, Travis Scott screamed his lyrics before exploding pyrotechnics hits from his debut album, Rodeo as the crowd moshed and sloshed in the soggy scene. As the elaborate and electrifying set progressed, the sky lightened up and at one point divided the storm to one side of the stage while a rainbow appeared on the other proving that this day-long festival had taken on a spiritual component that was unmistaken.
All photos were taken by Justus Sanchez. Check out more pics our Instagram.