Soundset and the elements haven’t always gotten along.
In 2011, the city of Shakopee (the site of the festival, 20 minutes from Minneapolis) saw a day of heavy rains the day prior. As a result, the ground was muddy and ruined tens of thousands of pairs of shoes on a cloudy festival day.
The next year, talks of thunderstorms riddled the dangerously-hot festival grounds throughout the day. The clouds looked so ominous that Lupe Fiasco, the second-to-last artist of the day, decided to do a rain dance during his set on stage. Shortly after, this happened:
Thanks a lot, Lupe.
Fast forward to 2014. Soundset has the consistently-present Atmosphere headlining, with Wiz Khalifa back for his second stint with the festival (he performed in 2010 to promote “Deal or No Deal”). Perhaps the most highly anticipated came right before Wiz. Nas was on a tour, celebrating the immaculte “Illmatic”’s 20th anniversary. Also featured on the bill: 2 Chainz, Cypress Hill, Grieves, Prof, Chance Tha Rapper, and EarlWolf (Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler the Creator).
The weather teased a sold out Soundset crowd this year. It was cloudy throughout the event, and even rained briefly, but no longer than 2 Chainz takes to exclaim his uniqueness.
Three Good Things:
1. Nas- When an artist goes on an anniversary tour, there is always the chance that said artist may seem dated, even if they’re still recording/performing. Nas’ catalog, thankfully and luckily, has managed to remain mostly dud-free since the release of Illmatic, and was readily able to show that off at his Soundset debut..
Not only was he the best part of the show, he seemed to have more fun than anybody other performer of the night (excluding maybe Chance The Rapper). He began his set with the legendary “NY State of Mind”. The remainder of “Illmatic” followed, with constant reminders from Mr. Jones of the album’s age.
He closed the set with a few extra 90s gems, most notably (for me, anyway) “If I Ruled the World”, and some post-millennium hits, like “Made You Look”. He closed the set leading the audience to believe he may be back, as soon as next year. Even if you weren’t a Nas fan before his set (shame on you if that’s the case!!), you came away a fan of the legend by the time he was done.
2. The Fifth Element Stage- Since 2011 (the year I started going), the Fifth Element (aka the secondary stage). Since 2011, I’ve never bothered with the stage unless I was looking to sit down and still sit near a stage. This year completely changed that.
The main stage was too good to leave through Chance The Rapper. He had Grieves, Prof, and Dem Atlas (who we will have a feature on in the near future), precede him with a few other openers. In other words, the stage was too hot to leave. For our group stage cooled down a bit when the otherwise highly anticipated EarlWolf came on stage.
First up at the time was Rhapsody and 9th Wonder. Yes, THAT 9th Wonder. How such a legend ended up on in the middle of the festival on the secondary stage, while DJ Fundo (a talented DJ without question, but not 9th Wonder) remains a mystery. After the pair’s stellar set, Canadian rhymer Shad came in and performed a solid set, a set I expected to see on the main stage as well. The artist to follow Shad is less popular than the Canadian and the DJ legend by a good margin, but not in Minnesota. Toki Wright has been with Rhymesayers forever, and in the Minneapolis hip hop scene for even longer (and forever is a long time, folks). Heck, he’s hosted the main stage before. Still, he performed in the middle (near the end, I suppose) of the secondary stage with Big Cats, and had to tell the crowd that their (sure to be stellar) album “Pangea” and group are “free agents, looking for a home”. That was baffling.
Moral of the story: a hip hop legend, a solidified Canadian with lots of exposure, and a Minneapolis hip hop staple (even joined by P.O.S. on stage!!!) were in the secondary group. On one hand, they probably didn’t get the respect they deserved. On the other hand, they served as a great, great intermission from the main stage before Nas. It was timed perfectly, and will remain in the “good” pile as a result.
3. Strong style variety- Soundset has always been pretty good about upholding a certain criteria when selecting the acts to go along with their constants (Atmosphere, Grieves, and Brother Ali in some capacity). They’ve managed to successfully pluck outrap artists to perform in the middle of their set, right before they hit the big, BIG time (Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller). They have had their supply of old school artists (De La Soul, Snoop Dogg, Method Man & Redman) as well.
They did that again this year, going with Cypress Hill as the seasoned veterano. Obviously, the superstar-to-be is yet to be determined, but names like G-Eazy, Prof, and Dem Atlas are all candidates. Along with a solid cast of rappers in the purest sense (Nas, Ab-Soul, originally Pusha T), they were able to balance it out with some radio-popular artists in Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz. They even brought in EarlWolf, who really has a demographic group of their own.
There was general positivity throughout the landscape. While you didn’t really see everyone jamming out at the same time, everyone had their turn. When Atmosphere came on last, the crowd collectively came together for one giant jam. Also, it was hosted by Sway, a legend in his own right.
Three Not-So-Good Things
1. Crowd Noise- This isn’t the crowd’s fault, or anyone’s for that matter. At an outdoor festival, it’s really difficult to create an arena-like level of noise eruption. As mentioned above, there was sporadic involvement from all members of the crowd, but it all depended on who was performing at the time. A good chunk of the folks who came to see Nas didn’t necessarily come to see 2 Chainz, and vice-versa.
There’s no survey evidence to back that claim up, but it seemed pretty evident simply by looking around. A lack of universal interest in an artist, something that was only fully achieved by Atmosphere (Grieves, EarlWolf and Prof also did fairly well amidst the festivities) is important if an-all day music festival crowd is going to be memorable. That didn’t happen.
2. Artist Banter- Mention of this was made earlier in the post. EarlWolf seemed to have some trouble connecting with the oversized crowd. On one hand, the way they were talking had nothing to do with them being “off”. Their fans are used to what some might see as a bully style of banter. They frequently dropped the more homophobic of the f-bombs, and seemed genuinely unimpressed with the level of noise the crowd was giving them. This goes with the point I made above, to an extent.
Still, it was clear that their fan base was into it. At one point, Tyler, the Creator told the crowd not to move/go crazy until he was moving/going crazy on stage. From the back, it looked like the crowd obliged. Either way, the folks who only knew EarlWolf for Tyler’s
“Yonkers” or various Frank Ocean features didn’t seem as enthused as the Odd Future diehards.
They weren’t the only ones having problems, though. ANY artist that tried to pump themselves up by way of crowd noise seemed unimpressed. That’s likely part of the reason we didn’t see Atmosphere, Grieves, or Prof try it. They know how to work a Soundset crowd. They know the tricks.
3. Ummmmmmm…….- I don’t have a third bad thing. I struggled to come up with 2. This was truly a great day for hip hop music. It wasn’t just the artists, either. The crowd was having a ball. The skateboard area was busy throughout the day. There were random appearances by both Murs and P.O.S.. They managed to get 30,000 people to come out, despite the absurd traffic that came with it, and jam out to some of the best music that the hip hop industry has to offer.
Soundset will struggle to ever get a bill quite like Rock The Bells, but they aren’t really competing with Rock the Bells. They’re their own thing, and their ability to be different each year is what keeps people, like me, coming back.