Whoever said the Midwest wasn't Hip-Hop clearly has never been to Rhymesayer's Entertainment's Soundset Festival.
In the festival's fifth year, over 25,000 eager Hip-Hop fans flocked to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota and stuck it out through the sweltering 95 degree heat for what can only be described as one of the most organic Hip-Hop festivals that has ever been organized.
While it's likely that a majority of attendees came to the festival grounds to catch a performance or two by their favorite MCs like Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, or Lupe Fiasco, that didn't take anything away from the love they showed the slew of other performers that hit the stage, such as Big K.R.I.T., Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, Kendrick Lamar, Evidence, and many, many more.
Soundset, which began at 11:00 a.m. sharp on this past Sunday (May 27), kicked off with a number of DJs - and host Brother Ali - warming up the crowd for what was to come.
The first act seen was Queens, New York's Action Bronson, who performed a number of tracks backed by producer and DJ Tommy Mas from his past projects like Dr. Lecter, Well Done and the recently-released Blue Chips. A crowd of rabid fans, who despite being located over 1,000 miles away from New York City, knew lyric after lyric of Bronsilino's material.
After Bronson's set, Rhymesayers' artist Prof hit the stage, followed by Detroit MC and Fool's Gold artist, Danny Brown, who had the entire crowd going nuts in union with his eccentric raps and energetic stage presence.
With the temperature rising, Rhymesayers' artists, Grieves and Budos, hit the stage to massive applause followed by 2012 XXL Freshman Macklemore and his producing partner, Ryan Lewis, backed by a horn player. Surprisingly enough, the Seattle native, wearing a "Legalize Gay Marriage" shirt, got one of the warmest responses from any act to hit the stage up until that point - a feat that became clear when he had over 20,000 clapping in unison to his track, "Can't Hold Us."
Macklemore also debuted an untitled song for the first time on the road. He closed out his set by stating that anyone who hasn't already, needs to go bowling in Soundset's home of Shakopee, MN, and then he performed his ode to sneakers, "Wings."
Dilated Peoples member and solo artist, Evidence, also performed, taking a moment to pay his respects to late rapper/producer Guru, who he said "was watching down on us from the clouds." Moments later DJ Premier, who also performed a two-hour long set at the festival, emerged onstage to back Ev for the track, "You", off last year's Cats & Dogs. "Make some noise for any MC who's got a beat from Premier. This is the best moment of my entire life," said Evidence. He then exclaimed, "I just got to perform with Premo!"
Big K.R.I.T., who is prepping for the release of his Def Jam debut, Live From the Underground, next week was up next. With Danny Brown who performed earlier in the day looking on from backstage, K.R.I.T. exploded on the mic with his "turned up to 11" set that began with "Return of 4Eva" and hypnotized the crowd. He performed tracks like "Moon & Stars," "Glass House," "Temptation", and a number of others during his 30-minute set.
Ironically enough, K.R.I.T., who is one of the most talked about and heralded emerging MCs in the game, was followed by California's own Kendrick Lamar, who is equally regarded as one of the best lyricists in Hip-Hop right now. Lamar, who appeared in Minneapolis and the festival for the first time, blew through Section.80 records like "ADHD," "Rigamortis", and "Hiiipower", before going into tracks like "P*ssy and Patron" and "Women, Weed and Weather."
P.O.S. took to the stage with water gun in hand and enthusiastically asked his hometown crowd if anyone was going to "barf from heatstroke." P.O.S.'s set quickly turned into an all-out mid-set dance party despite EMTs racing through the crowd to help those who passed out from the heat and dehydration. Yet, the show went on.
Ghostface Killah and Raekwon were next, and as expected they delivered classic song after classic song. The duo performed tracks like "Ice Cream," "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin To F*ck With," "Fish," "Protect Ya Neck," and a ton of others, before inviting a few faces in the crowd onstage to perform verses from their songs. While the first few attempts did not end well, one local spit out an acapella version of ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" which had the crowd in an uproar. It was never made more clear than at that time that the 20-year legacy of Wu-Tang has impacted lives across the world and will continue to for years to come.
After Aesop Rock rocked new tracks from his forthcoming album, Skelethon, with Rob Sonic and Big Wiz, the first of two Soundset headliners hit the stage, although one, due to weather, would never get to perform.
Lupe Fiasco, backed by a full band, began his set with "Words I Never Said" from last year's album, L.A.S.E.R.S. He then did a remixed version of N.E.R.D.'s "Everyone Nose" remix which he has a verse on, as well as songs like "Go, Go Gadget Flow," "Kick, Push", and "Hip-Hop Saved My Life." "Pray for those clouds to open up and rain on us," Lupe shouted, and before long, that's exactly what happened.
Unfortunately for fans of Atmosphere, who was the festival's headliner, and who a majority of attendees were there to see, the rain that Lupe had prayed for minutes earlier caused a grounds evacuation approximately an hour and a half before the festival was supposed to end. As disappointed fans left Canterbury Park, the sirens sounded and fans rushed to their cars and buses to avoid the downpour, which didn't make a ton of sense, since as was mentioned earlier, it was hot as hell throughout the entire day until that point.
If anything is for sure after taking part in the sights, sounds, and wonders of Soundset 2012 it's that the Midwest can and does put on for Hip-Hop, despite more well-known festivals like Lollapalooza and Rock the Bells making headlines year after year. Regardless of the success that these annually held festivals have had in the past, it certainly wouldn't hurt to take a look at the truly organic formula of what Rhymesayers has done with Soundset and attempts to reciprocate at their own events.
Closing statement: Minnesota knows how to party and damn sure knows Hip-Hop. Thank you Soundset, and see you in 2013!
Check back later this week for Soundset interviews with Evidence, Macklemore, I Self Divine, and Ghostface Killah and Raekwon.
Images by Mark Vancleave, John Behm and The Minnesota Daily.