In the 12 years Rhymesayers has been hosting Soundset proper, they’ve managed to establish themselves as the hosts one of the biggest and best music festivals throughout the state of MN—as well as the largest one-day hip-hop festival in the world.
In case you didn’t know, RSE has come a long way from the days of the makeshift version of the festival more than 20 years ago—from holding Soundset Wednesdays in the First Ave Mainroom to moving things outdoors to the Metrodome parking lot before solidifying things at Canterbury Park and then the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
This weekend’s upcoming festival boasts another strong lineup flush with varying personalities and sounds. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know going into the event and what to expect.
As with most music festivals, the fun that comes with attending Soundset also comes with one big caveat: picking favorites. Thankfully the festival’s dual mainstage setup (now referred to as the Minneapolis Stage and the St. Paul Stage) alleviates some of the FOMO typically beset upon festival-goers. The set-up still features the Atmosphere and Friends Stage, which is tucked away and around the corner, and can make for a trip if you decide to stage hop.
The best choice you can make with this setup is to pick a stage and stick with it a few sets rather than trying to race your way back and forth amidst the bustling crowd of tweens and rap dads. Some of the best sets we’ve seen over the years have come from artists stumbled upon while waiting for another set. That’s the beauty of Soundset: Thanks to the quick transitions between artists, any time you would have spent standing around at any other festival is instead spent actually enjoying the festival itself.
J-Bird—Soundset’s lead talent booker and hometown gem—lines up the best of the underground or up-and-comers, so the odds that you end up sitting through a bum set are actually pretty slim. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. The blessing and the curse of Soundset’s variety is that there’s bound to be an artist that just doesn’t ring the ears the right way. For us it’s the skeezy white-guy rap demo (shoutout to Machine Gun Kelly and Yelawolf) that Soundset perennially brings in. And this time the festival has bookended G-Eazy with two of the festival’s best artists (SZA and Run the Jewels).
The rest of the schedule for the day rounds out pretty nicely. You’ve got earlier sets from promising newcomers like Buddy and Tierra Whack, leading up to veteran rappers like DMX and Royce 5’9”. Then things start to shift toward the Top 100 with artists like Lil Uzi Vert, G-Eazy and SZA before capping off with what’s sure to be a weird, fun set from Lil Wayne.
When we saw the lineup included Black Star (the combination of Mos Def—now known as Yasiin Bey—and Talib Kweli), what immediately came to mind was Talib Kweli’s incredibly strange and weirdly consistent Twitter beef with local rapper Metasota, which goes back at least a couple years ago—and as recently as March 2019. Not that this means anything for Black Star’s performance on Sunday, but as someone who loves most everything Yasiin Bey has ever touched, this is a very tough look for his partner MC.
As for the local artists on this year’s bill, Soundset again struck gold with some newcomers while remaining almost stubbornly loyal to their Rhymesayers veterans. Atmosphere will hopefully stick around as long as the festival continues—and they absolutely deserve and have earned that—but both Dem Atlas and Prof performed last year (and both have appeared four times in the last six years).
We should note that Prof isn’t shy about trying to outdo himself year over year. But the point here is that there is a lot of great local talent that feels like it’s going unacknowledged at the behest guys who regular attendees have definitely seen by now. When Prof asks “Who here has never heard me?” literally no one will respond, because how could they at this point.
With that said, Dua Saleh and Student 1 were must-haves this year, and Soundset delivered on that front. Dua Saleh gained a little love from Pitchfork earlier this year, while Student 1 has been quietly floating just below the radar for a little over a year now. And it’s great to see Dessa back in the mix this time around. Credit where it’s due: J-Bird and co. are definitely on top of what’s happening locally. It’s just a matter of them choosing to act on it.
SECRETS IN A NUTSHELL
Most likely to get you dancing? If you’re an early-riser, get up to get down with the best DJ in the Twin Cities (@ me if you dare), DJ Keezy, from 11am-noon on the Minneapolis Stage. Or hit up the Essential Elements tent any time for DJs spinning all day. This is arguably the best DJ lineup the festival has ever produced, with legends like DJ Spinderella and Just Blaze alongside local wunderkind Psymun.
Most likely to freestyle and/or serve up the verse of the day? The dark horse pick here is Tierra Whack, who has quickly climbed the ranks as one of the most talented young rappers of the moment thanks to her ability rhyme your brain into a knot, like she does here. (Don’t sleep on Lil Wayne or Black Star, though.)
Most likely to mosh? Flatbush Zombies and Clockwork Indigo’s past appearances at Soundset were some wild shows, so Beast Coast is sure to get pretty rowdy.
Most likely no-call, no-show? I mean, Lil Uzi Vert is one for one so far, but Lil Wayne isn’t exactly punctual. But RSE knows how to handle rappers, so we’ll see!
Most likely to slow things down? SZA, but that’s what she does best.
Most likely to toke? Who won’t is maybe a better question. But Lil Wayne goes by Weezy for a reason.
Most promising performer you maybe haven’t heard yet? Buddy’s set is sure to cover a lot of ground sonically, and he’s got the character and showmanship to back it all up.
TLDR? Here’s 20 songs you should listen to before you go.