Soundset thrived in its fourth year

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Midway through Mac Miller’s set, the Pittsburgh-bred emcee took a moment to marvel at the throng of concertgoers stretched before him at Sunday’s Soundset festival.

“I don’t think I’ve ever performed for this big of an audience before,” Miller declared.

Despite another year of increased ticket prices and a gloomy forecast, an estimated 20,000 attendees descended on Canterbury Park in Shakopee, making Rhymesayer’s annual rap celebration the largest hip-hop concert to ever take place in Minnesota.

Soundset began in 2008 at Minneapolis’ Metrodome parking lot, and the Midwest’s premiere hip-hop event has been upping the proverbial ante ever since, uniting hip-hop’s underground with rap legends and mainstream chart-toppers for a daylong musical marathon each year. With a lineup that boasted well-known Twin Cities’ staples alongside top-tier acts like Golden Age-era rap trio De La Soul and Outkast’s Big Boi, this year’s festival proved to be no exception.

Hosted by Rhymesayers label mate Toki Wright, the day opened with a slew of independent artists that included Sab the Artist, Grieves and Budo and local stalwart Blueprint before leading into an afternoon of fresh faces handpicked from various sectors of the rap world. Among them: Mac Miller, Slaughterhouse and Curren$y.

 “What would hip-hop be without the South?” mused Toki Wright as he introduced Cash Money Records’ wonderboy Curren$y.

New recruits like Mac Miller and Slaughterhouse had no trouble energizing an enthusiastic crowd that grew larger by the hour. Concertgoers scrunched shoulder-to-shoulder or pushed their way forward while Dessa, P.O.S. and Cecil Otter launched into a set filled with Doomtree cuts as well as new and old solo fare.

“My goal for the year is to buy a Honda Civic and crash it into every BMW I see,” P.O.S. quipped before debuting a new track.  

Maneuvering the festival   grounds turned into a much more tedious task as hordes of people began to spill out in the way of merch and food vendors. ATMs experienced outages. But not even overcrowding or the intermittent rain could crush attendees’ spirits –the people just kept on coming.

And what was already an intimate concert experience reached a new level of poignancy during Brother Ali’s rousing set, as he resorted to his notepad while debuting his new song “A Letter to my Countrymen.”

“I usually don’t get nervous, but I was super nervous when I was doing that,” Ali said in an interview following his set.

  As the festival came down to its final two acts — Big Boi and Atmosphere — you could sense that a post-afternoon malaise had settled upon the crowd. Fortunately, the Outkast star and his always-whacky entourage delivered a much-needed shot in the arm for a lethargic crowd before Rhymesayers’ ringleader Atmosphere closed out the festival.

In a musical climate that sees record label Goliaths caught in a financial freefall, Soundset is a symbol of the ever-growing importance of independent music and how far it can carry itself. What was nothing more than a weekend hobby 10 years ago in South Minneapolis has evolved into one of indie’s most revered and popular rap empires, and a great deal of that success can be attributed to the very community that helped foster it.

Seattle-based rappers Grieves and Budo expressed their admiration for the Twin Cities, stressing the scene’s wealth of creativity and the sense of camaraderie present among the music community.  

    “It’s such a unique place. There’s a level of support for each other’s art here that I don’t think we’ve seen in other cities ever before,” Budo said.

While the festival has climbed the commercial totem pole through the last few years, at the end of the day it’s clear that Soundset is still what it originally set out to be four years ago: a celebration of hip-hop — all kinds of it.

    “The idea that little old me can go in the back and just hang out with Big Boi. Or that Mac Miller can come here and chill with us,” Ali said. “You don’t get that many places. It’s incredible.