Soundset 2010 wrap-up: Taking local hip-hop national

Categories: Concert Review
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Photo by Denis Jeong Plaster
From rappers to B-boys, custom car crews to hype men, the Canterbury Park festival grounds--a grassy lowland down a hill from the acre of asphalt that hosted last year's Soundset--became a sprawling hip-hop carnival Sunday, loaded down with 17,000 fans ready for an all day party. In just a few short years, Soundset's reputation as a celebration of all things local hip-hop has gone national, becoming a brand that umbrellas over the impressive line-up of local and national talent.

"How many of y'all are going to every Soundset from here on out?" asked P.O.S. from stage during his set, the crowd roaring their dedication. Meanwhile, as Slug wandered his way through the crowd early in the day, kids from South Minneapolis competed with kids who'd driven from Birmingham, Alabama for a moment to say hello. Slug isn't the entirety of Rhymesayers, but for many, he remains the most visible, so when kids walked up to him and said "Thanks," they weren't just thanking him for his records, but for the entire day.

And what a day it was. Starting at 11:00 a.m., 29 artists packed two stages while graffiti artists filled the air with paint fumes, skateboarders showed their stuff on the miniramp, and DJs and breakdancers showed their skills from the B-boy/B-girl tent. By the time I arrived in the early afternoon, the crowd was already overwhelming. The move to a larger, grassy festival grounds meant that there was more room to move between stages and other attractions, but the intense schedule of music meant that fans remained tightly packed by the stage, creating a unnavigatable crush of bodies that made me jealous of the green-wristbanded insiders who got separate access backstage. I saw a few diehards who staked their spot with chairs, but throughout the day as the body collective grew exponentially, I could only imagine those folks rethinking their wisdom.

So what about the music? It's impossible to touch upon every act that played--I didn't get a chance to see a third of them--but the lineup on the main stage from midday on, was largely flawless. I spent much of Wiz Khalifa and Freeway & Jake One's sets getting my bearings around the ground, but headed back to the mainstage to watch Eyedea & Abilities turn the day up a notch with their short but tight set, immediately followed by the first national all-star of the day: Murs, who fired the crowd up with a high-energy, dreadlock flying set.

P.O.S. followed Murs, bringing the full band that backed him at Coachella and a series of local shows several weeks ago and their sound was no less gigantic at an outdoor festival than in a small local venue. "There's like 37 million people here!" shouted Stef between songs. "Louder, my mom's here!"

The united Hieroglyphics crew--Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Souls of Mischief, and the rest--tookt he stage next, and as I'd hoped, delivered a collaborative mix of hits, rotating primary MCs song by song.

In a mad--and failed--rush to catch some artists for interview, I couldn't dig in to the crowd to get decent video of Brother Ali's performance and had to settle for watching him from the side of the stage, past a semi truck, a camera boom, and the shaking booties of several of those green-wristbanded insiders I mentioned before. It's a testament to Ali's skill as an emcee that I still knew I was getting a charismatic, engaging performance, even if I was having a hard time seeing it.

By the time Method Man and Redman took the stage, I had given up any hope of making my way into the crowd, and retreated to the "VIP" area--a dedicated set of portapotties, food and beer stands, and some bleachers--where I saw the best choreography of the day:

Method Man and Redman's set spread two decades of musical output, reminded everyone that they were there to serve as elder statesmen of hiphop. In between hits they peppered the crowd with shout-outs to the rest of their Wu Tang compatriots, living and dead, as well as ruminations on matters of great importance: strong weed and clean pussy. Ironic that the 5th Element stage, at that moment, was hosting the strong female voice of Dessa, who delivered the sort of performance that made her fans forget about any distractions, including the competing sound from the mainstage. Where Dessa goes, so does Doomtree, so the crowd was treated to plenty of guest performances from her collective collaborators.

As Dessa wrapped up, the exodus to the stage for Atmosphere roared like a tsunami, even as Method Man and Redman concluded their set with some of the best extended hype I've seen. At this point the crowd extended for literally hundreds of yards surrounding the stage, waiting in eager anticipation for Atmosphere's return to form. As Slug, Ant, and the rest of their live band took the stage, he took the crowd in--"I missed y'all"--and then launched into a set that leaned heavily on new material and music from "When Life Gives You Lemons," with occasional looks back to earlier material, most notably a version of "Modern Man's Hustle" that had literally 10,000 arms waving in the air like they cared very much.

For this set, it seemed like Slug's new fatherhood (seven weeks old at his first hiphop show) had brought his mellow side. The band was smooth, the song selection leaned more towards Slug's storytelling instincts and less the pushed-to-the-point of voicecracking confessionals that defined his rise to hiphop prominence, which made for a distinctive, if somewhat odd, conclusion to such a high-octane day. The VIP bleacher seats crowded with tired fans (and a few drunks incapable of standing), I took on the crowd one last time for the second half of Atmosphere's set, where the (comparitively) mellow vibe, positivity, and crowd love seemed less like a distraction and more like a natural conclusion to the day's festivities, Slug playing caretaker and host as much as emcee.

See also: More videos and the setlist from Atmosphere's finale; photos of the performers, crowd shots, and photos of the breakdancers in the side tent.

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