Soundset Series: Festival founders J-Bird, Slug, and Kevin Beacham

Categories: Rap/Hip Hop
Photos courtesy of Rhymesayers
​The gigantic celebration of hip-hop that is the Soundset festival is already this Sunday. Now in its fourth year, this overwhelming explosion of rap, turntablism, graffiti, breakdancing, custom cars, skateboarding, and merchandise has proven itself a draw outside of local circles in much the same way the Rhymesayers label grew to command national attention. These three local legends -- Slug of Atmosphere, J-Bird of Rhymesayers Entertainment, and host of the Current's Redefinition Radio Kevin Beacham -- have been staunch supporters of hip-hop both locally and worldwide, and have been key in helping this beast of a festival get off the ground. 

Gimme Noise caught up with them in three separate interviews as they ran down how far everything has come.

Gimme Noise: What do you recollect about the early days of Soundset when it was a regular show at First Avenue?

Slug: The main memories I have right now are about the growth. It started as a night that our friends and other's from the scene attended, and over the course of a summer, blossomed into a full on sold out night every Wednesday. It was exciting and a little intimidating to be a part of. When it ended, we didn't know that it would return a decade later as a festival; we were just happy to see it transition into more people paying attention to what the hip hop community was doing in the Twin Cities. It was a residency that we had at First Ave for that summer [around 1999/2000].  As for dialogue about turning it into a festival, J-Bird was the guy who was always pushing his idea of throwing an outdoor festival. He'd been talking that game since 2003 I think. Once he finally convinced the rest of the crew that we could accomplish this, there was no turning back. [Jordon] was the dude that suggested that we call it Soundset to carry on what we had started at First Avenue years prior.

J-Bird: Basically, it was just to do something in the Midwest to give all the artists a platform that was in our genre, here in Minnesota.  There's really not too many festivals like it, that encompass all the elements of hip-hop, which was also the goal of it too. I didn't live here [when the original shows happened], but Siddiq and the core of Rhymesayers would do that.  Every Wednesday in the Mainroom it would sell out.  It was kind of like the same thing, where it was a lot of Rhymesayers, a lot of freestyling, people would b-boy.  I was managing Rubberroom [a multi-turntablist Chicago group and artist at this year's Soundset], and it'd be like, "Hey you can play this, come in on a Wednesday", and then we would come in and play in front of a sold-out crowd.  So it was in part a platform for people to come to Minneapolis and do a show.  Back then, there wasn't as many rap shows coming up here.  It was kind of the beginning of a platform for a lot of shows to come into the market.  

What is unique about Soundset in comparison to other hip-hop festivals?

Kevin Beacham: The main thing to me is that [other festivals] seem to be mainly focused the performers side of things, where as Soundset is really active in trying to deliver an "experience" on as many levels as possible [by including all the elements of hip-hop]. I don't remember that sort of discussion or agenda being the reason why we have those things at Soundset. I think Soundset has come out that way because of the people involved. The main people putting it together, on the Rhymesayers side, are all Old School cats who respect the Culture, but we all also are well in tuned into what is happening currently. I think all of those things reflect perfectly in the various aspects of the festival, from the line up to the other various components.

J-Bird: We have a ticket that's probably lower than any festival you can go to. I don't know any other festival, besides Warped Tour, that keeps and maintains a low ticket price for fans. Trying to keep the ticket prices low is always a challenge, because we want to bring in all the artists, you want to make it a really great experience for everything, but everything costs money. There's a whole lot that goes into it. I mean, you spend like $7000 on Porta-Potties. 

Slug: To me, Soundset is a celebration of hip-hop and a celebration of what our community has to offer. When we tour, many of our shows feel very exclusive to what Atmosphere and Atmosphere's audience are doing, whereas at Soundset, Atmosphere is just the group that happens to play last.

Kevin Beacham a.k.a. DJ Nikoless
What are you most looking forward to at Soundset?

Kevin Beacham: I'm looking forward to the experience overall. I really like seeing all the people, from the artists to the fans, come out to have a great time. I'm pretty locked in to  [hosting the DJ tent] all day so I don't get to actually see much of anything else, but I get to feel the experience from the feedback and energy of others who do. It's a great thing to have all that positive and excited energy around you.

Slug: I want to see every act. But I have a handful of responsibilities at the festival, so I don't really get to meander around and watch everything I'd like to see. But I balance that by remembering the role I played in helping to facilitate an event for you to run around and see everything you wanted to see. I'm currently trying to pre-organize my schedule that day because I do intend on watching Curren$y, Evidence, and De La Soul.

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