Minnesota Hip-Hop Festival Celebrates 10 Years

Last-minute cancellations, an amazing mid-storm performance, and strange rumors—all at this year’s Soundset Festival

The grassroots Minnesota hip-hop record label Rhymesayers started Soundset 10 years ago in the parking lot of the Metrodome. Since then, they’ve moved to more sizable venues and the crowds have swelled. This year they reached a record—35,000 attendees.

Still, pop culture often overlooks Minnesota as a place where hip-hop thrives. The West Coast, East Coast, and the South are more recognized for raising talented hip-hop artists, and the only place regularly credited in the Midwest is Chicago. But at Soundset, DJs start the day just before noon with breakdancers performing on small-scale stages and graffiti artists showcasing their talents. Here, local hip-hop artists, including Brother Ali, Allan Kingdom, and Atmosphere, have brought down the house across three stages all day.

The celebration falls the day before Memorial Day, making it the ideal Sunday. This was my fourth consecutive year attending, and I typically find each year better than the last. However, I’m not sure I can say that about this year after last-minute changes to the festival’s schedule.

Overall, Soundset was incredible. More than 40 artists performed before a lively crowd, and attendees could snag beer, wings, cheese curds, fried pickles, and clothing from small local businesses—with a Sweet Martha’s Cookies even opening up. The weather was perfect, too, besides some ominous clouds.

But despite hints of another great Soundset, three slated performers skipped out on the festival, citing personal reasons. Pusha T and Ty Dolla Sign were late for their sets. Mobile phones struggled to load Soundset’s social media, meaning my friends and I couldn’t check online for the schedule changes. And those changes led to unexpected performance overlaps, forcing me to choose between Grammy-winning hip-hop and soul artist Lauryn Hill and my favorite Twin Cities hip-hop collective, the Stand4rd. In this case, I chose Lauryn Hill, because even millennials such as I can appreciate the ones who paved the way in the late ’90s.

And contrary to what you might expect, millennials weren’t the only ones at Soundset. Every year, children watch the show on their parent’s shoulders, teenagers bring their brace-faced smiles, and middle-aged adults enjoy both old-school and new-school acts.

As this year’s throw-back artist, Hill had the longest set of the day. Her Grammy Award-winning rendition of “Killing Me Softly” has stood the test of time—recognizable by audiences both young and old. Together, attendees from different generations sang the words to the wistful song. After her set, though, the mood shifted. A more upbeat, youthful, wild energy took over. Rapper Travis Scott took the stage.

Scott’s performance at a festival I attended in New Orleans was nuts—he was constantly screaming into the mic, commanding the audience to form mosh pits, and inviting fans on stage under one condition: they had to stage dive. In mid-May, Scott’s show in Arkansas got so rowdy, he was arrested for inciting a riot.

By the time Scott took the stage at Soundset, the weather had been sunny and mostly 70-something, a surprise considering the forecast called for rain. Just when I thought we’d make it the entire day with pristine weather, rain fell hard during Scott’s set. Some concertgoers pulled out rain jackets and ponchos. Others made no accommodations and let the rain soak their hair and clothes. I was of the latter. The pouring rain enhanced Scott’s performance. It felt even more intense and exhilarating as I jumped around, whipping my wet hair back and forth. Scott appeared to feed off of the energy, not slowing down his movements or letting his voice get lost in the chaos of the storm. He ran, shouted, and used props, including a humongous bird. His set might be my favorite performance I have ever seen, and other attendees said the same on social media.

At the same time, Twitter flooded with the disappointment people felt from the no-show artists and the schedule changes.

Earlier in the day, when rap duo Atmosphere performed, front man Slug made a comment that sparked gossip. He said this would be the last Soundset. The message didn’t come from Soundset executives, but Atmosphere performs every year, so you’d think they’d know the ins and outs. I contacted Soundset several times and have heard nothing back. Many attendees on social media, including myself, will wait impatiently to hear if this statement is true. I would be fairly upset if this was my last Soundset, since despite the great moments, multiple things just didn’t go as planned.