Good new, kids: Hip-hop is not dead. It is very much alive and well, it’s just been hiding out in Minnesota, that’s all. Maybe not in its entirety, but some of the truest fans of hip-hopare definitely there. The people of Minnesota expressed their loyalty and love for the music through sold-out ticket sales, screaming their favorite lyrics, and dancing to the beats at this year’s Soundset festival. They have an adoration for this genre that is so pure and genuine, you can feel that s**t in the air.
We caught our first glimpse of the hip-hop scene when we arrived at First Avenue for the Soundset pre-party. A venue with a capacity of 1,500 was PACKED with all different types of people. From the teenage couple with a chaperone, to a girl from Nebraska who drove six hours by herself to join her friends, to the group of three middle-aged best friends whose tradition it was to come to Soundset… everyone was there in the name of hip-hop. The show itself was dope to say the least. Host Mally and the opening DJs Wonder and Just Nine set the tone just perfectly for a night of true hip-hop. MTV’s Sway and Minneapolis native Slug made quick appearances to bring out the headlining acts. Side note: that crowd went INSANE when Slug walked onto the stage. It was beautiful to be in a city where they show that kind of love for their homegrown artists. DJ Abilities had the crowd moving all types of ways during his set and of course gave us all a little lesson in what turntablism really is. Brother Ali delivered nothing short of a phenomenal set… as always. But perhaps the most memorable set of the night (and no disrespect to our headliner, you know we love you) was The Step Brothers (Evidence & Alchemist). They were gracious enough to invite a fan battling a disease to join them on stage to rock. And yo, sorry we didn’t catch your name bro, but you kept up with two of the most notable artists in independent hip-hop. Cheers to you. That pre-party show was like a giant hug from hip-hop as if to say, “Welcome to Soundset.”
The morning of Soundset, we were antsy to get to the festival site. We were excited to be part of a sold out festival for obvious reasons — c’mon, just look at that bill. Although we were newbies at Soundset, as Chicagoans, we were no strangers to music festivals. We only have about three thousand of them every summer. Ok, that’s a stretch but we did have an idea of what a festival brought and how to appreciate it. We knew that the beauty of a music fest was that we’d get to see some huge acts (some off our “music bucket list” — ahem, NAS) as well as get put on to some really dope, smaller acts.We spent some time at the Fifth Element tent in awe of just how dope Snow Tha Product is and how ill Jonwayne is (basketball shorts, pornstar hair and all!). We managed to catch some of DJ Qbert’s set and ran over to the Essential Elements tent to catch his ISP brethren, DJ D-Styles kill his set. There was so much going on, our minds were blown. Of course, some acts you’ll like and some you won’t but either way, you will still be amazed at the fan base that the artists draw to these types of events.
One of the most integral parts of our experience at Soundset was the main stage. The stage where hip-hop legends such as Cypress Hill and Nas show us exactly why they are where they’ve made it. (Yo, we won’t even get into how it felt to hear Nas perform the entire Illmatic album right in our faces… it’s not that we won’t, we can’t because there are just no words). It’s the stage where the members of the younger generation of hip-hop, Earlwolf and Chance the Rapper let us know why they are on their way to the top. It’s where 2Chainz stood to listen to roughly 30,000 of his fans spit his own lyrics right back at him. We witnessed Wiz Khalifa rock that same crowd giving us one of the most exhilirating sets of the entire fest. Let’s not forget the beloved hometown heroes, Atmosphere. All the hands waving in the air, and the people bouncing in unison during their set was almost hypnotizing from afar. Minnesota luh’ dem some hip-hop. FOR REAL.
A lot of things that we thought were inconceivable happened at Soundset. Things that I’m sure we here at The Hip Hop Project will be talking about for the next few weeks.. months.. hell, until we go again next year! For instance, we never thought that an independent hip-hop label could recruit the talents of artist from major labels and work to create a cohesive and unforgettable experience. How often do you see Chance (the Rapper) on the same bill as Grieves and Prof? Or see Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz, Ab-Soul, Atmosphere and Nas all on the same bill and on the same day? Yeah, that s**t doesn’t happen everyday and there are probably purists everywhere that probably cringed that we put Nas in the same sentence as Wiz or that even mentioned 2 Chainz. But let’s be honest the generation that bought the tickets to Soundset was not the generation that purchased a cassette of Illmatic twenty years ago. Some of them might not even know who Nas is! But it’s okay because of they probably looked him up the next day, torrented the album, and are probably beating themselves up for not having heard of him. Where else have we witnessed Wiz going off on a rant mid set to tell the youth that it is up to them to create the new s**t and not “them old ass n****s”? Yeah, Wiz going off a Kanye-esque rant after doing his best air guitar is certainly unfathomable but yo, it f****n’ happened.
To say that Rhymesayers Entertainment did a remarkable job this weekend would still be an understatement. It wasn’t only them, either, but the people of Minnesota who showed mad love to everybody… And we do mean EVERY. BODY. From the main stage to the tents with lesser-known artists, to the merch booths, the car show (yes, there was even a car show), to the skate ramp… Everyone everywhere was showing their appreciation by enjoying themselves to the fullest. A white middle-aged county sheriff mouthing the words to 2Chainz while thousands of young people go barefoot in a beer can ridden oasis indulging in their vices (some responsibly and some not) was definitely a sight to see. Soundset is definitely an event where love is shown to those who have made it and those still trying to make it. It’s an event where the love between hometown musical heroes (Atmosphere) and the people can be seen and felt. Soundset provides a model of what hip-hop could be in all cities if provided with a group of individuals that work against the grain, have open minds and a pure love for rap music coupled with an unrelenting willingness to share that love with others. So thank you, Rhymesayers Entertainment. Thank you, Minnesota. Thank you, Soundset. And most of all, thank you, Hip-hop for giving us an experience that we will never forget and allowing us to see that that pure, genuine, organic love for you does still exist.