Jun 102010

Shakopee, MN—Soundset Festival 2010 turned out another successful foray of Hip Hop happenings as artists and fans from around the country converged once again on Memorial Day weekend outside southern Minneapolis. A sweet blend of balanced vibes brought over 17,000 fans in droves to the grassy fields outside of Canterbury Downs for the 3rd showing of this unique festival. Amongst a backdrop of dozens of school buses, the boisterous crowd partook in a Hip Hop celebration for the ages! Every aspect of this experience transcended your typical concert; from the musicians tireless performances, b-boys breaking, skaters’ on their grind, high-art graffiti works and a low rider competition that would have had Dr. Dre saying “Let me ride”! Off stage and behind the scenes, the festival was a tightly run ship boasting easy access to the venue, plenty of facilities, hoards of free parking, top-notch waste removal/recycling program (clean and green), state fair style munchies and a seemingly endless amount of artist/label booths and merchandise tents to give you all the 411 on all the performers of the day.

A kick off around 11am got the party started, as Soundset’s offerings gave performers and attendees alike the feeling of being a kid in a candy store. Regrettably, my crew and I did not arrive until 2:30pm because of a Mexican-themed party held in my honor the night before that lasted until the wee hours of the morning (and if you’ve seen “The Hangover” you know how it goes…). However, we were back with a vengeance, tailgating with El Jimador in hand before heading inside just in time as Freeway turned over the main stage duties to Mr. Money Murs. The “Bad Man” himself certainly lived up to his billing. Even with overcast (irony #1, Atmosphere’s 1st album was Overcast!) skies above, Murs provided the crowd with the kind of shine that was simply undeniable. After belting out tracks from several of his albums (3:16, Murs for President and others), the MC who represents one half of the group Felt with Slug from Atmosphere held the crowd captive until he practically had to be run off stage!

Somehow, amongst the blur of excitement, we found our way to the ticket booth and secured a fresh round of “Mich Goldens” and “Bud heavies” to aid our refreshment. Afterwards, we were off to the skate park. The half pipe was set up as a back drop on the far side and skaters ripped an assortment of moves, all while the musicians continued to perform on both stages (the 2nd, smaller stage was referred to as “The Fifth Element” stage). Note: going forward, for the sake of time and attention span, I’m basically going to chronicle a selection of personal highlights from here on out. Not that I’m really as lazy as that sounds, but I’d like to preserve your sanity as well…..So, let’s press onward!

We chose to post up in a strategic location that allowed us to check out both stages, by hanging in a somewhat mutual territory where we could easily shift back and forth between the two. Acts like Fashawn and Yelawolf (very reminiscent of Twista, check out Yela’s track titled “Trunk Muzik”) kept the Fifth Element stage swaggering with anticipation prior to one of my favorite acts of the day, Mr. Toki Wright. I had the pleasure of catching up with Toki amidst the crowd while Yelawolf performed the latter half of his set. Coincidentally, Toki and I knew each other as kids growing up in MN and after losing touch for a number of years, we were able to catch up at a show in Portland, Maine a few years ago. After chatting with Toki for a few, he soon took the stage and proceeded to shred the mic and work the crowd to a frenzy! His unleashed verbal assault produced mic-fire on such tracks as “Mofiya”, “The Feeling”, “Devils Advocate” and “Good”. With a stage presence that rivals the best in the game, Mr. Wright’s lyrical abilities connect with fans on a much deeper level with soulful, insightful rhymes. Toki’s ’09 album release “A Different Mirror” saw him signed to Atmosphere’s record label, Rhymesayers Entertainment. Also, check out his newest project, an 8 song E.P. titled Blackmale, which can be downloaded online with all proceeds going to aid relief to victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

The conclusion of Toki’s set meant it was time for P.O.S. shift from the on deck circle, to his rightful spot in the batter’s box on the main stage. This Minneapolis bred talent is one of the staples of the Doomtree collective that had its finger prints all over the event. His unique blend of production skill, rap artistry and punk rock undertones (he was playing guitar during parts of his performance) were put on full show case for all to witness this afternoon. With a number of excellent cuts from his album Never Better, he commanded the stage like few others during the event and showed why he is a force to be reckoned with as a performer. Dynamic tracks such as “Goodbye” and “Low Light Low Life” legitimately left the collective with the impression P.O.S. possesses power and certainly would have raised the roof had there actually been one!

With Soundset 2010 now in full swing and surging toward the final acts of the day, we were pleasantly surprised to find the “feel good” story of the event. This epiphany came to us in the form of a quadruple threat named Dessa, also from the Doomtree stable. While Dessa is known to many around the Twin Cities and hip hop heads alike, she was a guiding light for “what’s next” coming up out of the independent label circus. Her solely unique blend of vocal and lyrical talent, combined with a vivacious delivery and stage presence made this songstress the talk of the show for many at the event (and she happens to be real easy on the eyes too!). How do I know this, you ask? Well, here’s how: Dessa was performing on the Fifth Element stage opposite Method Man and Redman on the Main Stage. When Red and Meth came out to the crowd’s delight, they immediately consumed much of the crowds’ attention (insert marijuana joke here). However, as they played on in familiar manner, a buzz was stirring in the area between the two stages. Soon, word of mouth began spreading and droves of revelers started making their way over to see Dessa and her guest vocalists light up the mic. As we made our way over to see her perform, other concert goers were literally turning to one another and asking “Have you seen this Dessa chick man?? She’s totally killin’ it over here…..you gotta check her out!) From where we stood, you could see/feel the contrast from Rap’s Royalty to the next generation of  Songwriter/Singer, MC/performer. This was a moment when it occurred to me that hip hop had grown further and farther than many might have ever predicted. This was the moment, I became a fan of Dessa Darling! 

Picture this: a trio of Dessa, Redman and Method Man, all performing at the same time and musically the concert experience was elevated to a whole ‘nother level. While the grafitti walls in the distance were coming together with a pinwheel of vibrant colors, the towers of speakers relayed the hip hop sounds of yesterday and tomorrow. Red and Meth ignited the crowd with their widespread anthem “How High (part II)”, while Dessa flooded the scene with tracks off her album “A Badly Broken Code”. Her performance on cuts like “The Alibi ”, “Matches to Paper Dolls” and a stirring live rendition of “The Chaconne” added to the fervor of an already intense event. While P.O.S. joined Dessa for a neo-classic hip hop duet, Method Man pleased the crowd with his timeless track “M-E-T-H-O-D Man” from his first solo album. When both acts sets concluded to a raucous roar, it was evident how special a festival like Soundset had become. For many enthusiasts like myself, it was an opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle and bring those memories back home with me like beach sand from an island vacation!  

With each successive performance, the electricity could be felt from beyond the concert gates! Thus, the ideal setting for none other than Brother Ali, had fermented to the point where he could properly orate his ceremonious sermon. Right out the gate, Ali made us believe “The Truth is Here”, as he played true to his mantra of “whatever comes up, comes out- we don’t our hands over our mouth”. Donning a Minnesota Twins jersey bearing his name and the number 77, Ali provided an ear blistering performance with a host of his many noteworthy tracks. Of course, this sets the stage to provide the opportunity of expressing my observations of the Brother’s epic live performances. In no way endorsing a coronation of any sort, I must extend that every time I’ve see this man live, he is able to hook you in with a swag delivery that would make both UPS and Fedex envious! Whether he is building his own energy to a boiling point with his “Backstage Pacing” or relaying his down-to-earth message of borderline self deprecation on his classic “Forrest Whittaker”, Brother Ali is sure to keep the masses tuned into his lyrical journey from start to finish. The man is a rap/hip hop professional and there’s not much else that need be stated beyond that. 

Finally, the pinnacle of the festivities were upon us and the hour at hand. There is no contesting that Atmosphere is the undisputed Don Corleone of this musical Cosa Nostra. Fittingly, an overcast, cloudy day decidedly obeyed the rap gods of the Southside (Irony # 2: the sun literally came beaming through, as if it were a stage prop, for the 1st time all day as they performed!) when “Sluggo” and “Gangster Ass Anthony” implored it be so by performing their classic hangover tune, affectionately titled “Sunshine”. The long time duo of producer and M.C. delivered a mixture of familiar favorites such as a “God Loves Ugly”, “Yesterday”, “Modern Man’s Hustle and “Tryin’ to Find a Balance” to go along with some excellent, brand new material that is sure to “keep your trunks rattlin’ like two midgets in the back seat wrastlin”. In short, it was a fitting end to a well played event. After the conclusion of their set, (now complete with a high arcing rainbow up above the venue) we took a little extra time to soak up the “Atmosphere” while chowing down on some cheese curds and corn dogs….the quintessential ending to a most ‘full’filling day! 

Wrapping up a day that provided so many awe inspiring moments is certainly no easy task. Rather than attempting a feeble recap; I’ll opt for a few observations from a selection of post concert discussions. Leading off, the festivities provided a venue of positivity in the following manner: the brilliant vibe shared by both the artists and concert goers was the underlying theme of the day. This was not a pseudo “tough guy”, peacock posturing, show of machismo that all too often plagues much of the rap community. It was a very peaceful, fun-loving sort of gathering that seemed to share a common bond with one another and their love for quality music, art, performance and culture.

For many, it was a welcome departure from the stereotypes that have been attached to hip hop music. With artists raising social awareness in favor of lifestyles boasting excess and materialism, it was easy to relax and enjoy the show without worrying about having to “watch your back”. Of the thousands of female fans the event drew, several I spoke with noted how cool it was to not hear lyrics of degradation towards women. These concepts seem very simple when viewed through innocent eyes, unfortunately much of modern music across many genres has long preached a hedonistic oath that has not done justice for what the art originally intended. This event helped recapture the essence of good triumphing over the trappings of the self absorbed. Soundset festival represents all that is pure, good fun in an all day event and I will go on record predicting it should come as no surprise if this institution becomes an annual summer tour heading to a city near you, sooner or later!


To find more on the artists and tracks highlight within, head to YouTube with their name, album or song title to capture the full experience.

Also, please show us some luvin’ with a comment to this post— And this week’s trivia question for extra points: Name the artist that bestowed theses magical song lyrics!      

“Ur the best, around……nothin’s gonna ever keep you down”!!!

Be good, C.$.