Yes, Atmosphere is a headliner at Soundset again. It’s their festival. They quite literally own it.
Yes, Aesop Rock, Murs, Doomtree and Prof are also all on the schedule again. They’re pals with Atmosphere, sure. They also usually own the crowd when they play the Twin Cities’ nationally reputed hip-hop mega-party.
And yes, there will be two side-by-side main stages again, two more auxiliary stages and all the usual distractions in case you want a break from the nonstop music, including the pimped-out car show and rows of merch stands selling the latest in weed-insignia T-shirts.
As much as Soundset 2016 appears to involve a lot of same-old same-old, though, Sunday’s ninth annual installment of the one-day rap marathon is actually treading a lot of new ground — starting with new digs at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. The festival had to change locations because of construction on its former site outside Canterbury Park.
Here’s more on that big change, plus four other story lines that will add some suspense to this year’s festivities. As if Prof’s madcap performances aren’t always suspenseful enough.
1. Finding its way to the Midway. No more snickering over the out-of-town rappers’ pronunciation of Shakopee. The new site is the State Fair’s Midway area, just a big, flat open space where the amusement rides usually are. The advantages are obvious vs. the outer suburb location, with ample mass transit options and easy bicycling access (bike parking is by the West End entrance). There’s also room for about 5,000 more people than the 30,000 who sold out the prior site, meaning this could be the biggest Soundset yet. Perhaps best of all, some of the fair’s concession stands will open just for the fest, including Sweet Martha’s Cookies. We foresee unusually brisk sales there.
2. Returning from TV land. Two of the biggest names in this year’s lineup are highly influential rap veterans who haven’t toured in recent years because of TV commitments. The Roots’ last local gig was a breathlessly paced First Avenue gig in 2009, the year they became the house band for “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” on their way to “The Tonight Show.” Roots drummer/bandleader Questlove — well-known to be a Prince fanatic — is making the most of the trip and spinning a tribute set to his late hero at First Ave later on Sunday. Meanwhile, Chicago rap wiz Common will make his overdue Soundset debut after trading rapping for acting, including a stint on AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” and many movies.
3. Mainstream attention. Another interesting pair this year is Future and A$AP Rocky, two young rappers with ample airplay on Top 40 and “urban contemporary” radio stations who are more mainstream than Soundset usually skews. Aside from past veterans such as Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube and last year’s star J. Cole, performers have always come up more from the underground. Future is so mainstream now he’s returning July 24 to play Xcel Energy Center with his pal Drake. A$AP Rocky’s main-street cred includes dating Iggy Azalea and recording with Selena Gomez.
4. Where the ladies are at, at last. Facing criticism around their manly 20th anniversary celebration at Target Center last December, Soundset’s primary proprietors Rhymesayers Entertainment acknowledged they could do better to represent women performers. And they did. Lizzo was an obvious choice again this year considering she’s the hottest act in town, but the lineup also includes Chance the Rapper’s Chicago cohort Noname, budding Los Angeles lyricist Reverie, St. Paul wunderkind Lexii Alijai, Grrrl Prty-affiliated DJ Shannon Blowtorch and Dessa of Doomtree. MTV “Real World” star Heather B will co-host.
5. So many rappers on the verge. Soundset has proved itself as a proving ground for up-and-coming rappers nationwide, and it’s become a brass ring of sorts for local newcomers generating buzz. In addition to the women mentioned above and the five newbies profiled in the accompanying “get to know” article, we’ve previously preached on Red Lake Indian Reservation rapper Baby Shel. We also figure no introduction should be needed for 9th House, the astronomical new duo with local rap heroes I Self Devine and Muja Messiah.