For all its repeat bookings — hey, it’s Atmosphere’s and Brother Ali’s party, they can play if they want to — the Soundset festival always does a good job of introducing Twin Cities hip-hop fans to rising new artists from around the country. Look no further than Mac Miller (who’s returning this year) or Macklemore, both of whom performed at Soundset as relative unknowns. Here are some of the new names to watch Sunday.
This 18-year-old Brooklyn wunderkind gained attention by guesting on fellow dollar-signed rapper A$AP Rocky’s track “1 Train.” He also generated an underground buzz off last year’s mixtape “1999” — no relation to You Know Who, but full of late-’90s flavor of the Nas and Mos Def variety. Word is Jay-Z tried to sign him to Roc Nation, but the real-life Jo-Vaughn Scott opted to remain independent for a debut album due later this year. That’s right: The kid turned down Mr. Carter. He’d better be good.
Part of the Top Dawg Entertainment crew with last year’s biggest Soundset newbie, Kendrick Lamar, this hyena-voiced Los Angeles MC boasts a similarly dense and hazy sonic style but is much bawdier and grittier. One of his early singles was titled “Druggys With Hoes Again,” after all. He just dropped another drug-injected track, “Yay Yay,” from an upcoming album featuring Pharrell Williams and the Alchemist as producers.
Married duo Aja Black and Big Samir opened for Brother Ali on tour last fall, and by the sounds of last year’s album, “Born Champions,” the connection may have had more to do with the traces of ’70s soul and personal lyrics in their music than their shared Muslim faith. The Colorado couple have been (no duh) compared to the Fugees, but their fiery vocal sparring is often more reminiscent of Black Star and Boogie Down Productions.
Mixed Blood Majority
Like one of last year’s second-stage highlights, Villa Rosa, this trio of Twin Cities hip-hop vets is a side project with staying power. And boy oh boy, do these dudes have power. Doomtree beatmaker Lazerbeak produces the music, and rappers Crescent Moon of Kill the Vultures and Joe Horton of No Bird Sing provide their usual harrowing, hair-raising lyricism, each loosening up in the group setting without lightening up.
Isn’t 31 a little old to start a rap career? Sidelined by imprisonment and addictions in his youth, this Minneapolis native could’ve been the hardest-thugging rapper in town when he finally got serious about his music. Instead, he and producer Dimitry Killstorm took a more meaningful and — yep — mature approach on his often-fascinating debut album, “Whittier Alliance.” Highlighted by the new-era old-school single “Brand New Nostalgia,” it’s the best Minnesota hip-hop album of the year.