The Minnesota State Fair sure has come a long way from "Ice Ice Baby."
For the first time since Vanilla Ice headlined the grandstand in 1991 -- about the same year he became a punch line -- the fair finally welcomed another hip-hop concert onto its main stage Monday night. A sign of how long it had been, one of Monday's performers, Mac Miller, wasn't even born the year the Iceman cometh, and the headliner, Wiz Khalifa, had yet to enter kindergarten.
At least Khalifa and Miller -- pals from Pittsburgh -- are two of the genre's most buzzed-about young MCs, which made them great test pilots to see if hip-hop could fly again at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. The fair staff did not exactly roll out the red carpet for them, though, booking them on closing night (a school night) and not allowing photographers into the show.
Despite all that, the sold-out concert drew a record-breaking 15,408 fans, the most in the grandstand's remodeled configuration -- and the biggest show of this year's fair by about 2,000 people.
A big chunk of the credit for the successful Labor Day finale should go to the annual Memorial Day weekend festival in Shakopee, Soundset, which introduced all three of Monday's acts to Twin Cities fans, including Mississippi-reared opener Big K.R.I.T.
Just as he did at Soundset in May, K.R.I.T. made a big impression. His Southern-baked, OutKast-flavored tracks such as "Sookie Now" and "Rotation" riled fans out of their sweaty, late-afternoon summer daze. His hit "Country [Expletive]" sounded extra ironic within earshot of the bovine and swine barns.
While part of K.R.I.T.'s appeal was his exotic Delta grit, Miller's charm seemed to stem largely from his sameness with the mostly under-25 fans. The 20-year-old rising star could have been mistaken as an audience member with his backward ball cap. He often resorted to dimwitted bro-rap, including the blatantly titled "Loud" and the brazenly sexist "Lucky Ass Bitch." To his credit, some of Miller's smarter, more artsy emo-rap tunes went over equally well, including his set-opener "Best Day Ever" and "Frick Park Market."
Khalifa, 24, had a whole other kind of charisma, way more rock-starry. With his fedora hat, scarf-adorned microphone stand and heavily tattooed body, he looked like a cross between Lil Wayne and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. He proved himself an effective headliner, too, despite only one full album to his name (his second arrives next month). Some of his best-received songs came off self-released mix tapes, including the slow-grinding "The Cruise" and the weedy party anthem "California."
Not every song in Khalifa's set referenced marijuana, but suffice it to say the only place at the fair with more talk of green leaves was the Horticulture Building. "All I need is Mary, Mary, Mary / I don't [mess] with no other drug," he sang in another crowd favorite, "Mary x3" -- not exactly Nancy Reagan-approved, but cleaner-cut than a lot of other rap acts the fair could have booked (or metal or country acts, for that matter). He ended his 70-minute set with his more straitlaced hits, "Black and Yellow" and the new single "Work Hard, Play Hard," each high points without the high lyricism.
Whether or not Khalifa's act was bothersome enough to make fair bookers think twice about offering another hip-hop concert next year, the fans' wishes were crystal-clear. You could call Monday's show the vanilla on top to one of the fair's most successful concert years of late.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib