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The crowd yelled as Evidence performed Sunday at Soundset 2012 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.

Courtney Perry, Special to the Star Tribune

Soundset 5 an all-day whirlwind

  • Article by: CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER
  • Star Tribune
  • May 29, 2012 - 9:41 AM

Future question for a Minnesota music trivia contest: Who's the only performer besides Atmosphere to close out Soundset in the festival's first five years?

Answer: Lupe Fiasco, but only by default.

The Chicago rapper best known for the 2008 hit "Superstar" -- which he never had time to get to -- was three-quarters of the way through his Soundset set Sunday outside Canterbury Park in Shakopee when concert promotions guru Randy Levy stepped onstage, clearly not there to rap.

"We need you to seek shelter," Levy advised the 19,000 or so fans, who were suddenly jolted from a sun-baked daze into a near-frantic dash for their cars or the main Canterbury Park building as tornado sirens started blaring.

The sudden appearance of dark clouds matched the hurried pace throughout the hip-hop festival. Thanks to a new layout that put the two main stages side-by-side, the music did not stop at the daylong event. But then it ended ever so abruptly.

Although the group did appear later at the First Avenue after-party, Atmosphere not performing at Soundset is probably what it will feel like not having Dick Clark on TV at the next New Year's Eve. But fans hardly got stuck with Ryan Seacrest-like disappointment.

Like a shark, this is one music fest that keeps moving. Granted, it did not feel that way early in the day when such recent regulars as Grieves & Budo and Evidence performed again, but even many of the usual suspects mixed things up. Seattle duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, for instance, returned with a string section in tow -- and with a pro-gay-marriage T-shirt on Macklemore that reiterated this is not your typical rap concert.

Minneapolis rap vet I Self Devine kicked off the main-stage lineup at noon with the current, bleak social commentary from his new album, "The Sound of Low-Class Amerika." Talking afterward, I Self made the valid point that "whatever you think of it, Soundset puts a lot of people to work, which is a big thing in this economy."

Organizers worked hard on fine-tuning the fest. Additional food trucks such as Hola Arepa greatly upped the concessions (although, because of the abrupt finish, fans got stuck with a lot of unused food/beverage tickets). Putting the two main stages next to each other was another smart move, because it also eliminated the noise spillover that sometimes marred previous years.

One downside to the new layout, though, was that the smaller Fifth Element stage attracted smaller crowds. New local stars such as Audio Perm and headliner Astronautalis nonetheless went over in a big way there. It was Astronautalis -- a recent transplant from Jacksonville, Fla. -- who provided the best perspective on Soundset, a fest whose success in bringing underground hip-hop acts to massive crowds has rightfully brought national attention to the Twin Cities hip-hop scene.

"In Florida, I play in tiny clubs," he said. "In Minnesota, I play a festival like this."

Here's a play-by-play recap from this year's sprawling fest:

Best newcomer: Mississippi-reared Def Jam discovery Big K.R.I.T. did his Delta roots proud with greasy-sounding beats and songs that defied the urban norm, highlighted by the title track of his next album, "Live From the Underground."

Best older pro: Sporting a new mop-top hairdo and old-fashion microphone, Lupe Fiasco was already kicking up a storm when the dark clouds arrived -- with smart, Kanye-grandiose songs such as "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now."

Biggest letdown: Even though he was a hit at California's massive Coachella fest, Los Angeles newcomer Kendrick Lamar did not seem ready for his prime-time festival slot. His sound was weirdly faint and muddy, and he chose some of the more languid tracks off his album, "Section.80."

Worst audience participation: Ghostface Killah and Raekwon used up five of their 45 minutes auditioning fans to fill in for their fellow Wu-Tang Clan members in "Protect Ya Neck." After two kids failed miserably, Raekwon reflected the crowd's frustration: "I'm not trying to be Simon [expletive] Cowell!" he yelled.

Best promotion for a record you can't yet buy: While he dropped in older fan favorites such as "Drumroll" and "Optimist," Minneapolis rap icon P.O.S. kept the crowd electrified with the more electronic, dance-infused tracks from his album due Sept. 18, including "[Expletive] Your Stuff" and "Get Down."

Best rapper-as-narcissist lyric: "They can't take their eyes off me / I'm like the scenic view," from Muja Messiah. The always-cocky and underrated Minneapolis MC also returned fresh with his new duo, Villa Rosa, featuring the fest's only female rapper, Maria Isa. (A second woman, Medusa, was a no-show, giving local Ghanaian star M.anifest a chance to shine as a fill-in.)

Best hint at who should co-headline Soundset 2013: Philadelphia rapper Chief Kamachi's song "Chuck D" was a clever, spirited homage to hip-hop greats Public Enemy, whose influence could be heard in less overt ways throughout the day.

Follow Riemenschneider on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

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