He’s seen all the snide comments online, but they’re not the reason Slug decided to change positions at this weekend’s Soundset festival.
“This will please all the people who say, ‘Aw, man, Atmosphere again?!’ ” the Atmosphere frontman cracked.
For the first time in Soundset’s 11 years, Slug isn’t scheduled to perform on the main stage when the festival returns to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds’ sprawling Midway area Sunday — a festival, mind you, that never would have happened were it not for Atmosphere’s local prominence and national reach.
Instead, he and his bandmates are taking over the Fifth Element Stage, the smaller performance area tucked away over by the cattle barn. They’re calling it the Atmosphere & Friends Stage.
It’s a rather defining moment in the history of the Twin Cities area’s biggest annual music festival: The event has gotten so enormous and expansive that its original hosts, headliners and hometown heroes no longer feel comfortable taking one of the top slots.
“We gave up the headlining set the year Snoop Dogg played , because how the hell you gonna follow Snoop?” said the Minneapolis rapper, aka Sean Daley. “And the lineups just kept growing after that, to the point where we’re always getting wedged between acts way bigger than us.”
Pointing to this year’s advertised headliners, he said, “I mean, yeah, I get if you’re excited to see Migos or Logic, you don’t want to have to wait through another set of dad rap again.”
Slug’s fatherly pedigree is all the stronger following the birth last year of his fourth son. He and his Atmosphere colleagues — co-founding producer/DJ Ant and their now seasoned second DJ, Plain Ole Bill — don’t have new music to tout, so that’s another reason to take more of a back seat this year.
Turns out, though, there’s a lot more behind the decision than a self-deflating desire to leave the main-stage slots to Soundset’s biggest names, which this year also include neo-soul visionary Erykah Badu, hip-hop legends the Wu-Tang Clan (performing the seminal “36 Chambers” album) and viral rabble-rouser Tyler, the Creator.
Said Slug, “I thought this might be a way to create a little village unto itself that’s more like the way Soundset used to be.”
He repeatedly used the term “the old backyard barbecue vibe” to describe the festival’s early years. Organized primarily by Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Minneapolis record label he co-founded in 1995, Soundset debuted in the Metrodome parking lot in 2008, then moved to Canterbury Park in Shakopee for seven years before resettling at the fairgrounds the past two years.
The first year drew an impressive 12,000 fans with a lineup that really was Atmosphere & Friends. Last year drew around 35,000 people with Top 40 acts such as Travis Scott, T.I. and Gucci Mane.
Slug said he has no regrets about how much the festival has grown.
“We made the decision to be as inclusive as we can to anything and anyone who falls under the [hip-hop] umbrella, and that’s been a beautiful thing,” he said, sending praise to primary booker Jason “J-Bird” Cook.
However, he conceded, “It used to be the kind of thing where all the artists just kind of kicked it together backstage, and everybody hung out. Now, with a lot of the bigger acts, they show up just before their set time with their own security crew, and they keep to themselves. That’s fine for them, but I miss the way it used to be.”
Thus, he hand-picked a lot of the artists who will be sharing the Atmosphere & Friends Stage. They include his longtime cohorts in the indie/underground hip-hop world (Murs, Evidence and Hieroglyphics), plus young local stars (Dem Atlas, the Lioness and Og Grip). The stage will also feature some of the less famous acts Slug wants to catch, particularly Brockhampton and Young M.A. (“She has this supercool swagger I love,” he said of M.A.)
Most notable of all, the stage lineup also includes one of hip-hop’s most celebrated pioneers, Ice-T, who follows Ice Cube and Common from recent years, all coming to Soundset from the TV/film world as if to prove they can still kick it as rappers.
Atmosphere’s history with Ice-T goes way back to 1997, when the local upstarts got the chance to open for the Los Angeles kingpin at First Avenue, one of their first big gigs at the legendary hometown club.
“I doubt he even remembers us, but for us it was huge,” Slug said.
All combined, he summed up, “This is entirely a selfish thing, not just for me but for some of the other people who’ve been coming to Soundset for more than the past five years or so. We can’t go back to the way it was, and we don’t want to. But we can re-create it in our own little way.”