"A lot of these kids get put down for liking this music, or for being one of only 10 people in their high school who listen to us. I think this event is as a validation for them as much as it is for us."
Slug told me that in 2008, watching from behind the stage in the Metrodome parking lot during the first-ever Soundset festival. Funny how times have changed.
As is reported in the story for Monday’s newspaper, attendance at the daylong, mostly indie hip-hop fest jumped from about 12,000 that first year (which certainly seemed impressive then but might’ve been an overestimate) to around 28,000 on Sunday outside Canterbury Park (which was described as a safe guess). It seemed like entire high school classes were there hanging out together, not just the 10 freaky kids from Washburn High or wherever. It really felt like the biggest show of the summer, too, even if the weather felt more like March.
Here are some of the standout moments from what I saw of the fest this year:
ATMOSPHERE'S RETURN: Slug cursed out “the tornado that ate up my set last year.” Performing second-to-last instead of in the usual finale slot -- and thus on a stricter time table – he and his group tore through their set not wanting to waste a moment. The “group” in this case featured his co-founding partner Ant and Ant’s fellow DJ Plain Ole Bill, the same configuration as their Welcome to Minnesota Tour in March. They weren’t cocky enough to keep the headlining slot away from Snoop Dogg -- hard to compete with the three female dancers doing stripper moves throughout Snoop's set -- but Slug and Co. did show gutsiness by opening with a rather dark and steamy new song. That bled into “Shoulda Known.” Most of the greatest hits followed from there, including “She’s Enough,” “Puppets,” the way-old favorites “Party for the Fight to Write” and “God’s Bathroom Floor” and the one-two finale “Shhh” and “Trying to Find a Balance.”
INJURED WARRIORS: Never mind that he was asked to perform at a moment’s notice when Busta Rhymes failed to show up. "I was walking through the crowd, and somebody said, 'Hey, you wanna do a little rapping?" Prof recounted (perhaps leaving out a step or two). The love-him, hate-him, can’t-deny-him Minneapolis rap star also happened to be performing his last-minute set just three weeks after surgery on a bum knee. He didn’t work the stage as maniacally as he usually does, but he seemed to be working it harder.
P.O.S. had his work cut out for him, too, coming off his five-month hiatus while he still awaits a kidney transplant. Any thought he might play a “light” set, however, flew out the window as he took the stage with dueling drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson and other Marijuana Deathsquads bandmates to deliver of “Bumper” and “F- Your Stuff.” Things predictably got extra crazy when his Doomtree crewmate Mike Mictlan joined later for “Get Down.” Taking in the scenery, P.O.S. said, “I know I live here, but I’m really happy to be here.”
BUMMERS OF THE FEST: Busta Rhymes’ no-show was chalked to mechanical issues with his plane leaving from Las Vegas. The Brooklyn rapper apologized via several tweets on Twitter, including this one: “EVERYBODY KNOWS I LIVE 2 PERFORM LIVE AND I PROMISE THE PEOPLE OF MINNESOTA, #Soundset AND THOSE WHO SUPPORT ME THAT WE WILL FIX THIS.”
You weren’t sure who to feel more sorry for, though: Busta or Kimya Dawson. The anti-folk songwriter formerly of the Moldy Peaches came all the way to town to perform one song with Aesop Rock, her partner in the new Rhymesayers-backed duo the Uncluded -- and that happened to be the one song where the sound on the main stage cut out completely. And the mics literally did not turn back on until the seemingly oblivious Aesop Rock yelled, “Give it up for Kimya Dawson!” Dawson wasn't exactly singled out, however. The sound problems persisted through the first few minutes of P.O.S.’s set on the adjacent main stage, so much so that you couldn’t hear the live drummers for the first couple songs.
Alas, fans had no trouble hearing another performer with ties to the Academy Wards (like “Juno” soundtrack star Dawson): Oscar winner Juciy J. The Three Six Mafia rapper was enjoyable enough as he delivered such “g”-less songs as “Smokin’ and Sippin’” and “Poppin’ My Collar,” but he nosedived into tragicomic territory as he asked for the best strip club in town and then must’ve yelled out 15 to 20 requests for fans to “show me your [breasts].” Mind you, a majority of the fans down near the front of the stage aren’t even of drinking age yet (the older drinkers hang back closer to the beer lines).
A downer in a totally other kind of way, Brother Ali mixed things up in his rapidly paced set by breaking down his autobiographical epic "Stop the Press" musically -- and by literally breaking down himself as he passionately delivered the lines about his old pal Eyedea's death. One of the most powerful moments in all of Soundset's six years.
FIFTH ELEMENT / SECOND STAGE: I got to the fest just in time to catch Minneapolis rapper Greg Grease leave a half-full Fifth Element tent in full-tilt revelry. Chicago rapper Psalm One – one of the two female rap acts on the lineup following the Chalice’s set earlier in the day – had the most ambitious live band of the day, a seven-piece ensemble that coolly added horns and a more soulful bend to songs such as “Macaroni & Cheese.”
Unfortunately, one of the best performances on any stage Sunday was witness by a miniscule crowd, since it was directly opposite Atmosphere: Mixed Blood Marjority, the new trio with Doomtree beatmaker Lazerbeak and rappers Crescent Moon (Kill the Vultures) and Joe Horton (No Bird Sing) proved even louder and more intense in concert than on their one record. Guests Toki Wright and Kristoff Krane added fuel to the fire, too.
A surreal moment came Crescent Moon’s way between songs when he heard Atmosphere’s “Party for the Fight to Write” echoing off the main stage into the tent. “I used to be a part of that,” said the real-life Alexei Moon Casselle, who was Slug’s hype man in the mid-‘00s and a fan before that. Putting the whole of Soundset into perspective – from its underground rap roots to the mega-fest it officially became 2013 -- he added, “It’s an insane thing going from seeing that guy perform in coffeeshops to doing this festival. There’s a lot of history there.”