It's bigger, easily accessible by mass transit and actually in an urban environment, which seems relevant for a festival dealing exclusively in so-called urban music.
The biggest selling point for Soundset's new location on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, however, may have been one of the fair's most popular attributes, too.
"They had a bucket of them backstage, and I hit that even before I hit the beer," Doomtree producer/DJ Aaron "Lazerbeak" enthused about Sweet Martha's cookies joining the Twin Cities' nationally reputed hip-hop festival.
Held outside Canterbury Park in Shakopee for the past eight of its nine years, Soundset changed locations but really didn't miss a beat. About 30,000 fans ate up the nonstop 10 hours of music and unusually fair weather on Sunday as voraciously as they did the Sweet Martha's.
Its new location on the fairgrounds' Midway area — which organizers expect to be long-term — found towering stages, bustling beer tents and hard-bobbing music fans taking over where high-flying amusement rides and root beer stands dominate the site at summer's end.
The fest was forced to move due to construction on the Canterbury grounds. If anything, though, the relocation only helped invigorate the event.
"It feels a little more exciting this year," said Billy Belanger, 35, of Eden Prairie, who wore his Soundset 2008 T-shirt to trumpet the fact that he has attended all nine of the festivals.
"I live and breathe hip-hop, and here we have one of the best hip-hop festivals right here in our backyard."
Maybe the biggest effect of the move to the heart of the Twin Cities was to bring down the average age of Soundset's audience. Or maybe it was the booking of Soundset newcomers and Top 40-based, chart-climbing rappers A$AP Rocky and Future.
Throngs of teens too young to drive crammed to the front of the two side-by-side main stages, where local favorites Lizzo, Prof and Atmosphere also performed this year, as did two pioneering acts making their first-ever trip to the fest — the Roots and Common.
"They always seem to find a cool mix of acts and keep it interesting every year," said Dylan Breon, who's about to graduate from Orono High School — and has attended Soundset all four years he's been at the school. He, too, gave the new site a chocolaty thumbs up.
"Sweet Martha's was one more good reason to come," Breon said.
Here's our take on this year's Soundset.
Overall impression: Simply put, it was the best Soundset yet. The weather and the new grounds were pluses, yes, but the music lineup this year was the perfect mix: An equal dose of legendary veteran acts and buzzing newbies, plenty of locals among the touring stars, and finally enough women on stage to at least fill a sedan.
Best of the best: Not seen in town since First Avenue in 2009 — the year they became Jimmy Fallon's house band on NBC — the Roots took the same approach to Sunday's set as they did to that prior gig. Drummer/bandleader Questlove pushed the band literally nonstop like a live band version of a mash-up DJ, blending classic Meters funk jams with their own gems such as "Break You Off" and some extra surprises, including some Guns N' Roses and a long Prince medley. Just wow.
Old-school rules: The Roots bested strong showings by all the classic acts on Sunday's lineup — "old-school" in hip-hop circles being 20 years or older. New York rapper Pharoahe Monch showed he's still one of the most groundbreaking wordsmiths around in a topical, angry set in the Fifth Element tent. DJ Marley Marl, who dates to the early '80s NYC hip-hop scene, had kids born in the '90s dancing excitedly in the dance tent. Known more as an actor in recent years, Common set out to prove he still has it as a rapper and earned one of the day's best receptions, especially with his thoughtful classic "Food." It was a good day for our own local vets Atmosphere, too, who gave up their usual headlining slot to A$AP Rocky and played a fun non-hits set.
Not so bright Future: A full 10 minutes passed in the day's penultimate set before Atlanta hitmaker Future actually started a song, and he proceeded to eat up many more minutes with trite "this side vs. that side" crowd-riling antics. When he did finally get to his hits, he let the crowd do most of the work.
Gender matters: The increase in women performers was sort of a non-story, in the end, as MCs like Chicago's Noname Gypsy and St. Paul teen Lexii Alijai fit in seamlessly, as did mohawked, high-adrenaline DJ Jazzy Joyce. Fans listening closely heard valuable empowerment lessons from Alijai, who preached sisterhood over romantic pursuits, and especially from Lizzo, whose big main-stage showing was all about self-respect. "Rapper, DJ, dancer, artist, whatever — you can do it all, ladies," Lizzo declared.
Best use of a live band (besides the Roots): While he started and ended out front with a microphone in hand, the most impressive part of top newcomer Anderson .Paak's early afternoon set was when he got behind the drum kit. The Oxnard, Calif., rapper/singer (and Dr. Dre protégé) drummed and rapped through a P-Funk-like party jam for 10 minutes with his band the Free Nationals, the feisty funk well-balanced with the slow, sexy groove of his hit "Am I Wrong."
Best holdout: Even though he's a local, Minneapolis rapper Finding Novyon admitted on stage in the Fifth Element tent he had never been to Soundset before. The reason: He was waiting until he was booked. "I told my friends I would perform here one day," he told the bulging tent of excited fans, who got even more riled when Allan Kingdom showed up to guest on "Lots."
Nitpicking the new location: Set on a huge swath of blacktop surrounded by fair buildings, the main staging area suffered from a bad acoustic bounce that marred some of the sets, including Common's. There were also some problems with bottlenecked traffic flow heading over to the Soundset Village (merchandise) area. And with ample permanent plumbing already on site, why was free water so hard to find?