At last, the weather was Instagram perfect. At last, the lineup featured more than just a couple of standout women performers. At last, Lil Wayne actually showed up for a gig.
Twelve years into its consistent, hard-won rise to becoming the Twin Cities’ biggest music festival — and one of the biggest all-hip-hop fests in the world — Soundset mostly enjoyed some good old-fashioned mojo and luck on Sunday.
Almost 30,000 fans once again flocked to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for the 10-hour, 40-plus-act rapathon. For only about the third or fourth time in the festival’s history, attendees didn’t have to check their weather apps for the advisory-inducing heat that hit last Memorial Day weekend, or the rain, windstorms or lightning of prior years. (No snow, though; not yet anyway.)
Alas, all the hip-hop lovers in attendance did have to check the Soundset schedule for last-minute cancellations, another nagging problem at the festival. At least this year’s big no-show, Lil Uzi Vert, showed some consistency; he also bailed on fans last-minute for 2017’s festival.
Uzi’s absence set up what might go down as one of the most memorable and dubious appearances in Soundset history.
Atlanta’s cowboy-booted rapper Lil Nas X, fresh off his unlikely and quite unholy No. 1 crossover hit with Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road,” was added as Uzi’s replacement. He did the megahit sans Cyrus (a big sans, it turns out) and then joked about people thinking that’s his only song. He did one other whole song to prove them wrong. Yes, just one, and then rode his imaginary horse out into the Soundset sunset.
Also possibly deemed historic at this point, Lil Wayne did make the gig, taking the stage just before 9 p.m. to finish off the fest.
The New Orleans rap king — also known as Weezy — had weaseled out of his three prior Twin Cities concerts, most recently complaining of plane trouble as fans waited for him inside Target Center in 2017. After Soundset organizers managed to fly Wiz Khalifa to the festival on a private jet the morning he left an El Paso jail on possession charges in 2014, Weezy must’ve known a flight-trouble excuse wouldn’t work in this case.
After years of making excuses for the festival’s lack of female acts, organizers once again made good on their pledge to book more women. They brought in some mighty good ones this year, too, from newcomers B.A.G. and Tierra Whack to acclaimed R&B innovator SZA, and from in-house favorite Sa-Roc (signed to Soundset’s sister label Rhymesayers) to Twin Cities vets Dessa and DJ Keezy (the latter of whom kicked off the music on the dueling, side-by-side main stages at 11 a.m.).
“Get outta the way of the queens,” longtime Soundset host and Los Angeles radio personality Sway Calloway said as he introduced the day’s second female main-stage performer, Doja Cat.
Dressed in a fuzzy, candy-pink robe that belied the sun-soaked setting, Doja Cat sounded a bit out of place as she surveyed the scene: “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” the Los Angeles singer/rapper guffawed.
Doesn’t every city have a hip-hop festival with a side stage named for the local indie-rap group that pioneered the festival (Atmosphere) sandwiched between cattle and sheep barns, and with a line for chocolate-chip cookies that’s longer than the beer lines? (Shoutout to Sweet Martha’s.)
Here’s a taste of some of the day’s other high and low points.
Best showing by a newcomer: Tierra Whack humorously kept a message up on the video screen behind her throughout her set that read, “Tierra Whack is currently performing.” Rest assured, everyone knew the 23-year-old Philadelphia rapper’s name after she lit up the Atmosphere & Friends stage with her wit and wiry wordplay. Many fans already showed familiarity with the clever, catchy and often meaningful words in her songs such as “Clones” and “Mumbo Jumbo.”
Best showing by a vet: Like Common, Ice Cube, E-40 and the Roots before him in recent years, DMX was sandwiched between younger hotshots in a midafternoon main-stage slot, and the old dog sounded way more energized and intense than the pups around him. Unlike any Soundset act before him, he also spiked his set with Christian sermonizing and even a prayer to Jesus thanking him for his redemption. Kids in the crowd still seemed more converted by “Party Up,” though.
Best gender-flip concert quip: Coyly telling the fellas in the crowd it was OK to throw their boxers on stage during her riotous set with Gifted Gab as the new duo B.A.G., Seattle area rapper Blimes carefully added, “Just make sure they’re clean, though.”
Biggest dud: All the more reason Doja Cat seemed out of place at Soundset: She relied too heavily on canned backing vocals and lazily looped beats that matched her own disinterested, phoned-in delivery. And while her penultimate song “Tia Tamera” finally sparked a strong reaction from the crowd, the only apt reaction to her childish, cow-loving finale “Mooo!” was “Booo!”
Biggest wow: Going back to its 2014 local debut at the Fine Line, East Coast duo Run the Jewels has consistently proved to be one of the best live acts in hip-hop. So no surprise Killer Mike and El-P went over huge at one of the biggest hip-hop fests around — one of their only gigs so far this year following a hiatus, but you’d have known it only by how giddy they looked just being there.
Coolest mellowing out: Coming right after the mushy macho bravado of G-Eazy — who brought out the Timberwolves’ Karl Anthony Towns for added high-five value — SZA’s slow, cosmic-soul grooves seemed all the more enchanting at sunset. The New Jersey singer even had a lot of bros swooning along to her stargazing hit “Drew Barrymore.” She needed to be turned up, volumewise, but was fully tuned in and loudly applauded.
Better late than never: Fans waited nervously as Lil Wayne failed to show for his allotted set time, but 15 minutes later his bleach-dreaded head finally popped out on stage. “You’re a long way from where I’m from,” was his hint at an apology. He made good on the musical front at least, performing for an hour with a full, tight live band and that million-dollar wicked grin on him the whole time, except during his dramatic ode to late pal XXXTentacion, “Don’t Cry.” Rowdier highlights included “I’m Me,” “Go DJ” and “HYFR,” the latter cut short without Drake in attendance. Maybe Drizzy is next for Soundset organizers to finally corral.