The Soundset 2012 Wrap Up in 3 parts: Those who came (a general overview of the festival and the performers), those who saw (the people, the fans, the ones that nearly every artist said made the festival), and those who conquered (the very best of the best).
Those Who Conquered
Action Bronson was second to perform on the main stage Sunday afternoon and started the day off right. With only a 30 minute slot, Bronson admitted between songs that he was there to rap, not talk and waste time. Performing cuts off of his Dr. Lecter album and Blue Chips mixtape (which was released earlier this year), the Queens native delivered a polished performance as he made his way around the stage vibing with the large crowd that had gathered to see what the buzz was all about. After lighting a joint on stage followed with a smile, Bronson was truly in his element… “Under the influence of fly shit, puffing hibiscus…” in front of 10,000+ fans. While he wasn’t eating lamb brain though, the rapper easily delivered one of the best shows of the day, even despite him admitting his 320 pound body wasn’t ideal for the conditions.
Although I wasn’t too familiar with him before the festival, I caught Prof’s performance after being handed his King Gampo album near the entrance. The dude is mad energetic, probably only standing still for a couple seconds during his whole set. The Minnesota crowd was loving every minute of it, rapping along with Prof’s catchy hooks and punch lines, lyrics the Twin Cities Daily Planet called “asinine, narcissistic…without a shred of redeeming artistry.” Ouch. I’d have to disagree, seeing Prof as a new age rapper not too interested in the Mac Miller sound that so many are doing now, and aware of the history that is his local Minneapolis hip hop scene. He got the party hoppin’, spraying the crowd with water guns and water bottles throughout the set and embracing the large audience that was feeling every second of it.
Announcing he probably shouldn’t have popped a Xanax before coming on stage, Danny Brown‘s energy was on full blast for his performance. Wearing furry Adidas shoes with monkey heads (see below in the gallery), fans latched onto Brown’s enthusiasm instantly, provided his nasally delivery and punch lines highlighting the different things he would do to a girl were way different from the rest of the bill. As shirtless and quirky as it gets, he ran from end to end of the stage performing mostly tracks off of his hit album XXX. While many were new to the rapper, he attracted a large crowd that kept growing once his set started. One of my favorite performances of the day was “Die Like a Rockstar,” where he raps “Experiment so much it’s a miracle I’m living!” Danny Brown isn’t your typical rapper, and that’s a big compliment. His biggest strength is his live act, and he definitely showed why Sunday afternoon.
My biggest surprise of the day was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. By far the best performance at Soundset, the duo from Seattle took the stage with a trumpeter, violinist, cellist, and back up singer and got going with a spark. Macklemore is one to always take a stand for what he believes in (his blind-consumer bashing “Wings”) and came out on stage wearing a “Legalize Gay” shirt, but didn’t fill the performance with quips about what the crowd should think. Instead, he urged everyone to just have a good time; to sing along with him, and dance along with Ryan Lewis’ production. He closed with “And We Danced,” introduction and all (which he used to… prepare), telling the crowd that in hip hop sometimes you just have to let loose. The be-wigged Macklemore’s faux-British accent and mention of a “hoe-down” set the Soundset crowd abuzz, and found the duo climbing 15+ foot speaker stands, crowd surfing, dancing and giving absolutely everything they had. I left a huge fan to say the least.
My favorite part of music, sports, or really anything to be honest, is when you can tell how much the person’s craft matters to them. Think Michael Jordan in tears, hugging that championship trophy in 1991. Think the Foo Fighters playing through the epic rainstorm at Lollapalooza in 2011. When legendary hip hop producer DJ Premier came on stage to perform with Evidence Sunday afternoon, we had another one of those moments. Ev’s face lit up as he let the crowd know this was probably his proudest moment musically, performing “You” with his hero. Premier was Premier, scratching throughout the hook as the Dilated People’s member showcased his lyrical genius. Action Bronson and Ant of Atmosphere enjoyed the show from backstage, and perhaps took notes as Evidence performed the “7 Steps to a successful hip hop show.” The steps ranged from how to connect with your audience to the correct temperature your water should be, and his OG Jordan black cement III’s served as the style guide. Ev acted Sunday like he truly gave a shit, and that’s what I love to see most.
Hip Hop’s next big thing, Big K.R.I.T., performed next. The rapper that produces much of his own tracks, and who recently signed with Def Jam, was super impressive. Dealing with an Evidence set that ran a little long, Krit dealt with the time constraints like a pro delivering nearly all his hits with a strong stage presence. The stage presence would have worked even better without his hype man who seemed to be a little too hype throughout the performance, chiming in often instead of letting the prodigy showcase his old school country flow. “My Sub” and “Boobie Myles” sounded dirty on the Soundset speakers, so powerful my camera was having trouble focusing through the vibrations, and Krit had nearly everyone in the crowd going nuts. The only downsides were the omission of “Country Shit,” especially after explaining he was too country to let the big time label deal get to his head, and the decision to close with “The Vent.” While the track does show his versatility and lyrical prowess, I didn’t see it too effective for the festival setting (keep in mind Big Krit was cut off for going over his allotted set time, so maybe he was planning on ending with “Country Shit.”)
The self proclaimed “best mother fucking rapper on planet Earth” hit the stage after Big K.R.I.T. Kendrick Lamar, while one of the strongest, most hardcore rappers currently making music, was a little too quiet on stage during his performance. Not yet too polished in the live aspect of music, he had trouble engaging the audience in between songs, which was now at about 15,000+. This isn’t to say the dude doesn’t have swagger. The songs he did perform, mostly off of his highly acclaimed album Section.80, were what the festival had in mind when they threw him on the bill. “ADHD” could have been the best song performed all day, excluding the Wu Tang legendary hits, and J.Cole’s produced “HiiPowerr” gave the audience a conscious banger to vibe through with 3′s in the air throughout. His first time in Minnesota might have been a little shaky, but there are still big things to come from the Compton native.
I missed P.O.S. and Aesop Rock for Willie Evans Jr. and Paten Locke, and I was not at all disappointed with my decision. While Dumbtron may have had the smallest crowd of any set I attended all day, they were one of the best from Soundset 2012. They make beats, DJ, and rock the mic, all while engaging the audience throughout as if they were on some large game show. Willie’s side of the crowd contained the “Nerds,” with Paten’s side home to the cool members of the crowd. They went back and forth on tracks with the confidence and lyrics comparable to Black Star (yeah I said it, the Mos Def and Talib Kweli Black Star), and threw in fresh accapella parlor tricks when mixing on their turn tables. I wish these dudes would release something official because I fell in love this past Sunday.
Wu Tang clan ain’t nothing to fuck with, and legends Ghostface Killah and Raekwon showed why late Sunday. They were the old guys at the festival, but after playing tracks from Enter the 36 Chambers, Supreme Clientele, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, OBFCL 2, Fishscale, and more, they were clearly still the most talented performers (and rappers) on the bill. They still have that Wu Tang personality that brought them fame years ago, and despite playing songs nearly 20 years old (older than probably 40% of the crowd), Ghost and Raekwon had the crowd at the palm of their hands, eyes following the duo every step they made. The set also provided some comedy towards the end, as they searched for fans to rap the ODB and Method Man verses on “Protect Ya Neck” on stage with them. The first two fans that came up proved failures, saying they only knew “some of the verse.” A kid from North Dakota came on stage to rap Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s part, completely in awe that he was on stage with his heroes, and killed it. Only stopping to omit the n-word, he screamed the lyrics through the mic like it was his day job, impressing Raekwon and earning himself dap from the whole crew on stage. Photos of the kid are below in the gallery, and if you’re reading, thanks for saving what would have been a very embarrassing moment for the Soundset crowd.
Lupe Fiasco. Some call him the greatest rapper alive, some call him a complete sell out, and some have no idea he had albums before Lasers. As a disclaimer, I hated Lasers but understood it was something he was basically forced to make. I saw him perform earlier in October (which I reviewed here), and he put on a great show for the specific audience that nearly sold out Assembly Hall. He brought a live band with him to Soundset and had that same energy from the aforementioned October show, but this time, I didn’t think it fit the audience. I would have loved to see Fiasco come out and perform mostly songs from Food and Liquor and The Cool, catering to the more conscious loving hip hop crowd. Instead it was the same set list from almost a year ago, Lasers tracks with hits from the earlier albums sprinkled in. While the songs played were ones that I could care less of, Lupe controls the stage and sucks you in regardless. He throws out verses with ease and passion, whether they are about not caring right now or about words he never said.
An Atmosphere picture and review would be here, but Lupe asked the crowd to pray to the rain Gods for some rain (a break from the excruciating heat), and they definitely delivered. Fiasco’s performance was cut short as a member of the Soundset security team came on the microphone, alerting the audience that a tornado and hail storm were 10 minutes away. Panic ensued, but no damage or injuries occurred, and my first Soundset officially ended.
All photos by Michael Bojda