As I walk through the VIP entrance gates, I am instantly engulfed with the powerful aroma of stale marijuana smoke and sweat- I knew I was home. This being my third year in a row attending Soundset, I am holding this years festival to a high standard. Last year featured names like Future, A$AP Rocky, Anderson .Paak and more. I didn’t think this year could get any better- I was happily proven wrong. If there was one word to describe the invigorating day it would be Ultimate. With all credit going to Denzel Curry, the extremely high grossing song by the south Florida artist has a line in the song stating “Ripping through cartilage, I am the hardest, bitch, Wrap it up, put in sarcophagus” A very powerful, descriptive and colorful line was the perfect way to describe Curry’s set and the festival experience as a whole.
Soundset is located on the state fair grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota- always falling on the Sunday of memorial weekend, this year being May 28th. The festival is curated by the Rhymesayers record label that has artists like Atmosphere, Prof, and Brother Ali under their wing. The idea of the festival derives from the genius mind of J-Bird, who wanted to create an event that brought people together to celebrate hip-hop for one day out of the year. Ten years later and the festival is known around the world as “The greatest festival in hip-hop.”
Some performances that will stay with me forever can only be broken down into three experiences. The first being the Ms. Lauryn Hill performance. Since her retirement and resurrection from music I have always wanted to experience her live. I never thought in my years of being a music fan that’d be able to see her from a three foot distance! Her voice and stage performance blew away my expectations, eventually bringing me to tears- absolutely inconceivable. Her rapping skills along with her beautiful voice rang from the heavens, bringing fans and myself to our knees in astonishment. We were merely peasants witnessing a goddess perform her magic for the first time. I was so blown away by her presence and knack for music that at times I forgot that I was there to take photos. You could sense the respect and emotion radiating from the crowd as she took stage, a community of fans that know and respect a legend of hip-hop was a beautiful sight to see. Truly an unforgettable experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The next best thing that happened at Soundset ends in a tie. I am indecisive between the Travis Scott performance and the Denzel Curry performance, two very different shows, but at the same time very comparable. Although Curry drew less than half of the crowd that Scott drew, they both brought an equivalent amount of energy to the stage. The Denzel Curry performance was so intense that I was witnessing people get pulled out of the crowd by security before he even hit stage. Throwing his body relentlessly on stage only instigated the crowd to mimic him, causing injuries and mosh-pits. And once the song Ultimate was performed, you could hear the crowd rapping the lyrics along from thousands of feet away. The energy was beyond comprehension and one that I will long for until I see him next. This was my first time experiencing a Denzel Curry show and it most definitely won’t be my last.
Now for the Travis Scott show. This set could not have been more Travis Scott-esque. As the black drape covering the stage was dropped- revealing the stage layout, an overcast of clouds began to cover the skies. Once Travis hit the stage, it began to downpour and storm all over the city. That wasn’t going to stop music fans from reeking havoc and destroying each other in mosh-pits. Scott screaming every word to his songs was like crashing thunder spreading across an army of rioting fans. The storm and the roaring sound of Travis’ music curated the perfect potion to end an incredible day for hip-hop.
The final take away that I will never forget was meeting rapper Modsun and having a 30-second photoshoot with him. The hippie rapper from Bloomington, Minnesota spent a chunk of time out of his day in the press tent doing interviews and meeting important people. I asked him if I could take a few photos of him- he was happy to engage. His generosity and energy was so vibrant and colorful that all I wanted to do was to spend the whole day with him. He may not make the most popular music but you cannot help but respect the energy and mere kindness of an artist who has been in the game for as long as he has. He took over what was supposed to be Lil Uzi Vert’s set who cancelled for unknown reasons. Fans were left confused and disappointed that Uzi flaked- nevertheless Modsun put on a very impressive performance. Full of energy and happiness to be performing in front of his home town. Why this was one of my takeaways may confuse some, Modsun was one of the few artists I had on repeat in my iPod when I was in middle school. The fact that I got to meet and take exclusive photos of him brought back a heavy sense of nostalgia.
Honorable mentions consist of sets performed by Playboi Carti and Gucci Mane. Both bringing the heat in performing their big hits. Gucci is in the midst of his most successful year as a rapper since being released from jail. His new album DropTopWop is now his eighth… Count it… EIGHTH project since being released from jail last year. The man is a mixtape assembly line. Carti is new to the limelight and handling it well. With his new project recently being dropped, his fans were eager to see what the hype was all about. His time on stage undoubtedly lived up to that hype. I look forward to seeing both in the near future. Both artists are only getting better.
As performances are going on, there are separate events happening simultaneously. An annual car show competition, skateboard competition, B-boy, and B-girl competitions kept crowds engaged and at the edge of their seats. Wherever you were on the Soundset grounds, there was always something to do.
Although there were many hiccups throughout the festival like last minute cancellations, weather issues, and rescheduling, the festival was bar none the best Soundset to date. The show never had a dull moment. Also Soundset really perfected the art of scheduling set times. Every hour there was a must see performance, unlike last year, where the best artists were bundled all together in a three hour span. Atmosphere stated at the end of his set that this was to be “the last Soundset ever.” I sure hope that is not true. Soundset gives hip-hop music and hip-hop lovers a holiday to celebrate the beautiful culture. Anyone who loves hip-hop must experience this festival, you will gain a new found appreciation for hip-hop music and its culture. I will never forget my experiences at this memorable holiday.
HERE ARE ALL OF THE PHOTOS TAKEN AT SOUNDSET