No, Pusha T didn’t go on when he was supposed to. Neither did “Caroline” up-and-comer Aminé. T.I. started 20 minutes late, Ty Dolla $ign’s set slipped a few hours following a flight delay, and Lil Uzi Vert cancelled altogether. That’s not taking into account Mac Miller, who dropped out after the recent Manchester bombing (Miller is in a relationship with Ariana Grande, the Manchester headliner), or Kevin Gates, whose jail sentence was extended in April. For once, Ms. Lauryn Hill was one of the most prompt artists of the night (with only a 15-minute delay).
But what an experience. Soundset just notched its 10th year running, and despite the messiness, the festival pulled off a fantastic day, showcasing several facets of hip-hop culture. Producers, including Linafornia, Astronautica, and Ness Nite and Mike Frey, represented hard at the Essential Elements tent, which later became a space for B-boy and B-girl battles. Skateboarders at the Familia halfpipe neighbored an incredible car show, showing off fierce paint jobs, luxe interiors, and more wild customization.
Going hand-in-hand with drop tops, Soundset experienced some raindrops during Travis Scott’s headlining set, a wild performance slathered in Auto-Tune. The clouds broke loose just moments after the “Antidote” star jumped on stage, raining sheets on attendees and the soon-shirtless Scott. Otherwise, the weather stayed sunny or partly cloudy, very comfortable considering the late-spring date — although security had to pull dozens of fans out of the massive crowd from dehydration or substance-induced fainting.
The State Fairgrounds once again proved an excellent home for the festival, fitting approximately 35,000 people within the 320-acre stretch, much of which was open to the public. Cell service was hard to come by, but free water stations and plentiful food helped ease exhaustion. One significant change from last year: the Fifth Element stage moved southeast, farther from the main stage, which staved off the sound bleed of yesteryear.
The Fifth Element stage hosted some of the most fun performances of the day, including legendary turntablists Invisibl Skratch Piklz, DJ Keezy with Mica May Grimm and Lady Midnight, and Goddess MC Sa-Roc, a recent Rhymesayers signee who goofed around to “Bohemian Rhapsody” between daring songs. Talib Kweli ended up as a hidden gem, playing “Get By” and a host of other favorites hidden away from the main action. Locals Sophia Eris, J. Plaza (whose crew FREEWIFI just signed to Rostrum Records), and Nazeem & Spencer Joles rocked the smaller stage earlier in the day.
Over on the main stage, locals ZULUZULUU opened the festival with their fluid, funky Afrofuturist vibes, playing “What’s the Price,” “Fades,” and “On Our Way” to a growing crowd. DJ Just Nine, one-sixth of the band, had opened up the Fifth Element tent the year before, and Greg Grease’s former band the Usual Suspects actually performed at the inaugural Soundset. As for Portlander ΔRT PΔRTÉ: he rarely joins the rest of the band for local performances, but this weekend, he made it out.
For every performer who had to drop from the line-up, a new one took his place (and yep — all of the missing artists, and most of Soundset’s artists in general, are men). Californian hip-hop veteran E-40 replaced Mac Miller, playing a well-received but long set during the middle of the day. Playboi Carti filled in at the Fifth Element tent, and while the festival scrambled to figure out Lil Uzi Vert’s absence, Mod Sun got bumped up from Fifth Element to the Main Stage. “I’ve been kicked out of Soundset three times for smoking weed,” said the notoriously THC-stanning rapper. “So this is a dream come true!”
Later in the day, the ship righted as T.I., Gucci Mane, and Lauryn Hill brought out their hits. T.I. teased “the ladies” with “Whatever You Like” and “Bring Em Out,” accompanied by a nice live band, plus Detroit’s Tee Grizzly and T.I.’s Grand Hustle crew member Young Dro (of the much-fussed-about un-romper). Gucci, fresh off new album Droptopwop and the year anniversary of his return from prison, swapped positive energy with the crowd. And Hill, reprising some Afrobeat arrangements from her First Avenue show last September, broke hearts with her masterful presence. Hill treated the audience to “Everything Is Everything,” “Doo Wop (That Thing),” several Fugees songs, and a rare cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”
Rhymesayers’ “conscious rap” artists seemed to have a hard time connecting with main-stage fans, particularly those who bought tickets to see mainstreamers like Lil Uzi and Travis Scott. Case in point: P.O.S, a punk-inclined member of Doomtree, seemed to grab a far smaller ratio of fans than usual. Atmosphere’s set served as a dinner break for many. “Who is this?” one fan asked another during Brother Ali’s set. “Pusha T,” his friend replied (the real Pusha T was incredible, tossing out G.O.O.D. Music hit after hit).
But Soundset has a lot going for them. As the largest hip-hop festival in the country, they drew fans from 49 of the 50 states, putting Minnesota on the global map. They always amp local artists, many of whom got a chance to perform in front of more people than ever. Despite crowds and cancellations, Soundset 2017 turned out as a festival to remember.
More photos by Nancy Musinguzi: