Look, ranking Soundset lineups is impossible. We know that. You know that.
Firstly, the lineups have all been pretty damn good. Secondly, the festival’s purpose and makeup has shifted so much over the past 12 years as to make each lineup incomparable.
But is that going to stop us? No one who has ever read this website would even ask such a question. Here at City Pages, we rank the unrankable. Is that smart? No. Is that necessary? No. But this, my friends, is the internet.
So, as we prepare for Soundset 2019 on Sunday, we combed back through the past 12 years and pitted lineup against lineup. Here they are, ranked from “worst” (more like “least best” really) to best.
The lineup: Atmosphere, Dilated Peoples, Aesop Rock w/ Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz, Little Brother, DJ Babu, Rhettmatic, J-Rocc of the World Famous Beat Junkies, Brother Ali, Eyedea & Abilities, P.O.S, Blueprint, Mac Lethal, Abstract Rude, I Self Devine, Musab, Psalm One, Grayskul, Los Nativos
The verdict: The inaugural Soundset was essentially a really great Rhymesayers showcase—which is another way of saying a really great local rap showcase. Atmosphere had the place of honor, of course, along with mainstays like Brother Ali and Eyedea and Abilities, while national acts Dilated Peoples and Aesop Rock filled out the bill. Comparing this worthy start with the talent-crammed fests to come isn’t so much like apples to oranges—it’s more apple seeds to apple trees.
The lineup: Atmosphere, the Pharcyde, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Freeway & Jake One, Sage Francis with B. Dolan, Immortal Technique, P.O.S, El-P with Mr. Dibbs & TMQ, Eyedea & Abilities, Abstract Rude + Aceyalone & Myka 9 = Haiku D'Etat with DJ Drez, Prince Paul, Buck 65, Blueprint with DJ Rare Groove, DJ Nu-Mark, Heiruspecs, Cunninlynguists, Blue Scholars, Sims of Doomtree, One Be Lo, I Self Devine, Awol One, Mike Mictlan & Lazerbeak = Hand Over Fist of Doomtree, Toki Wright, Grieves, Unknown Prophets, Lil Buddy Mclain, Just.Live, Kristoff Krane, El Guante, Plain Ole Bill, BK One, King Otto, DJ Nikoless
The verdict:The lineup ballooned as Soundset graduated from the Metrodome parking lot to Canterbury Park, where it’d set up shop through 2015, though the bill remained largely underground for the last time. L.A. indie-rap legends the Pharcyde took a brief breather from in-fighting to reunite, while Rhymesayers roster mates (Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Freeway, P.O.S, Eyedea) once more mostly held things down. El P (then watching his Def Jux label stagnate before he’d team with Killer Mike), human thesaurus Sage Francis, and masked evil genius supervillain M.F. Doom were the big-name outsiders.
The lineup: Atmosphere, Method Man & Redman, Brother Ali, Hieroglyphics featuring Del The Funky Homosapien, Souls of Mischief, Casual and Pep Love, P.O.S, Murs, Freeway & Jake One, Eyedea & Abilities, Wiz Khalifa, Cage, Rob Swift, Grieves & Budo, 45 King, People Under The Stairs, BK One, DJ Revolution, Dessa, Yelawolf, Fashawn, Themselves, Busdriver, Toki Wright, Solillaquists of Sound, Prof with Rahzwell, Cecil Otter, Dark Time Sunshine, Ernest Rhodes, A.R.M (M.anifest & Krukid), Mike Dreams, I.B.E, Ice Rod, Plain Ole Bill, Mike 2600, Kid Cut Up, J Pratt, DJ Anton
The verdict: Now we’re really getting somewhere. The bill was no longer mostly Rhymesayers all-stars, though they of course remained the glue that held the model airplane that is Soundset together. Veteran acts still dominated the lineup, with Method Man and Redman, along with Del the Funky Homosapien and his Hieroglyphics crew and Souls of Mischief, allowing nearly middle-aged rap fans a chance to relive the ’90s, while there was a sprinkling of younger acts to keep things fresh.
The lineup: Atmosphere, Snoop Dogg, Mac Miller, Tech N9ne, Busta Rhymes, Brother Ali, Juicy J, P.O.S, Schoolboy Q, Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz. Joey Bada$$, Step Brothers (Evidence & Alchemist), Sean Price, A$AP Ferg, Dizzy Wright, Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson, R.A. The Rugged Man, Abstract Rude & Musab, Melo D - Beat Junkies, Diamond D, Kid Koala, Skratch Bastid, Psalm One & Oh No, The Reminders, Mixed Blood Majority, The Chalice, Open Mike Eagle, Greg Grease, Haphduzn, Meta, Major G, DJ Top Speed, Dan Speak, Jimmy2Times, Verb X, DJ Mad Mardigan, DJ Lean Rock, Edison
The verdict: As California’s Rock the Bells, the other massive U.S. hip-hop fest, limped through its final run, Soundset went big-time. Snoop, Mac Miller (RIP), Busta Rhymes, and Juicy J wouldn’t be caught dead with backpacks: These are bona fide celebrities. If Aesop Rock represented Soundset’s lyrical D.I.Y. beginnings, BET Rookie of the Year A$AP Ferg signaled its future. Waaay down on the bill, we see recent megastar Lizzo’s old crew the Chalice.
The lineup: Atmosphere, Wiz Khalifa, Nas, 2 Chainz, Cypress Hill, Earlwolf (Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt), Chance The Rapper, Prof, Grieves, G-Eazy, Ab-Soul, DJ Qbert, The Grouch & Eligh, Flatbush Zombies, Lizzo w/ Lazerbeak, Rapsody & 9th Wonder, Shad, Dem Atlas, Snow Tha Product, Roc Marciano, Dosh, Jonwayne, D-Styles, Toki Wright & Big Cats, Will C, Allan Kingdom, Breakbeat Lou, Nacho Picasso, Freddy Fresh, Los Nativos, K. Raydio, Psynum, Mac Irv, Ecid, DJ Fundo, DJ Lean Rock, DJ D. Mil, DJ Sidereal
The verdict: Pittsburgh hitmaker Wiz Khalifa was a booking coup—a genuine rap star, even if he was in a fallow period at the time, between his breakthrough hits and the soon-to-be-YouTube-dominating Paul Walker elegy, “See You Again.” He’s also about a tenth as much fun as the other big-name contemporary, 2 Chainz, and an umptillionth as skilled as downbill genius Chance the Rapper, who’d released his breakthrough mixtape Acid Rap just a year earlier.
The lineup: Atmosphere, Big Boi, De La Soul, Slaughterhouse (Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, Royce da 5’9”, Crooked I), Brother Ali, Doomtree, Evidence x Rakaa-Iriscience x DJ Babu, Mac Miller, Curren$y, Blueprint, Grieves & Budo, Zion I & The Grouch, Sab The Artist, DJ Abilities, Face Candy, Edan with special guest Paten Locke, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Looptroop Rockers, Rubberoom, Soulcrate Music, 2Mex, Mr. Gene Poole, Qwazaar, Longshot, Mally, Desdamona, Duenday, Midwest Konnect, Rocky Diamonds, Stage One, Shortkut, Noam the Drummer, Exile, Maseo, Skeme Richards, Kid Cut Up, Espada
The verdict: It doesn’t get much better than flow wizard Big Boi, then touring on his 2010 solo debut, and beat pioneers De La Soul. Freshly inked by Eminem’s Shady Records, supergroup Slaughterhouse showcased four bruising MCs. Elsewhere, we see lots of familiar faces plus future stars Mac Miller and Macklemore, the latter of whom is wacklemore. Beloved local rapper Eyedea died the previous fall, but he’s represented by his longtime partner DJ Abilities as well as his experimental group Face Candy.
The lineup: Atmosphere, Lupe Fiasco, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon, Kendrick Lamar, Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic & Dj Big Wiz, P.O.S, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Grieves & Budo, Danny Brown, Big K.R.I.T., Evidence, Prof with DJ Fundo, Action Bronson, DJ Premier, I Self Devine, Astronautalis, Bambu, J-Zone (DJ set), Medusa, Chief Kamachi, Grynch, Chuuwee, Paten Locke and Willie Evans Jr. are DUMBTRON, Villa Rosa (Muja Messiah & Maria Isa), The Tribe & Big Cats, Audio Perm, Long Doe (Tony Bones, DJ Big Wiz & Mike The Martyr), Auddio Draggon (Gene Poole & Xilam Balam), Tomorrow Genius, BdotCroc, DJ Stage One, DJ Kool AKIEM, LAST WORD, Kid Cut Up, Superbrush427, DIVINCI (of Solillaquists of Sound), Los Boogie
The verdict: Soundset grows a little more contemporary, bringing in several up-and-comers on the eve of their big breakthroughs. By the end of the year, one returning Seattle MC would be so big he would mackle no more on the Soundset stage, while Kendrick Lamar was planning to unleash Good Kid, M.A.A.D City on an unsuspecting public. Throw in yowling Danny Brown, drawling Big K.R.I.T., and old-school power couple Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, and this is where the lineup starts to really feel really Soundsettish. Of course, if we were ranking Soundsets by weather conditions, the tornado warning would bump this entry down quite a bit. Or up, if extreme weather is your kink.
The lineup: Logic, Migos, Atmosphere, Erykah Badu, Tyler, the Creator, Russ, Wu-Tang Clan, Brockhampton, Ice-T, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Hieroglyphics, Prof, Jaden Smith, Grieves, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Murs, Young M.A., Evidence, DJ Melon, Rapsody, Westside Gunn & Conway, J.I.D, Kamaiyah, Dem Atlas, DJ Scratch, Pell, Jack Harlow, Skratch Bastid, DJ Livia, Bugus, Quincey White, The Lioness, OG Grip, Sick Trim, Willie Wonka, DJ Rowsheen, Mike 2600, DJ Bles One, Trakgirl, The Opus, MMYYKK, Bailey Cogan, DJ Ariatari, The Technics, IBrow, Booboo, Spencer Joles, Kelsey Pyro
The verdict: Yes, headliner Logic may have been a little too earnest for some older rap fans, and Migos’ set was cut short because they went on late, but they’re both huge names. Established stars like Ms. Badu and the reunited Wu-Tang showed they know how to hold a stage; downbill talents like Rapsody and J.I.D. were worth showing up early for. And while stale prince Jaden Smith and defensive whoever Russ were taking up space, you could head over to the Atmosphere and Friends stage for a reminder of the fest’s humbler beginnings.
The lineup: Atmosphere, J. Cole, Ice Cube, Big Sean, Ludacris, Logic, Yelawolf, Dilated Peoples, Clockwork Indigo (Flatbush Zombies and the Underachievers), Brother Ali, Vic Mensa, Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic & DJ Abilities, Dessa, DJ Jazzy Jay, Hopsin, Smif-N-Wessun, DJ Babu, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Vince Staples, Watsky, DJ Eclipse, Dem Atlas, DJ Supreme, B. Dolan, Father, SonReal, G.L.A.M., Chester Watson, Sa-Roc, Sean Anonymous, Manny Phesto, Freez with DJ Willie Shu, SET THE SMITH, DJ Lean Rock, DJ Stage One, DJ Adatrak, DJ Str8reppin
The verdict: J. Cole, Big Sean, and Logic are legit arena-fillers. Vince Staples, featured in XXL's vaunted Freshman Class issue this very year, was on the come-up. Throw in the irrepressible Luda, cult faves Dilated Peoples, and a boatload of assorted indie-rap talent, and you’ve got yourself a dang rap festival. Poor Cube, who still brings the goods harder than just about anyone even after Are We There Yet?, suffered the indignity of playing to a half-full Target Center two years earlier, so this must have been a redeeming Twin Cities encore.
The lineup: Lil Wayne, SZA, G-Eazy, Run the Jewels, Atmosphere, Lil Uzi Vert, Black Star, Beast Coast, Tech N9ne, DMX, Royce da 5'9", Dessa, DJ Spinderella, Doja Cat, Just Blaze, Bas, Prof, Cut Chemist, Buddy, Dem Atlas, Dounia, DJ Abilities, Taylor Bennett, DJ, YBN Cordae, DV One, Tierra Whack, Sa-Roc, Epic Beard Men, B.A.G., Taylor J, Cashinova, Student 1, Dua Saleh, Kevin Beacham, DJ Precyse, Lisa Vasequez, Psymun, Mickey Breeze, DJ Keezy
The verdict: Wayne, who has ghosted on every recent Twin Cities show, is a major question mark, but an undeniable powerhouse if he shows up. The return of noted slimeball G-Eazy is regrettable, but offsetting that are bludgeoning duo Run the Jewels, emo-punk Grammy nominee Lil Uzi Vert, and alt-rap heroes Black Star. And holding their own on a traditionally male-dominated stage will be local force Dessa, alt-R&B goddess SZA, and Philly weirdo genius Tierra Whack.
The lineup: Atmosphere, A$AP Rocky, Future, the Roots, Common, Prof, Doomtree, Machine Gun Kelly, Danny Brown, Lizzo, LICE (Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman), Jay Rock, Post Malone, Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals, Raury, Murs and 9th Wonder, Pharoahe Monch, Mick Jenkins, GoldLink, Pouya, Crazy Legs of Rock Steady Crew, Domo Genesis, Blueprint, Marley Marl, DJ Jazzy Joyce, A-F-R-O, I Self Devine and Muja Messiah Present 9th House, Noname Gypsy, Finding Novyon, Lexii Alijai, Skeme Richards, Baby Shel & DJ Quincy James, Reverie, Jesse Da La Pena, DJ TIIIIIIIIIIP, DJ Just Nine
The verdict: From dominant rap figures like A$AP Rocky and Future to rising stars like Post Malone and Anderson Paak to class acts like the Roots and Common to local talent like Finding Novyon and Lexii Alijai to well-whatever Machine Gun Kelly, Soundset covered all the bases in its first year in the State Fairgrounds.
The lineup: Travi$ Scott, Atmosphere, Lauryn Hill, Gucci Mane, T.I., Pusha T, E-40, Brother Ali, DRAM, Ty Dolla $ign, P.O.S., the Stand4rd, Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon, Aminé, Talib Kweli, Denzel Curry, Mod Sun, Pete Rock, Dave East, 070 Shake, Sa-Roc, Peanut Butter Wolf, Stretch and Bobbito , Nazeem & Spencer Joles, Oswin Benjamin, Sophia Eris, J. Plaza, rapper, Horrorshow, Black Liquid, DJ TIIIIIIIIIP, DJ FLEG, DJ KEEZY, Booka B
The verdict: Just an embarrassment of riches. Scott was a year away from taking over the planet with Astroworld; Hill’s a national treasure; Gucci Mane, freshly exited from prison, had never been better. Then throw in Joe Mauer’s iconic walk-up song scribe, Pusha fuckin’ T, E-40, and Kool Keith? Good lord! Yes, Kevin Gates, Mac Miller, and Lil Uzi Vert were all no-shows, but with that much talent on stage who even noticed?