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Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Tyler and Atmosphere photos by Erik Hess; Lizzo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Soundset
Canterbury Park, Shakopee
Sunday, May 25, 2014

The seventh edition of Rhymesayers Entertainment's Soundset Festival brought clouds of dirt mixed with sweet-smelling smoke, rumbling bass, and a sold-out crowd of 30,000. Ticket-wise, this was the most-successful Soundset to date, but it still brought a lot of artistic complexity from the clean-cut G-Eazy to the riotous Flatbush Zombies. The day was represented by legends from different eras, courtesy of Nas, Cypress Hill, and Atmosphere. Wiz Khalifa is one of the game's biggest stars today, and Chance the Rapper is well on his way, and Lizzo, Toki Wright, and others showed the power of the local stage. 

With three writers and two photographers, Gimme Noise soaked in as much of the day as we could. Here's a timeline of Soundset 2014.

See also:
Slideshows: Music of Soundset; People & Scenes of Soundset

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

12:45 p.m.
Caught the tail end of Powderhorn's other big name at Soundset on the relatively intimate Essential Elements stage. With encouragement and hype from Brandon Allday and Medium Zach of Big Quarters, Dosh held it down in his hand-wired command center for the Last of the Record Buyers showcase. Focusing on the poppier, Dilla-esque side of his material, Dosh mostly left his more experimental material at home in favor of catchy horn and organ focused songs. Building off of loops made live from his crisp drum-playing, this one man band stays consistently active, swiveling from one control panel to another, dialing in a knob or adding another subtle keyboard texture. (Zach McCormick)

12:45 p.m.
This year's lineup of Minnesota artists was extensive and impressive, but sadly we missed the early sets from local artists deM atlaS, Mac Irv, and Ecid. I arrived just in time to catch K. Raydio, sporting a fresh haircut and a sunny disposition, as she capped off her Fifth Element Stage set with Psymun with their stark "Sirens". The solid groove seemed to really grab the audience, and Psymun's knob-twiddling gave his glitched beats a slight improvisational jazz flavor, of a more post-modern variety. (Jack Spencer)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

1 p.m.
Even in a collective known for flipping West Coast gangster tropes on regular, Ab-Soul is a particularly odd bird, standing out with sometimes bizarre and crass subject material and twisted, jittery flows that give a middle finger to the apple cart. Like his labelmates in Top Dawg Entertainment, Soulo has helped to renew interest in the tough but lyrically dense intersection of gritty street-conscious rap and more profound musings. Not that there was a lot of chin scratching going on, Ab-Soul knows how to bring a party, amping the crowd by doing his verses on big TDE radio singles like Schoolboy's "Druggies With Hoes."

Announcing that his new album These Days was nearly ready to drop, the rapper also performed a bit of new material, including what sounded like the heady title track, which took some of the more abstract wording from 2012's Control Systems and tightening its focus, whilst staying innovative. With his team's stock on the rise, Ab-Soul seemed confident, if a bit indifferent, except his deadly serious call-to-arms closer, "Terrorist Threats," an incisive punky scattershot of our societal ills.

His stylistic gumbo of conspiracy theories and drug-addled punchlines played really well on the main stage. He was able to show off a range of cadences as he jumped around between the uplifting harmonics of "Illuminate" and the high-as-hell sex brags of "Gone Insane." (JS + ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

1:05 p.m.
Fifth Element Stage host Brother Ali introduced Nacho Picasso by talking about the Seattle rap scene he stems from, sidestepping his actual material or persona which seemed more misogynist ("I been here 24 hours and I ain't got no pussy yet") than the Seattle underground Ali referred to. The anthems to cocaine and selfish sex (apparently giving girls bladder infections is something to brag about?) were not nearly clever enough to warrant the kind of brazen attitude Picasso brandished, but with tattoos that engulfed the whole of his back and torso, he was at least an interesting figure to watch. (JS)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

1:20 p.m.
Over at Fifth Element, arty ingénue Allan Kingdom was in full effect. Kingdom's disjointed, multi-part songwriting comes off on record as too self-involved to ever rock a festival, but Kingdom really rose to the occasion for his Soundset debut. Featuring his manager and DJ Kasloco on the ones and twos for the set was a great bonus, as the veteran turntablist has a few strong names on his resume, including Ghostface and Kid Cudi. Occasionally, the complex arrangements made it tough to lock into a groove with the audience, but for the most part, Kingdom's songs clicked, and the extremely young performer was pleasantly physical onstage for such heady music.

Kingdom tapped into a more aggressive stage presence that many of us hoped lived underneath his quirky persona. Playing a number of unreleased tracks -- look for Future Memoirs with Plain Pat soon -- alongside some older material, he brought the same off-kilter vibe but peppered it with a tinge of justified egotism, with really excellent results. Initially it was a worry upon hearing the Peanut Butter Prince that he sat too parallel to the work of Chance the Rapper, but watching him own the Fifth Element stage in front of a huge cast of supporters showcased the spirited originality going on in every crevice of his music. Easily one of the day's highlights. (JS + ZM)

1:40 p.m.
On the main stage, the always stylishly coiffed G-Eazy was beside himself. "Minnesota, this is the greatest day of my life," he yelled at throngs assembled in front of him. The Bay Area rapper could follow in the footsteps of Macklemore as a figure who exists largely outside the core hip-hop conversation, but still commands a growing fan base. "Must Be Nice" and the rockabilly aided "Runaround Sue" are pleasant enough musically, but his rhymes were too saccharine for these ears. (Reed Fischer)

1:40 p.m.
Pioneering southside Indio [ed. As in the preferred nomenclature for Latino-Native Americans] hip-hop duo Los Nativos are going to be releasing their new The Eagle and the Jaguar album this fall after several years of time off. Founding Rhymesayer Felipe Cuauhtli and his partner Xilam Balam have an easy mastery over their southside boom-bap and the well-worn chemistry of brothers, which makes for many great opportunities for old-school verse trading and tag-team crowd hyping.

They displayed the kind of classic microphone skills that used to just come standard issue with local rappers, ripping through old and new tracks with the blunt force they've been known for since 1996. "How many of you are having a good time because you're drinking? How many of you are having a good time because you're smoking?" asked Felipe to preface one of the better marijuana songs rapped that day, "Fire Weed Smell." I'm sure the actual numbers on that point would be staggering. "I'm an old school guy so I'm gonna stop there... cuz some of you be on those little pills and shit..." he continued before advising everyone to stay hydrated.

Although the two might talk self-depreciatingly about being old-fashioned, their new material shows that they've definitely been paying attention. One song's classic rock-box drum pattern was given a shot of heavy, overwhelming bass reminiscent of Lex Luger, translating into an instant crowd favorite. Balam and Cuauhtli are savvy enough to have balanced sticking to their guns as community-involved lyricists and discovered a way to captivate the passive, exceedingly young crowd. Showing tribute to their roots, the two MCs made numerous thanks to their partners on Rhymesayers and in their own neighborhoods, and invited Mario Morales onstage to help perform a reggeaton jam en espanol, naturally. (JS + ZM)

 

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

2:20 p.m.
Without seeing the Fifth Element stage, you could tell there was some deep-voiced rapping taking place and some definite commotion in the crowd, but no one appeared to be onstage. Turned out Stones Throw rapper JonWayne was strolling between the people while rapping his ass off about dinosaurs, pop stars, and weirder stuff still and the response was huge. Wearing a Daniel Johnston shirt -- similar to what Kurt Cobain often wore -- and sporting a giant beard, he kicked some of the best rhymes of the day while tweaking the beats himself. "I spit mercury on burn victims!" he correctly proclaimed. (JS + RF)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

2:30 p.m.
"I ain't your average female rapper," 22-year-old Snow tha Product emphazised at the beginning of her set. "We ain't talkin' about asses up in here y'all." Backed by two massive, tattooed hype men, the diminutive Texas-based MC would go on to make that abundantly clear in the next half hour. Spitting with impressive speed and dexterity over chopped trap beats, Snow kept things street level with subject material that wouldn't sound out of place on a DJ Drama mixtape. Her unwaveringly intense delivery was something to behold, pacing back and forth to vibe with fans on either side of the stage, or ram a pointed verse home. During the end of one tune, she seemingly pulled a complex Tech N9ne verse out of thin air to perform acapella, and began critiquing the rapper almost immediately after. Apparently, Snow and Tec are friends, but she wasn't about to fuck with that particular song because of its sexual content.

Her style was so spitfire and energetic it was easier than usual to get over the backing track. (Unfortunate, she clearly didn't need it but it was present nonetheless.) She touted her own skills as a rapper as the reason she got where she is today, dismissing other female rappers reliance on sexuality to gain popularity. "If I wanted to sell sex, I'd be a prostitute," she put bluntly. "I'm selling rap. It'd be easy to sell out and flip that shit, but I'm here representing for females who respect themselves." She certainly sold it, going harder than most of the bill and winning over an energetic crowd.

The MC followed that up with a middle finger, launching immediately after into "Cookie Cutter Bitches," a scathing takedown of her competitors and colleagues in the industry. There was also a "legalize it" tune (of course), after which Snow announced her run for president and then cracked "Naw, they ain't ready for a Mexican up in there." She'd go on to shout out her heritage a few more times, and display some truly dizzying mic control for someone so young in the game. Ending the set with the autographical "Bout That Life," where the rapper detailed her struggles to reach where she was in the game, Snow sealed the deal with a flawless a capella to end her set. (JS + ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

2:45 p.m.
"Raise your hand if you've never heard of me," Prof hollered from the main stage. After a few folks obliged, he pointed to them and delivered each a personal "Fuck you." After being a surprise guest last year when Busta Rhymes pulled out, Powderhorn's wiley wiseacre was obviously prepared this time around. Cue the inflatables! Sparing no expense, an enormous deer, killer whale, zebra, and more sailed through the crowd.

Only Prof could really pull off broken home anthems and sorrows-drowning 3/4 blues beats while a raging sea of people did unspeakable things to those blow-up creatures. Even at its most stark, Prof's music is tailor-made for getting festivals buck, but the big bangers like "Yeah Buddy" really popped off with the party-ready crowd. "I owe you motherfuckers my life," he said to close out his set. (JS + RF)

 

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

3 p.m.
Chance the Rapper came out to Acid Rap's "Everybody's Something," complete with full backing band and a horns section. The beats certainly lend themselves to live accompaniment, but the hip-hop fan portion of the brain was disappointed that Chance's set leaned much more towards funk frontman than microphone murderer. Little moments like the synchronized horn stabs accenting the lines "Buck buck / bang bang / motherfuck Fox News" were a nice touch but overall the band distracted from Chance's skills as a rapper. Besides wasting the opportunity to bring out Ab-Soul, otherwise great songs like "Smoke Again" morphed into ska-metal horn and guitar prattling instead of the rap bangers they ought to be. Chance gave a spirited performance, sadly demarcated by his choice to let the audience rap every other line. (JS)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

3 p.m.
Roc Marciano got a tough slot, competing directly with Chance and Earlwolf's set over at the Fifth Element stage, which could have explained the poor turnout for his show. Not that many folks would have necessarily heard of Roc. He's the kind of rapper's rapper mixtape genius that unfortunately hasn't gotten a lot of love here in the Midwest. In his home of NYC, however, the Long Island native is considered heir to the throne of grimy, east-coast hardcore, earning frequent daps and comparisons to his strong island forefathers in Wu-Tang. Looking a little pissed at the minimal response to his lyrical gems, Roc pushed through, delivering a tough but silky take on the classic east coast bars while updating things a little with some party-rap swagger. (ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

3:30 p.m.
Controversy is almost contractually guaranteed at any show relating to the Odd Future crew, so naturally the group's two leaders Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt were bound to start some shit. The bratty skate-punk rappers tried to kick things off with a bang and get their trademark pit going, but had trouble gaining traction with the lily-white, fearful teenage G-Eazy fans and nonplussed older heads waiting for Cypress Hill's set.

When Earlwolf stopped complaining about the lack of enthusiasm long enough to play songs, their energy was unstoppable, balancing Tyler's guttural flow with a Earl's smoother delivery with the practiced ease of old friends. Though Tyler's rap voice has always been pretty screamy, it was the typically nonchalant Earl that really owned the yell-rap style of festival performance, powering through incredibly complex rhymes at the top of his lungs without missing a beat. Tyler ran to the opposite stage for some of the songs, and the duo played with space and crowd interaction quite well. Throwback hits "Orange Juice" and "Assmilk" brought that old thing back, and the latter got the a capella treatment, which sounded pretty great as the different styles traded every four bars, but it also really highlighted just how rapey all this shit is.

As the set wore on, the frustrated pauses between songs grew longer. "I don't like it when people stand still," Tyler pleaded. "It makes me nervous and it makes me think that people want to kill me." Trying to drum up some excitement, the rapper flipped convention the bird and crossed over the stage divider to rock on the main stage west for a couple of tunes, with Earl yelling encouragement. "I don't know Minnesota, y'all about to go out like some bitches," Sweatshirt complained bitterly. "Y'all really gonna let your reputation be sullied like that? Make the security earn their paycheck!"

Adding fuel to the fire, members of Cypress Hill (probably acting on festival instructions) began setting up and sound-checking during the closing minutes of Earlwolf's set, infuriating the two MCs. After unsuccessfully attempting to shut down the process, Earl and Tyler took the moral high ground and simply waited until the end of Cypress Hill's set to begin sound-checking themselves. While you had to strain to hear it, the two rogues could be seen pretending to get ready for their performance and saying things like "Check, one two, this is Earl. One two, Earl" over the older group's songs. (JS + ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

3:30 p.m.
Rhymesayers usually likes to throw at least one turntablist set on the Fifth Element stage every year, and this year we had the pleasure of witnessing living legend DJ QBert do his thing. Incredibly precise cuts, great song selection and surprising showmanship made this set a real treat for folks who wandered over. Closing with a mind-blowing routine, QBert slowly ramped up the speed of a dizzyingly fast cutting-pattern until the BPMs were off of the charts, setting the bar higher and higher until his hands were a complete blur on the decks. (ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

4 p.m.
Rapsody, like all the other female emcees tearing up the Fifth Element stage, was quick to point out she'd rather be viewed as a talented rapper than a talented woman. Backed by her North Carolina hometown hero, super producer 9th Wonder of Little Brother fame, Rapsody did a tight, heartfelt set. A chip off the NYC lyrical block of names like MC Lyte and Jean Grae, Rapsody still exhibits the cool melodicism of her NC forebears, making for a groovy, laid back set that was a nice break from the main stage's non-stop intensity -- and detours into negativity towards women. 9th Wonder is still simply one of the best beatmakers currently operating, with a dusty, soulful aesthetic that hijacks the spine, forcing heads to nod unconsciously.

Rapsody complimented the women in her audience on their style and thanked Minnesota profusely for the love we showed her. Taking a moment to speak, Rapsody dedicated the performance to all the mothers, sisters, and daughters in the room, giving props to hip-hop's godmothers and issuing a challenge. "I'm not a femcee, I'm a beast," she declared with a badass grin. "There's not a man on this earth that I can't go toe to toe with." (ZM)

 

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

4:10 p.m.
Main stage host Sway Calloway introduced Cypress Hill as "legendary, mythological, monumental," as did the brief intro DJ Julio G dropped before B-Real and Sen Dog came out. The group did a great job of showcasing their legacy through homages to those that paid homage to them. They re-did Method Man and Redman's "Da Rockwilder" as an intro to "Hand On the Pump," and closed out "How I Could Just Kill a Man" with the distorted guitar stomps of the Rage Against the Machine cover version. The marijuana medley in the center was completely expected (and terrific) but the live percussion and DJ trickery portion was an unexpected touch. B-Real got both behind the drums alongside Eric Bobo and shared beat juggling duties with Julio G, showcasing his range of skills beyond the microphone or the bong. Closing on "Rock Superstar," they solidified the legendary status Sway touted initially. (JS)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

4:45 p.m.
In a day filled with a lot of mics, it was a treat to see Canadian rapper Shad strap on a Gibson Les Paul to strum while rapping "Rock to It." His free-smiling delivery in the Fifth Element tent made it look easy, and his genial approach was a refreshing salve to the confrontational tone of some segments of the day. Employing a breezy De La sound, he jumped in and out of genre lines, and he pledged allegiance to both Black Moon and Pat Boone. Don't twist it, though, the individualist streak of "Exile" alone proved that Shad had a serious agenda to impart. (RF)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

5 p.m.
2 Chainz is another rapper almost specifically designed to get festivals cracking, combining huge bass and dumb-clever punchlines about strip clubs and having money for a surefire hit performance. There were no surprises but the people got what they wanted. He's got a number of big hits under his belt, and ran through some hugely popular tracks that got everyone insane. (JS)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

5 p.m.
To introduce Toki Wright at the Fifth Element tent, Brother Ali gave an impassioned speech to the crowd. "You are people of integrity guided by your heart," he said. "You understand the preciousness of other people." In other words, these people had chosen Wright's mental explorations over the mental disintegrations of 2 Chainz.

Wright likes to collaborate, and has formed several different backing groups over the years to showcase his talent, but this recent iteration featuring Big Cats and Bomba de Luz's Lydia Liza might be his best yet. The young vocalist wailed her heart out through several show-stopping passages, including an appearance by P.O.S., and provided a goofy, smiling offset to Toki's occasionally self-serious stage demeanor. He played a song about a sex partner's house being filthy, which revealed itself to be about something deeper. As we patiently wait for this fall's Pangaea, which is looking for a label home, this material is more than ready. (JS + RF + ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

5:30 p.m.
At last year's Soundset, NYC rapper ASAP Ferg blew everyone away in the Fifth Element stage with a raucous, moshpit inducing show, and this year the Flatbush Zombies did nearly the exact same thing with the drug-addled chaos of their slot. Reveling in the turnt-up response, the Zombies put on an incredible set, jumping all over the stage, riling up crowd surfers and rapping their throats raw. With audio cues from the A Clockwork Orange theme and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" piped in, you got a sense pretty quick of how schizophrenic this performance could be.

Even before they started, the tent became a choked, totally packed den of insanity. The wall of weed smell was especially huge as the Zombies coaxed insanity from the excited crowd. Mosh pits broke out and loud screams followed every verse. During the Charles Manson intro to "Death 2," Meechy Darko stood alone stock still, arms back, staring into the middle distance with an intense, murderous psycho gaze that he held for several seconds -- before bursting forth with the line about eating cereal out of your skull, and was just as vibrant and violent as that combination calls for. (JS + RF + ZM)

 

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

5:45 p.m.
For the 20th anniversary of Illmatic, Nas performed the album front to back, and it still hits as hard as ever. The album is as old as Nas was when he wrote it, but he pointed out why it remains so poignant: "This shit is still going on." The perfectly crafted street tales of a young Queensbridge hustler still resonate, especially with Nas's timeless style and clear commitment to his live craft. He was clearly having fun, telling anecdotes about clearing Michael Jackson samples and pointing out we now have a president that represents him.

His rapping is still pure street poetry in motion, but somehow, the practiced ease of his delivery and royal nonchalance isn't as gripping as some of the younger, hungrier performers on the bill. Nas doesn't really need to be hungry anymore. Having finally distanced himself from some of the negative aspects of stardom that plagued him in the aughts, Nas seemed effortlessly collected doing landmark songs like "Represent." Rocking the stage solo, with nary a hype-man or coattail rider in sight, Nas made case for old-school MC mastery by captivating the massive crowd with just his cadences and minimal body movement. (JS + ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

6:15 p.m.
Coming in hot off of another triumphant career milestone, Lizzo and Lazerbeak seemed damn near unstoppable on the FE stage. With the ink from her new Euro deal with Virgin Records still fresh on her hands, our local-girl-gone-big used the show as a crowning victory lap for her solo music as well as the talents of her frequent collaborators. Giving a salute to her openers Lizzo joked "How about them Flatbush Zombies, how am I supposed to follow that? Jesus. Like this!" Before launching into the irresistibly catch "T-Baby."

As Lazerbeak pounded away at the MPC and Sophia Eris ran backing vocals behind her, Lizzo rapped, sang, and twerked her way into the hearts and minds of eager fans. Prior to ramping up the energy for "Easy Easy," Beak did a nice little explosions and gun sounds solo. When the whole GRRRL PRTY crew showed up for "Wegula" and "Bugg'n", the already high energy increased to ridiculous levels. After returning to solo work for "Paris", Lizzo brought out more guests: Sean Anonymous and P.O.S., who played an unreleased collaborative song.

After her ruling run through a couple of GRRRL PRTY songs, Lizzo and Sophia Eris busted out some Easter baskets for "Batches and Cookies," tossing candy and cookie-shaped CDs in the crowd. Simultaneously, near the front right side of the stage, six security guards hauled what appeared to be a single, confused and rather petite woman away from the stage with no explanation. Luckily, the performers held the crowd's attention and kept things from getting ugly, riding along on Lazerbeak's infectious, bubbling beat. (JS + ZM)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photo by Erik Hess

7:15 p.m.
Wiz Khalifa had a huge fan presence ready for him, so it was a good thing he was able to get out of a Texas jail and jet here in time to be there. He ran through hits about weed, sneakers, and weed to a receptive audience who were all high on weed. He had a live backing band that added some nice nuance to the sometimes overly calculated backing tracks, and the interactions between Wiz and the bassist made for entertaining stage presence.

See also: Wiz Khalifa thanks Soundset for support after Texas pot bust

The sometimes cliche fawning over fans that rappers engage in didn't seem false here; Wiz truly loved being here and performed like it. The songs ranged from slow and spacey to hard and trappy, each designed to go over big in spaces like these, and it certainly worked. Just like Snoop last year, Wiz did "Young, Wild and Free," a testament to getting completely plastered that the rapper tried to convince people was actually about youthful creativity or something. Closers "Black And Yellow" and "We Dem Boyz" have that anthemic quality that seemed to capture the whole park. (JS)

Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Soundset 2014: A music and photo timeline
Photos by Erik Hess

7:50 p.m.
Before introducing Atmosphere, Sway gave major props to the Twin Cities hip-hop scene, and praised Rhymesayers for the event and their history as a collective. He's a genuine fan, it seems, and has certainly thrown a lot of support to the scene throughout the years.

A worn-out crowd pushed closer to the stage (or towards the exits) as Slug with DJs Ant and Plain Ole Bill rolled through familiar fare like "God Loves Ugly" and "Say Shh," and Southsiders-fresh new stuff like "Kanye West." After ceding the headlining spot to Snoop Dogg last year, this was Atmosphere's chance to regain the festival's crown, but the banter-heavy set didn't always hold focus. During a fiery "Cats Van Bags" with Brother Ali, the energy onstage radiated gorgeously like the setting sun. Murs also stopped by for "Dirty Girl," and Slug -- in his Lioness T-shirt -- seemed invigorated by his on-stage cohorts.

The brilliance of Soundset is that it keeps invigorating itself too. It keeps evolving and tweaking itself to reflect hip-hop (and festival culture) of the moment. It's newcomers, vets, and of-the-moment stars thrown together as a dysfunctional on-stage family. What didn't scare us might've enlightened us, and plenty of it will be with us forever. (JS + RF)

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