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Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12

By Reed Fischer and Ian Traas

Soundset
With Atmosphere, Lupe Fiasco, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon, Astronautalis, Big K.R.I.T., and more
Canterbury Park Festival Field, Shakopee
Sunday, May 27, 2012

Related:
Soundset 2012 evacuated amid tornado watch
Soundset photos 2012

Up until about 7:20 p.m., the fifth installment of Rhymesayers' Soundset hip-hop festival was the perfect storm of culture, music, and social behavior on an unseasonably hot day. As we now know, the thing turned into a real weather hazard, and the day was cut short -- sort of. In the middle of Lupe Fiasco's set -- one of the wildest performances of the day -- the skies quickly turned dark and then stormy enough that warnings of a tornado and severe thunderstorms abruptly halted things (more on that here).

Reed Fischer: Hours before, the sun was high and many attendees filing into Canterbury Festival Field's slightly soggy grounds were looking for their first high too -- musical or otherwise. Hay and sawdust covered the especially wet parts of the grounds, and things were moving along impressively by the middle of Prof's set on the main stage. He doused the crowd not only with a high-powered squirt gun, but a sweaty selection of jams from King Gampo, including the drunken soul-along "Whiskey." 

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess
Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Impressively coiffed Danny Brown came out donning a boss leather jacket next. "Soundset, what the fuck is up?" he asked, and tried to get things moving with his XXX standout "Die Like a Rockstar." Though this song, and plenty others, kill on record -- his variety of minimalist beats and the insistence that he "don't need a hook for this shit" proved to be not quite enough to get the crowd beyond the first few rows on his side. Looking for more in the future from Brown, who undeniably looks like a rock star already.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Soundset vet Grieves, on the other hand, proved to be one of the strongest of the day. "Some of you are drunk as shit on a Sunday, and you won't let it show you down," he shouted at the throngs baking in the sun. With one-man backing band Budo, who was introduced as guitarist, keyboardist, trumpeter, and DJ, the wiry Seattle rapper came strong with now-familiar material from Together/Apart to prompt sing-alongs during "Lightspeed," "All I Know," and "On the Rocks." This was also your writer's first sighting of the enormous orange Tootsie Pop making its way through the crowd.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis maintained the energy level with a full-band attack, including a string section. Ben "Macklemore" Haggerty seemed intent on touching every single square foot of the stage, including the top of the speakers. The infectious party anthem "Can't Hold Us," got the crowd exploding along with them. And, adding to it was an infectious message when the rapper revealed a black "Legalize Gay Marriage" tee underneath his pink collared shirt. RSE would be wise to keep bringing these obvious audience magnets back as their profile rises.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

All the while, the MaLLy-hosted Fifth Element stage was spinning through a variety of Minnesota talent and up-and-comers from around the country. In between performances, the rapper cracked wise and dropped a few performances of his own of songs like "Heir Time." One of the highlights of the day on that stage was Villa Rosa, the duo of Muja Messiah and Maria Isa, bringing a conscious vibe -- and another squirt gun -- to the proceedings and a rare female presence to match the many, many females in the audience. Their interplay was evident on the Nina Simone-sampling "Blindfolded" and "Watch Out."
 

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Ian Traas: California rapper and Dilated Peoples alumnus Evidence seemed right at home in the sweltering heat, leaning over the sweat-drenched crowd while rapping so clearly that it felt as though he was giving each and every audience member friendly advice over the din at some barely crowded bar. Ev's verbal dexterity held up over the course of his entire set and he was one of the only performers that didn't feel the need to scream to reach the back of the massive festival crowd, using his clarity as a weapon to slice through the oppressive midday temperature. As his set wound down, Evidence closed with the Rhymesayers-released, Jackson Browne-sampling "Late for the Sky," and was rewarded with an ocean of sunburnt arms raised in appreciation.

While Evidence was well-received, the crowd buzzed about the appearance of Big K.R.I.T., whose absence due to illness at last year's Smoker's Tour only served to heighten the anticipation of seeing the Mississippi rapper/producer show up at Soundset. The molasses-sweet sax of "Boobie Miles" lead into shortened versions of "Just Touched Down" and "Sookie Now," which had crowd at the front of the stage mouthing along with KRIT (and his overpowering hypeman). KRIT emoted his way through his set, running laps around the stage and beaming a satisfied grin at the sweaty crowd in between tracks that spanned all three of his critically-acclaimed mixtapes.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

"A lot of people expected me to change now that I'm signed," said KRIT before launching into his final few songs, "but I'm too country for that."

KRIT closed with "The Vent," an unexpectedly slow finale but one that allowed him to connect with the crowd using his limited (but heartfelt) singing voice. KRIT's down-note ending set the stage for Kendrick Lamar, whose debut album Section 80 had media outlets falling over themselves to herald the Next Big Thing. But, while opening with strong cuts like "Fuck Your Ethnicity" and "Hol' Up," it became obvious that Lamar was having trouble with his voice, sounding ragged from weeks of touring. Lamar had to shout to reach the edges of the crowd, losing some of the suaveness that was so apparent on his debut album. Still, it was exhilarating to hear his biggest cut, "ADHD," in a live setting, with tons of fans just waiting to blurt out the "fuck dahht" refrain in drunken unison.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

 

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

While the out-of-town guests were great to see, the whole event was clearly a Rhymesayers family party, and favorite son P.O.S. crushed his set with a punky intensity that the visiting performers weren't able to match. The young Soundset crowd appreciated some of the slower tracks over the course of the festival, but by late afternoon they had already resigned themselves to being sunburnt and drunk, and they wanted to dance. P.O.S.' angsty "Close Your Eyes" went over well, but it was the grinding party jam "I Don't Wanna Think About It, I Just Wanna Get Down" that pulled one of the biggest responses of the festival from the audience, who bounced and waved through the whole track. Anti-materialist screed "Fuck Your Stuff" garnered the same level of response, but P.O.S. still had goodwill to burn from allowing the crowd to forsake head-nodding in favor of all-out raving.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Anyone would have a difficult time following a hometown hero on a party high, but Aesop Rock seemed up to the task as he pulled from a wide range of his albums for his set. Aesop's abstract approach didn't have the party-forward attitude that the younger part of the audience was looking for, but he delivered future-leaning rap with the conviction and acumen of a scene veteran. Newer projects like "Smock" from Hail Mary Mallon (made up of Aesop, Big Wiz, and Rob Sonic, who also shared the stage on Sunday) came off the best. Likewise, new track "Zero Dark Thirty" was the highlight , serving to whet appetites for his upcoming album Skelethon, due later this summer.

For some, the future seemed too far away; they wanted to celebrate with classics. Luckily, Wu-Tang faves Ghostface Killah and Raekwon had plenty of tried-and-true NY rap masterpieces to drop on a crowd whose energy had started to wane. Hands were raised in the signature W sign as the duo lumbered onstage like grizzled beasts, attacking each lyric in half-screamed vocals that (unlike other performers) accentuated the Mack truck force of the songs, which were shortened down into 30-second snippets to keep the show rolling. Ghost and Rae have more than enough solo albums to base an entire set on, but while some individual material made its appearance (notably Ghost's "Be Easy" and Rae's "Gihad"), the focus was on Wu posse tracks like "Ice Cream".

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

The crowd went nuts for the Wu tracks they knew and loved, so Rae and Ghost decided to get some outside help for favorite "Protect Ya Neck". They invited three audience members onstage to perform the ODB and Method Man verses. The first one dropped out before the song even started, the second couldn't remember all the lyrics and was promptly booed, but the third spit his verse acapella with minimal prompting, inciting a big crowd response and some praise from his heroes. "This is NOT a game!" chided Raekwon before the duo walked offstage, but not before Ghostface could give accolades to host Brother Ali, shouting "That's the best fuckin' brother you could ever hope to find."

Ali rapped a bit and plugged his new album before leaving the stage to Lupe Fiasco, who was backed by a live band.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Taking full advantage of the young crowd's rock n' roll leanings, Fiasco walked on to the heightened bombast of M83's "Fall" before veering into a set that dismissed traditional boom-bap for a hybrid sound pieced together from multiple genres. The shift felt odd at a festival so geared toward the established pillars of hip hop, but a young audience that was clearly on Lupe's side made it clear that the change-up was welcome.

Reed Fischer: Meanwhile, Astronautalis gathered the largest crowd of the day over at the Fifth Element stage, and congratulated the group in front of him for being with him while a Grammy Winner was performing a couple hundred feet away. Similar to Fiasco's power in numbers approach, Astro had a full-band apparatus around him. When he told a story of getting kicked off and back on the 2004 Warped Tour, Soundset's tie to a punk rock future felt stronger than ever.

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

His multi-genre diversity, which could bridge this festival to all sorts of things broader than just the traditional pillars of hip-hop, was felt immediately with the launch into "The River, The Woods." Falling into a specific descriptive category has never been an issue for Astronautalis, but standing still sure was. With a set heavy on This Is Our Science tracks and a voice raw with emotion, this was the set for a smaller percentage of Soundset that would be the last thing they'd hear on the festival grounds before the Tornado Warning hit. Many "credited" Astro for bringing the storm on Twitter.

At about the same time, Fiasco was urging the clouds to rain in a fashion that he might've regretted later on. For the remaining moments of heat, just as the lights were coming on, he spent all of his energy conjuring the Bob Marley on his T-shirt in an impressive display of verbal control, soulful showmanship, and that type of otherworldly strength that made him worthy to sit so high on this bill. With "Kick, Push" still a part of the set, we can remember where the rapper was when he first burst onto the scene, but we only got to see a portion of what he has become today. "The Show Goes On," a Modest Mouse-sampling anthem from Lasers, was where things turned quickly from just a hot day to a stormy exit.

The marathon day continued, however, and nodded back to the Soundsets of old with Atmosphere performing their weather-postponed set inside First Avenue during the Official Soundset After Party, hosted by Brother Ali and MaLLy.
 
It proved to be a more intimate affair than one of the main stages, and with keys, guitar and Ant running the turntables, Slug came out at about half past eleven with the introduction "Welcome to the storm shelter." What followed was a poignant punctuation on a day that was expected to be long and emotional to begin with. With the rotating, glistening Rhymesayers logo dangling down from the ceiling, we got a tour of the group's lengthy catalog while Slug did his best to get through some obvious disappointment about the day. "Today broke my heart," he said to the crowd after "Shoulda Known." "Help me put it back together."
Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Photo by Erik Hess

The hearty crowd in attendance -- nowhere close to the reported 19,000 that braved the heat earlier in the day -- did respond and seemed like they had napped or at least paced themselves to stay moving a good 12 hours after the day's official launch. The set juggled between light of "Sunshine" and the dark of "Between the Lines" and "Just For Show" (was there an "oversaturation" reference dropped in there?). At one point, things really got into that festival spirit when an enthusiastic young lady near the front performed for Slug. "Put those things away girl!" he shouted. "You trying to get me arrested?" Brother Ali jumped back onstage for their muscular "Cats Van Bags" collaboration, and the end of set took things all the way back to the mid-'90s for "God's Bathroom Floor."

Soundset battled extreme weather at Canterbury Park, 5/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Photo by Erik Hess
The night went on to show MaLLy to be the energetic dynamo that he is. He worked something like a 20-hour day between his hosting duties at the smaller Fifth Element Stage, and he still had strength left to wave a towel vigorously above his head while leading the kids through the Get Cryphy crew's mix of non-stop bangers. While glitter-covered booty graced the two screens flanking the stage, MaLLy and Brother Ali rapped along with Rick Ross and T.I., and brought out a parade of special guests -- Dumbtron, Bambu, Grynch, and Ali  -- before Atmosphere's Slug had his true encore when he came out to perform "Late for the Sky" with Evidence and Aesop Rock.

Then, well into the early morning the Christopher Hitchens-referencing P.O.S. came on. He performed a couple, including the unreleased anti-materialism jam "Fuck Your Stuff" again, a likely inclusion for his upcoming album due in September, We Don't Even Live Here. This proved to be a workhorse day for the rapper, who seems to be branching out into electronic pastures on his new material, as he was out mixing with the Soundset fans as they were just arriving. 

"We'll be telling the story about that storm for the rest of our lives," Brother Ali remarked at one point. And though it was an ugly interruption, just remember that it was our hosts who reminded us that God loves ugly too.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I got to see Lupe Fiasco perform for 18 minutes at CMJ in 2006 at a hastily organized party, and was severely underwhelmed. He surpassed the impossible expectations I had six years ago on this night at Soundset.

Random detail: Something about the forklift driver delivering more hay to the wet grounds made this feel just as country as a hip-hop festival in Minnesota should.

Overheard at the water station: "This is better than Red Wing city water. I would never drink that stuff."

Related:
Soundset 2012 evacuated amid tornado watch
Soundset photos 2012


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