Soundset Series: Rhymesayers staples Brother Ali, Blueprint, Grieves & Budo, more
Back before Soundset became the annual festival it is today, there was a Rhymesayers-hosted event by the same name that took over, and consistently sold out, the First Ave Mainroom every Wednesday, housing some of the big names on the company roster as well as visiting acts. The festival as it stands today grew from the seed of this series of shows, and representing RSE family first has remained the event's blueprint.
Brother Ali certainly needs no introduction, but his dominating presence over the Minneapolis rap scene bares repeating. His style pulls together Slug's penchant for personalized storytelling, Chuck D's political fervor, KRS-One's love of the culture, and Rakim's straight up skills and magnetism, and brings a fresh passion to everything he chooses to rap about. His scope as a writer is unparalleled, as is his ability to open himself up completely for the sake of a rhyme. If you're only used to hearing Brother Ali on record, seeing him control a crowd the size of Canterbury Park is an insane experience worth the ticket price alone.
Formerly known as Musab (as well as Beyond and General Woundwart, depending on how far back you take it), Sab the Artist was an original member of the Headshots crew that started it all, and released the first Rhymesayers imprint, Comparison, in 1996. Consider his OG status certified. Lately, Sab has been living in Las Vegas and leaking free downloads on his Bandcamp page, but continues his ties with the scene he helped found - he's now on tour with Atmosphere, Grieves, Blueprint and DJ Abilities, a sort of traveling mini-Soundset.
Technically, only P.O.S. is signed to Rhymesayers, but Doomtree has been a collective in the truest sense since the rabid beginnings. This is certainly no D-12 or St. Lunatics-style coattail ride-along, as each individual MC and producer in the crew/label have clawed their way to notoriety through numerous albums, tours and elbow grease. Past Soundsets have showcased the specific rappers performing their own set on different stages, but this year's whole-crew spot touts the group at its strongest. Banded as one tightly configured team, Doomtree manage to display their distinctive styles as solo artists while bringing an energy that is greater than the already impressive sum of its parts.
Blueprint's latest Rhymesayers release Adventures In Counter-Culture is as personal and powerful as anything on the label's discography, and features some of his most forward-thinking production to date. The Columbus, Ohio rapper/producer opens up about alcoholism, artistic roadblocks, the unfortunate state of politics, and striving for something in a way that is honest and hard-hitting. Live, he's been known to play in front of a full band and rock a synth and a mic at the same time. His recent show at the Augsburg Spring Jam gave off a lasting impression locally, and this Soundset performance stands to be a highlight of the day.
The three members of Dilated Peoples (who were a headliner for the first Soundset in 2008) are not billed as such, likely in an attempt to separate recent RSE signee Evidence in people's minds as his own entity. The Los Angeles rapper has built a name for himself outside of his acclaimed underground trio, releasing a strong solo debut The Weatherman in 2007 and securing a Grammy for his co-production work on Kanye West's College Dropout, but Rakaa and Babu are along for the ride here also. If anything sounds better than weed-soaked Cali rap on a sunny day, I don't want to know about it, and Evidence's set will bring the laid-back style this festival needs.
Grieves is another rapper new to the roster, getting his last two efforts (The Confessions of Mr. Modest and 88 Keys and Counting) re-released through Rhymesayers in anticipation of his first proper album under the label, June's Together/Apart. The rapper's melodic and introspective tunes are backed by producer Budo's stellar beats, which include a wide arrangement of live instrumentation and bring a sense of playful joy to subject matter that could feel too heavy otherwise. The vibe is low-key but powerful, bouncy but grounded, and fits in well with the lineup.
Early Rhymesayers parties and shows often culminated in giant clusterfucks of freestyle mayhem, with the late Eyedea being a standout among standouts. Face Candy carries this same improvisational rap style forward from that starting point and creates songs from scratch live onstage. Bassist Casey O'Brien and drummer JT Bates backed up seasoned freestylers Eyedea and Kristoff Krane for the upcoming Waste Age Teen Land album, set for release through RSE on the 24th. The result feels more like jazz than a cypher, but is a strikingly original project. What the lineup will look like without the presence of Eyedea remains to be seen, but Carnage and Mazta I have been known to join the group onstage during shows.
His longtime-coming 2010 debut The Protocol and Atmosphere's recent "Welcome To Minnesota" tour served to refresh our memory about Dynospectrum's Mr. Gene Poole, another legendary name in the old school days of Rhymesayers. Equal parts smooth and bugged out, the man's presence alone is amazing to take in. His upcoming project with Chilam Balam of Los Nativos, Audio Dragons, leaked some promising early material that will likely be previewed at Soundset.
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