We’re riding on some golf cart as the dude next to me yells at mobs of completely ripped hip-hop aficionados. “Beeeeeeep! Beeeeep! Get out of the way! Yo! Get out of the fucking way!!” My first thought was that this guy needed an air horn. My second thought was that these kids’ moms should have taught them basic situational awareness. “It’s early yet,” he says, as I imagine him driving Big Sean through these mobs a little bit later. Then Watsky turns around and pulls a well-loved folded up show poster from his inside pocket. He hands it to me. It’s from Luda’s “Word of Mouf” tour back in 2002. It’s signed by Ludacris. This was Watsky’s first hip-hop concert. Now it’s 2015 and he and Luda are playing the same festival, arguably the best annual hip-hop event in the country; Soundset.
If ya ain’t heard, here’s the breakdown: Soundset happens in Minnesota. It’s put on by Rhymesayers. It showcases around 30 of the best hip-hop acts from around the country for a crowd of roughly 30,000. Two years ago that list included Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Mac Miller, Tech N9ne, Juicy J, Schoolboy Q… Last year Nas was there. So were Chance the Rapper, Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Shad, G-Easy, Wiz Khalifa, and Cypress Hill, among others. This year I skipped Sasquatch, a 3-day festival of massive proportion happening at “The Gorge” in Quincy Washington (less than an hour away from where I currently live) to fly halfway across the country and spend Memorial Day weekend kickin’ it at Slug’s house.
And let’s be clear. This is Slug’s house, and no matter how famous or legendary an artist is at Soundset, they’re Slug’s guests. You can expect a healthy dose of Atmosphere’s incredible live energy each and every year. Each and every year you can expect to see a group of friends from Minneapolis who’ve seen Atmosphere “a million fucking times, bro” agree to skip it and get to the car before the horde. And each and every year you can watch that crew catch “Sunshine” from the back of the crowd, say “screw it,” and jam until the bitter end, sunburns and soaked sweatshirts be damned. There’s something magnetic about it.
You’ll also see Brother Ali, and all the other homies, be it at the festival itself, or at the before and after parties at First Ave (a kick-ass two story venue in Minneapolis). Then there’s the lineup. Rappers from all over the country join forces, and form an incredible cross-generational hip-hop education packed into one day. Up and coming artist SonReal said the first album he ever bought was N.W.A’s Greatest Hits, and I was reminded of my golf cart ride. What a dope gathering.
You should know that it was raining. Moderately, but relentlessly. It. Did. Not. Stop. All. Day. And nobody gave two fucks. The titties were out, folks. Seriously, here I am in a t-shirt, flannel, jeans, hat, and a sweatshirt, and there are half-naked white chicks in Timberlands everywhere. I honestly can’t imagine what Ice Cube thinks about it, but when Ludacris shouted out all the races individually and ended with “where all my white folks at?” uprorious laughter emerged from 96% of the crowd. Anyway, it was raining and it was wet, and they’re throwing hay onto the ground to soak up puddles, and everyone’s just crowded around the warm fire happening on stage. Okay so a few people were huddled under big circus tents watching live telefeeds, but the vast majority were happy as pigs in shit. Even the ones being crammed against the metal rail at the front of the stage.
Yelawolf was awesome. Very different tracks, with the taste of metal and a whole different BPM range than the rest of the day. The crowd didn’t miss a beat. When I watched Dessa I felt like she was reading me a picture book, in the best possible way. Come to find out later she’s also a teacher. Awesome. Ludacris played every song we wanted him to, including Blueberry Yum Yum. (Sidenote, his new album is great). Watsky killed it, Logic killed it, Aesop Rock killed it, and DJ Abilities is a god. How anyone had the energy to scream as loud as they did for Big Sean and J. Cole, I have no idea. I was exhausted. Maybe it was the cheese curds.
When all is said and done, this year’s Soundset was fantastic. For $60, there’s just no better deal out there. And if you’re from out of state, don’t worry! Hotels in Minneapolis are stupid cheap. I stayed in a four-star Hilton hotel for $80 a night, and I’m sure you could find a Motel 6 for less.
Photos by Elliot Malcolm