Features

Soundset 2012

soundset storm

For the first time, and to kick off our wealth of summer music festival coverage, we at Heave were able to cover Soundset 2012 in Shakopee, MN. The day began with an eight-hour overnight Greyhound ride, moved on to punishing heat, then on to tornado sirens (see above) and ended in yet another eight-hour Greyhound ride. It was well worth the exertion, though. Additionally, huge thanks are owed to Joe Ayers-Johnson and the Ayers-Johnson family for their hospitality in our trip up north. Without further ado, your covering Heave writers are:

DM – Dominick Mayer, features editor
MA – Michael Alexander, columnist (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, every Friday)

Action Bronson (West Stage, 12:30)

Action Bronson’s developed a reputation as the white Rick Ross, but that does a disservice to just how fun (and how absolutely filthy) this portly MC from Queens really is. Despite the oppressive early-day heat, a running theme through Soundset, Bronson came out strong, with what might be the biggest joint I’ve ever seen in tow. He has a laid-back sound that lends itself well to cuts like “Bird on a Wire,” in which he declares that he’s “on some Jodeci shit” over a beat that shows flashes of new wave. “Larry Csonka” sounds vaguely like early Atmosphere in beat, but features pure trash talk; there are comparisons to be made to cloud rap as well, what with Bronson’s declaration that “Ginger ale and hot sauce, two things I live by.” Action Bronson brings a dirty mind and a blunt-scorched delivery, and the combination is pretty damn effective. DM

Prof (East Stage, 1:00)

“Gampo,” as frequently referenced by Prof on his recent release King Gampo and throughout his set, is a rejoinder that alludes to a childhood friend who was a compulsive thief and all-around sketchy type. There’s something Robin Hood-style rebellious about it too, a sort of romantic anarchy that’s been passed down between Minneapolis MCs. Prof, for his part, nailed this spirit, bouncing around the stage like a wild man for virtually every second of his set. Opening with “I’m An Animal,” Prof laid down jokey verses that recall Eminem at his most ridiculous, and if he didn’t quite bring the spitfire flow that Em once did to make those punchlines land a little bit harder, it didn’t really matter. The comparison is definitely there, from his occasional dips into double-time delivery to even a comedown attempt with “Whiskey,” a bluesy track that felt out of sync with what was otherwise a pretty lively set. Where it’s missing, though, is the distinction, a sense that we haven’t seen this before. DM

Danny Brown (West Stage, 1:30)

In the past year, Danny Brown’s XXX mixtape has absolutely exploded, a daring and provocative burst of trashy sex, drugs and a live lived hard as hell. Brown’s spastic vocal inflections, and the fact that he’s become kind of a sex symbol for some fans, have drawn comparisons at times to Lil’ Wayne. While Brown’s not quite there yet (he needs some producers who don’t sound almost identical), the potential is absolutely there. He moves with the assurance of an A-lister onstage already, commanding the crowd for thirty minutes of bass-heavy, filthy hip-hop. That bass was actually the set’s one weak point; the mix was so heavy on the low end that at times Brown’s verses would get lost, a shame given his hilariously NC-17-rated lyrical prowess. On “Die Like A Rockstar,” he’s already declared he’s not long for the world, shooting loads and “tripping off the shit that had Brian Wilson flipping,” but one can only hope that the Detroit MC will stick around for a while. DM

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (East Stage, 2:30)

Well, here’s the biggest surprise of the festival. I caught Seattle MC Macklemore and his producer/partner in crime Ryan Lewis at Schubas last year, and while I had a good time, it wasn’t the kind of set that leaves you talking about it days later to anybody who’ll listen. That was their Soundset performance, which ran the gauntlet of a full night’s entertainment in about 30 sun-scorched minutes. Macklemore, who graced XXL’s Freshman list this year, brings the passion and the jovial nature in equal doses. The latter  took over a large part of the set’s latter half, as an extended rendition of “And We Danced” saw him leave the stage to introduce a “guest star,” who was introduced through a pretaped message. After declarations that he could whip Kobe Bryant’s ass and a series of other allegations of escalating absurdity, Macklemore returned in British cock-rock garb, bedazzled cape and wig and all, to pelvic thrust and kick off a massive dance party. They weren’t even done, either. For set closer “Irish Celebration,” both Macklemore and Lewis ended up diving into the crowd, imploring them to “live tonight, ‘cause you can’t take it with ya” as their full band (violin, cello, horn section) pushed the energy to a place that arguably no other act would touch for the rest of the day. They’ll be back for Lollapalooza in August, and if you don’t catch these guys, you’re doing summer wrong. DM

DJ Premier (B-Boy Tent, 3:30)

Initially, I stated that Kendrick Lamar was the number one set I wanted to check out, but DJ Premier wasn’t too far behind. He had just finished DJing for Evidence (of Dilated Peoples) and relocated to the B-Boy tent to do his own performance. Not pissy about the heat or being tired,  DJ Premier did his sound checks, adjusted his Astros fitted cap and got right down to business. I don’t know whether it was Primo paying homage to the late, great Nate Dogg by scratching and mixing to Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” or shouting out “rest in peace to the Notorious B.I.G.” as a prelude to throwing on “10 Crack Commandments,” but it was one of the most memorable performances I have witnessed. It’s not every day you have the chance to see legends of the hip hop game in the living flesh, and I felt really honored to see DJ Premier. The memory I took away from his live set, though, was the respect he had for the pioneers of hip-hop who had passed away, as he shouted out MCA, J. Dilla, Nate Dogg and the Notorious B.I.G. The love that Primo has for hip-hop was felt all throughout that tent from beginning to end. MA

Big K.R.I.T. (West Stage, 3:30)

It was at this point in the day that the main stages started running further and further behind schedule, so Big K.R.I.T. from Meridian, Mississippi got going a bit late. He hit the ground running, though, in a set heavy on tracks from this year’s superb mixtape 4eva N A Day. “1986” got people moving, with K.R.I.T. bringing a weight and gravity normally carried by MCs of far more established veteran status. There aren’t a lot of young guys in hip-hop right now who could deliver a line like “If you can’t get you no old school, don’t go fucking with mine” with the authority that K.R.I.T. does. He’s a formidable presence onstage, if a slightly one-note one; though much of his stuff is laid back, he could use a little bit of polish in terms of his live show. It didn’t matter to most of those watching, at any rate. “Sookie Now” got one of the day’s bigger pops, and “The Vent” was every bit as moving live as on record. K.R.I.T. is only going to get bigger, and it’s scary to think how much better he’ll get in the process. DM

Kendrick Lamar (East Stage, 4:05)

Asking the crowd to throw their 3’s up and chant “hiii-power,” Kendrick Lamar immediately wanted to sense the energy in the crowd. Coming on right after Big K.R.I.T., K Dot started off with “Fuck Your Ethnicity.” and the show was on! He was jumping all over the stage like other artists were doing earlier on in the day (let’s keep in mind it was extremely hot outside), but as he showcased his unique lyrical flow on his most well-known songs such as “Rigamortis,” I could literally see jaws drop around me. I became transfixed by his set too, especially when he took it back to his old mixtape O.verly D.edicated and dropped one of my favorites of his in “P&P 1.5.” He mostly did songs off Section 80, and the crowd around me absolutely went apeshit for “A.D.H.D.” and especially “Hol’ Up.” But as I rocked to these songs, I was still patiently waiting for him to drop my favorite Kendrick Lamar track. And as the intro to “Hiiipower” came on, I just dropped my head and felt my hands start to shake as the hairs on my arms stood up. According to my iTunes, I have listened to that song over 398 times since I purchased Section 80, and none of those times were remotely close to the live rendition. MA

B-Boy Competition (B-Boy Tent, 4:30)

A prime example of why you step out to all-day festivals like Soundset is the opportunity to experience something out of the ordinary. A chance to view artistry in a different light and environment. This was the case when I witnessed the 2012 B-Boy breakdancing competition. I counted around two dozen people (men and one female who was a crowd favorite) who participated. As the DJs were in the background providing the music, one person would have about thirty seconds to showcase their best routine and wait for cheers or jeers from the crowd. I was able to witness not only the cypher, but also the final battle, which saw two sets of three b-boys battle for the right to crowned kings of Soundset 2012, only to see it end in a draw. The ability to have that much stamina, coupled with this level of dancing technique, made me appreciate the art of breakdancing even more.  MA

P.O.S. (West Stage, 4:40)

After the Kendrick Lamar set, we were headed to the B-Boy tent to see some more dancing and seek shade from the sun. Then we heard ruckus coming from the West stage. I realized at that moment we had to see who exactly was ripping the mic to shreds. As we got closer and closer I saw a guy onstage rocking a black tee and backwards black cap, as my buddy informed me he was P.O.S. I started to jot down notes as quickly as I could: (P.O.S. is sooo good/New fan, I like his artistry/Really incredible flow, adds the crowd into his whole performance) I had never listened to any of his tracks prior to Soundset either, and my comrade Dominick had him on his shortlist of top sets he wanted to see. One of the most fascinating songs of his set was his new song “Fuck Your Stuff.” P.O.S. has incredible delivery and what seemed like endless charisma, and delivered one of the best live performances I’ve witnessed. So even though I wasn’t able to see Atmosphere, P.O.S. represented what a rapper from Minnesota can deliver. MA

Ghostface Killah and Raekwon (West Stage, 5:50)

Starstruck, it took me a minute to digest that I was finally watching Raekwon and Ghostface Killah of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. As I collected my senses, I saw The God and The Chef grace the West Stage, and in the space that separates the East and West Stage I could see Lupe watching and bobbing his head to the two MCs before his own set. That’s the admiration not only fans but also artists have for the legends of hip-hop. I damn near lost it when “C.R.E.A.M” came on, because I knew since it wasn’t the whole Wu-Tang Clan that there wasn’t a chance they wouldn’t play it. But they did. The most interesting part of their set was when they sought out men from the crowd who could rap the verses of ODB, and a female for the Method Man verse, on “Protect Ya Neck.” After around ten minutes, they finally found a lad who ripped both ODB and Method Man’s parts so well that they kept him onstage the rest of their set. Besides making a young man’s dreams come true, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon took the Soundset crowd to another level when they took the stage. MA

Lupe Fiasco (East Stage, 6:40)

This was the set I was most anxious to see. It posed questions like: What will he rap? Will I like this, especially if he does Lasers tracks? With a full band behind him, Lupe Fiasco literally shut down Soundset. Energy is the first word that resonates with the Lupe set, whether it was the headbanging he did as the beat dropped on “Words I Never Said,” or the entirety of “Out my Head.”  I have heard “Words I Never Said,” but the extended version he gave with his band was the best performance of the entire day. Lupe is a fantastic performer, who tries to get the crowd to not only hear but feel every word he delivers. Reverting to some of his classics like “Kick Push” and “Go Go Gadget Flow” off his first and second albums Food and Liquor and The Cool, respectively, Lupe jumped around the stage and threw water into the crowd as storm clouds grew darker and closer together above us. Unfortunately, Lupe’s set was cut short due to a tornado warning. I’ve seen Lupe three times live now, and his Soundset performance was likely his best. MA

(We have even more pictures from Soundset, which you can find right over here. Next up for Heave’s summer festival coverage: Spring Awakening on June 16-17.)