Monday, May 28, 2012

Soundset 2012 Recap (Canterbury Park, 5/27/12)

Raekwon and Ghostface Killah at Soundset 2012 / Photo by Nat Shepard
Every year Rhymesayers puts on Soundset they reaffirm my opinion that, all things considered, it’s the best hip-hop festival in the world and among the finest single-day music events you can attend. Financially speaking, few festivals can contend with the bang for the buck offered by Soundset. For $50 (tickets are even cheaper if you buy them early), you can see 8 hours of performances by an always stellar and diverse lineup. Granted, this is a lot of hip-hop to pack in a single day for even diehard fans, but the caliber of the performers makes it a consistently great experience.

This year’s lineup was probably their best yet. The 1-2 punch of the hugely popular Lupe Fiasco and Wu-Tang vets Ghostface Killah and Raekwon brought in big name talent that satisfied new and old heads alike. The mid-day lineup boasted Action Bronson, Danny Brown, Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar, all artists with equal fan adoration and critical praise. Then, adding on the usual Rhymesayers artists and local acts (not to mention the DJ Tent, car show, and other attractions) made Soundset 2012 a fantastic deal. To see all this on separate occasions would cost around $200; Soundset brings it all to us in one day for significantly cheaper.

By now you probably know severe rain and wind, paired with a tornado warning, brought the festival to an abrupt close during Lupe Fiasco’s set. Atmosphere didn’t get to headline their own party, which was disappointing, but the fifth annual Soundset was still a resounding success.

Action Bronson / Photo by Nat Shepard
There were a few logistical differences with this year’s Soundset. There were two main stages instead of the usual one, positioned right next to each other. This was designed to eliminate downtime between sets. When one artist ended, main stage host Brother Ali was immediately out on the other stage ready to introduce the next artist. Ali often came out to funky instrumental interludes from his new live band Blank Tape Beloved; he spit a couple of raps throughout the day, but otherwise stuck to his hosting duties. The between-set transitions were executed smoothly, with the only issue being that the sets were happening so rapidly, the crowd didn’t have much opportunity to ever reshuffle. Those willing to stick it out up front ended up being there all day.

Danny Brown / Photo by Nat Shepard
Another point worth mentioning is that most of the artists only had 35 minutes to rock their set. Some rappers came more prepared than others. I’m sure many locals would have liked to see I Self Devine performing later in the day to a larger crowd, but he opened up the main stage with a high-energy set. Action Bronson delivered a well-polished performance, even at one point admitting he’s there to rap, not talk to the crowd between songs. While many fans weren’t familiar to his music, Bronson won the crowd over by when his 30 minutes were up. Danny Brown was as delightfully quirky as ever, treating the crowd to a raw performance — literally, he was shirtless for most of it — of tracks from last year’s XXX.

The Tribe & Big Cats! / Photo by Nat Shepard
The Tribe and Big Cats! took the Fifth Element stage by storm, delivering one of the best sets of the entire day. Tracks like “Blow It Up With Fire” and “Drive” were crowd favorites, along with new ones “DMT Flow” and “Spaceship” from the group’s upcoming release Space on July 10. Their performance attracted a big crowd despite the early set time. Perhaps TTxBC are poised for a Soundset-driven career boost similar to MaLLy from last year.

Evidence and DJ Premier / Photo by Nat Shepard
Evidence held down the main stage like the true veteran that he is with absolutely banging tracks like “Red Carpet” (unfortunately Raekwon didn’t come out for his guest verse), “I Don’t Need Love,” and the always classic “Mr. Slow Flow.” Evidence’s best song of the set, which also marked the most delighted any Soundset performer was all day, was “You” with DJ Premier coming out to hold down the wheels of steel.

Kendrick Lamar took the main stage with a confident swagger, at one time declaring, “I’m the best mother fucking rapper on planet Earth.” At times he made you believe it, but too much of Lamar’s set was spent in downtime between sets. Which was a shame, because Kendrick’s Section.80 was one of my favorite raps albums from 2011.

Big K.R.I.T. / Photo by Nat Shepard
An artist who understood the time constraints he was dealing with and still made the most of his set was Big K.R.I.T. He came out ready to rock Soundset, and stuck his strongest material for the entirety of his time on stage. KR.I.T. is more animated on stage than I expected, and gave a visceral performance. Songs like “Rotation,” “My Sub,” and “Boobie Myles” sounded downright huge on the festival sound system. K.R.I.T. added a powerful moment towards the end of his set with “The Vent,” which made his one of the best sets of the day.

P.O.S / Photo by Nat Shepard
That other title belonged to P.O.S, who was not content to settle on his reputation as one of the best local performers. While the greatest hits from Never Better and Audition rocked the crowd as expected, new material from his just-announced album We Don’t Even Live Here (out 9/18/12) got the crowd even more excited. P.O.S has been performing his new danceable, electronic tracks “Get Down” and “Fuck Your Stuff” for over a year now, but those tracks slay live. His set, which featured assistance from Mike Mictlan and Astronautalis, set off the best Soundset dance party I’ve ever been a part of.

During those mid-day main stage sets, I missed shows by local acts Villa Rosa, Audio Perm, and M.anifest, who was filling in for the absent Medusa. While I regret not catching them, by all accounts they all gave great shows.

By the late afternoon the crowd was sweaty and tired for Ghost and Raekwon’s set. However, the two New York legends brought a career-spanning performance that had all the older heads in the back that weren’t willing to brave the thick of the crowd showing a lot of love. I don’t remember everything, but I heard tracks from Enter the 36 Chambers, Supreme Clientele, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, OBFCL 2, Fishscale, and more. Aside from a hilarious 5-minute fiasco where the rappers wanted to bring someone on stage to rap Method Man’s verse to “Protect Ya Neck,” the set went off without a hitch.

Lupe Fiasco / Photo by Nat Shepard
Lupe followed up on the main stage, with what would unknowingly be the last main stage performance of the day. He brought a live band with him, which gave his set a richer sound that filled the open-air Soundset grounds. Unfortunately, Lupe’s set was an exercise in extremes. I loved when Lupe played older material like “Kick, Push” and “Go Go Gadget Flow.” However, I wasn’t a big fan of Lupe’s recent album Lasers, and those songs fell flat for me.

About halfway through Lupe’s set, I left to check out Astronautalis headlining the Fifth Element stage. His crowd wasn’t huge, but was very dedicated. Astronautalis noted that anyone willing to skip the late-day main stage sets to watch him must be a long-time fan, and decided to close his set by getting into the crowd and performing his 2008 song “Trouble Hunters.” I didn’t know it at the time, but shortly thereafter, Soundset would abruptly end due to severe weather. “Trouble Hunters” was a fitting last song to see performed live before to storm arrived.

With the mass exodus from the festival, it took over two hours for me to get home, and I was too exhausted and fed up to attend the Get Cryphy after party at First Avenue. Those that did were treated a full-on impromptu Atmosphere set, along with tons of special guest appearances. Everyone else may not have been able to see Atmosphere close down their own party, but were still treated to yet another successful and well-executed Soundset.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
As was my wont w
hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site,, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?