Soundset & Possibility

“This is possible,” Black Liquid, the Richmond, Virginia-based emcee, writer, instructor, and radio personality, told me at this year’s Soundset festival. “Not only getting on the stage, but building the stage as well.”

Possibility and building community is at the heart of Soundset, and Rhymesayers Entertainment did it once again for their tenth year anniversary of their hip-hop festival, highlighting all aspects of hip-hop, including those making it work behind the scenes.

On this past Memorial Day weekend, Soundset celebrated its ten year anniversary at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, Minnesota. In previous years, Soundset has had some of the biggest names from the hip-hop scene, as well as local artists come through to perform on one of three stages, and this year was no exception. Artists such as Travis Scott, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, Atmosphere, Gucci Mane, Black Liquid, ZULUZULUU, Kool Keith & T. I., to name a few all gave the record-breaking audience of well over 35,000 patrons performances to be remembered for years to come.

Larger acts such as E-40, Pusha T, Mod Sun, and Rhymesayers Entertainment’s own Brother Ali graced one of the rotating North or South Main Stages throughout the day; while the Fifth Element Stage played host to the talents of the legendary Talib Kweli, D.R.A.M., Dave East and some of Minnesota’s very own rising artists and DJs such as The Stand4rd, Sophia Eris and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip (yep, with ten i’s…you got it!).

Leaving no aspect of hip-hop unattended, Soundset once again provided their Essential Elements Tent focusing strictly on the competitive aspect of the culture with DJ turntable scratch battles, producers showcasing their latest in beat competitions, emcees who brought their hottest bars to exchange in cypher among their lyrical adversaries and b-boys and girls who dropped their dopest moves and held their best pose or stance outshining the competition. When it comes to hip-hop, Soundset has it all covered and then some.

Black Liquid was humbled to grace the Fifth Element stage for the first time this year as a performing artist having attended Soundset two years prior, as both a guest of Slug from Atmosphere and later having provided press coverage.

After performing tracks from his recent release Anti, Black Liquid displayed graciousness in seeing himself as an example for other artists back in Virginia to remain true to their craft through hard work, honesty, and integrity in order to accomplish similar achievements. Black Liquid also mentioned fellow Virginia artists Pusha T and D.R.A.M., whom he has either worked with or has booked shows with in the past as fellow examples of building success. Black Liquid said that he was excited to have met Kool Keith, who performed Doctor Octagon alongside Dan The Automator on Main Stage South that afternoon. He also mentioned having met Young Guru was also the highlight of his Soundset experience as Young Guru is known to remain hidden behind the scenes yet has been instrumental in the success of Jay Z during the height of his Mr. Carter’s career, among many other legendary artists and standing facets within hip-hop over the years.


Although there had been rain, the sky parted later in the evening when the incomparable Ms. Lauryn Hill took to the stage, stealing the festival, song after song. While many joked with expectations of her not arriving on time or not showing up to Soundset at all, Ms. Hill was the much needed beacon of hope many waited all day wandering the State Fairgrounds to see. Accompanied by her live band, Ms. Hill did not disappoint as she crooned hits such as ‘Killing Me Softly’, ‘How Many Mics’, and ‘X Factor’. The sea of folks among the crowd of thousands seemed to be in awe at times watching her every move as she commanded the stage in every sway of her step and belting of notes she delivered. Ms. Lauryn Hill indeed provided that stamp many of her audience needed to see solidifying why she remains steadfast as a powerhouse performing artist for well over twenty years.

Headlining Soundset was Travis Scott, whose sound was auto-tuned hip-hop meets metal with a dash of punk energy…and I mean that in a GOOD way. Dude killed his set with his level of energy and crowd participation utilizing the fact that it was now raining to his advantage as it played directly into his dark stage props and pyrotechnic displays. The audience formed multiple mosh pits as thousands of fans chanted many of his songs and lyrics tenfold as he commanded crowd participation up until the very ending of his set leaving many wanting an encore.

It wouldn’t be fair to not address both sides of the coin this past Sunday. Soundset was indeed in need of more trashcans as well as water facilities to accommodate the number of attendees. There:,…I said it. More. Trash. Cans. And. Water. Please. Also, there was mention that artist Lil Uzi Vert was a no-show, disappointing some fans along with a couple other artists having delays in their scheduled performances or stage location. So with a few technical difficulties here and there, as well as periodic weather reminders, the overall positive energy and Mother Nature’s perfume shared throughout the State Fairgrounds was not overshadowed by what could not be controlled.

Now if you came to see specific artists that may have unexpectedly canceled, or were shifted to a different stage on such short notice, then one can understand that level of frustration. However, long-term Soundset attendees attest to the growth and development this festival has seen since it’s inception a decade ago. One thing I kept in mind of during my experience this year at Soundset as well as heard from a number of other patrons was the emphasis on the culminated experience of Soundset Festival as a whole and how it has never been about one individual artist. Soundset has always provided a platform for local as well as national artists to further expand their brand in reaching a broader audience, alongside endless possibilities of artists and fans being able to network on a larger yet intimate setting.

This is the second year that Soundset Festival has been held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Previously, the event had been held at Canterbury Park in Shakopee. Speculation now swirls about the event’s future, as it is rumored that this is indeed the final year of Soundset. Slug, the emcee and festival co-founder, announced as such on Main Stage South during Atmosphere’s set on Sunday.

Soundset 2018 anyone? Only time will tell. Whatever comes next, what they’ve built shouldn’t go away.

Troy King, aka King Fuvi, is a hip-hop emcee, songwirter and spoken word poet, and is a recipient of the McKnight Fellowship for performing musicians. King attended NC State University before moving to Minnesota in 2011 and has released a mixtape as well as two full-length albums.