Soundset through the eyes of local up-and-coming hip-hopper Dwynell Roland


Dwynell Roland is an up and coming rapper from Minneapolis // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

As Minnesotans, we are fortunate enough to host one of hip hop’s marquee events every Memorial Day weekend. As a member of the Minnesota hip-hop community, I’ve watched Soundset grow from a low-key, local affair in the Metrodome parking lot to the large-scale, multifaceted production that it has become today, and that growth is something that should make this community incredibly proud.

Soundset’s appeal derives from the fact that, in its essence, it’s a celebration of all things hip-hop. Not just as a form of music, but as a lifestyle, a culture—DJing, producing, skateboarding, art, clothing—built from the foundation of the festival’s lineup, which has gotten bigger and better every year, placing Minnesota’s best alongside some of the nation’s biggest acts. It forces old heads to accept the change in hip-hop’s landscape, while also showing the younger crowd where hip hop came from. This past weekend, the emotions I witnessed from both the crowd and artists themselves solidified why Soundset has become a Mecca for hip-hop fans and artists alike.

As an artist myself, the one thing that stood out about Soundset is the energy. As soon as you walk through the gates of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds you can feel the aura of excitement. You can feel the legacy of the legends backstage as well as the future of up-and-coming artists in the atmosphere of the festival (no pun intended). At any performance, regardless of whether it’s taking place on the main stage or one of two side stages, you can feel the artist, DJ, or dancer giving it all to the crowd, and the crowd reciprocating. The overwhelming vibes of love, support, and appreciation shared between artists and festival-goers is a prime example of the hip-hop community at its best.

Soundset 2017 // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Next time you go to a show, study the interaction between the artist and the crowd. Soundset is a great case study for that type of a thing. From local artists like Sophia Eris, J. Plaza, and Nazeem & Spencer, to national acts like E-40, T.I., and Travis Scott, the one thing I noticed is that the crowd came to have fun. I noticed the Fifth Element Stage—containing mostly local artists and national acts that are on the rise—had a more consistently high energy crowd than the main stage. I’m assuming that’s because local hip-hop heads and the tastemakers head there for the up-and-coming acts, while more casual hip-hop fans head to the main stage to see acts they already know. The ability to experience both on stages 200 steps away from each other is not something we should take for granted: it’s fucking dope.

Related: Soundset brings Twin Cities hip-hop to the national stage

In order to fully enjoy Soundset, you must appreciate all aspects of its production. That includes the Essential Elements stage, dominated by what could be classified as the backbones of hip-hop—the beatmakers, the DJs, the B-Boys. People often complain that Soundset has gone too mainstream. In actuality, Soundset is a representation of hip-hop as a whole, recognizing both the foundation and raw history, as well as the future of the culture we all love. Walk around a little longer and you’ll see the graffiti, the skateboarding, the cars—there truly is something for every hip-hop fan at the fest. What really astounded me was the amount of parents who brought their kids to show them not only the music, but the other “exhibits” as well. I was watching them pass the baton of hip-hop to the younger generation.

Gucci Mane performs at Soundset 2017 // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

That baton-passing was perfectly represented by the last two acts of this years’ festival, Lauryn Hill into Travis Scott. The legendary Lauryn Hill brought it with her soulful, “jam band”-esque brand of hip-hop for 90 minutes as the sun set on a gorgeous Minnesota night. That sunshiny moment, straight out of a movie, was quickly replaced by dark skies, rain, and lightning, as the ominous synths and 808’s of Travis Scott took over. It’s as if Soundset coordinated the weather to best fit the mood of the music we were hearing. During both Lauryn Hill’s and Travis Scott’s sets, the divide between old and new school hip-hop fans disappeared, and in its absence, left 35,000+ hip-hop fans jumping up and down to Scott’s “Goosebumps.”

On a more abstract level, Soundset represents unity as much as it represents hip-hop. It brings people together under the guise of a hip-hop festival. I remember walking past a group of kids, who couldn’t have been more than 16, and overhearing them say “This is the greatest time of my life.” I couldn’t agree more. Year in and year out, I’m blown away by Rhymesayers’ ability to showcase the history of hip-hop while also putting on for the future. It’s breathtaking to watch local acts you saw in front of 20 people at Honey a few years prior perform at the festival, only to realize that they’re a few steps away from not just being local anymore.

Lauryn Hill performans at Soundset 2017 // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

I urge you, if you’ve never attended Soundset, go. This festival that draws a national spotlight is no more than a half hour drive from anywhere in the Metro. Go not just for the Main Stage or Fifth Element stage, but also for all the aspects of the festival in between. While catching up with local radio host, DJ, and artist Sophia Eris, she said “The Minnesota scene is the best way to get your training wheels for music because there is so many outlets and opportunities to prosper,” adding that her goal with music is being”true to her craft.

On a larger scale, that’s what Soundset is about: remaining true to hip-hop. This scene is filled with so much energy and love it’s hard to ignore. Despite complications from late-arriving Pusha T and Ty Dolla $ign or outright cancellations in the case of Mac Miller and Kevin Gates, Soundset’s 10th anniversary was yet another success that left me in awe. I can only imagine what year 11 has in store. So, thank you, Soundset, and all involved for another dope year. I can’t wait to be back.

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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler