In an era where musical genres are becoming more and more fluid, and less cut-and-dry, it is often tough to nail down what kind of music exactly constitutes a particular genre. Hip-hop feels this identity crisis perhaps more strongly than any other genre today. Think about it: it’s baffling that artists like Lil Yachty and MF Doom could be considered musicians of the same genre. Soundset, the St. Paul, MN-based hip-hop festival that celebrated its tenth anniversary over Memorial Day weekend, was tasked with the tall order of cultivating a lineup that reflected the diversity of today’s hip-hop landscape, and they hit the nail right on the head. While the festival could have chosen to cater to the tastes of the fans who made Soundset a success in its early years, crafting a lineup consisting of indie, underground, and old-school hip-hop artists, or to hop on the bandwagon with two feet and focus only on the new, wildly popular sub-genre of “trap rap” that is currently dominating the genre, Soundset elected to paint hip-hop with a broad brush; this year’s lineup included everything from the most elemental styles of hip-hop that helped the genre take root in 1970s New York City, to Minnesota indie hip-hop stalwarts, to the goofy, bubbly, viral styles of hip-hop that are taking the nation by storm.
At the smaller stages, old school hip-hop culture was on full display, with live DJing on display from legends like Invisbl Skratch Piklz, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Pete Rock, serving as a back drop for mesmerizing b-boy and b-girl breakdancing battles that lasted for hours. As attendees walked past a miniature skate park, live spray-painting urban artists, and a tricked out car-show, they entered the main stage areas, with more mainstream, familiar brands of hip-hop. Socially conscious hip-hop artists like Brother Ali, Atmosphere, and Ms. Lauryn Hill graced the stage with incredibly soulful performances that showed their passion for self-expression and writing music. Rappers popular in the mid ’00s and early ‘10s, like T.I., E-40, and Gucci Mane, reminded the crowd of what hip-hop was like when it was all the rage to rap about the living the dichotomous life of luxury and danger: mansions, sports cars, guns, and drugs, all wrapped up in one package.
Performances from artists like Playboi Carti, Aminé, and headliner Travis Scott put late ‘10s popular hip-hop on full display with their energetic styles that are often more about the catchy melodies than lyrical content, which appeared to be a big hit with the crowds. Despite several last-minute artist cancellations, scheduling issues, and a rain shower late in the day, Soundset was largely a success. Although fans of more traditional hip-hop expressed distaste for the newer, more modern artists, and fans of currently popular hip-hop were often disinterested in the hip-hop veterans on stage, from the standpoint of accurately and fairly representing what and who hip-hop is, Soundset did an impeccable job.