Over Memorial Weekend, the Twin Cities gathered once again for the ever-popular Soundset Music Festival. This year was momentous, as it marked the 10 year anniversary for the event. Only two short years after Rhymesayers Entertainment was founded they began hosting Soundset as a way to showcase a few dozen local hip-hop artists in a South Minneapolis warehouse. Over the last decade, the festival has become a Midwestern summer staple, drawing over 35,000 attendees each year from all over the country.
I had the honor of talking to Rhymesayers CEO and founder, Siddiq. When asked how he felt about reaching the decade anniversary of the festival he was extremely humble. Sayers had this to say:
“I’m not a big accolade guy or a big “celebratory” guy. To me, it’s just another year. It’s a great accomplishment when you can do something like this at that scale— for this long at that level with no issues or problems—and continue to grow 10 years into it...Ultimately, we’re not doing this [Soundset] just to make money. Ultimately, we’re not some corporate-backed event. No, we’re actually planning this. We are involved in this [process] and have been for two decades. This is what we’ve done for the better part of two decades.”
Sayers is always thinking into the future which is probably why Rhymesayers Entertainment has had so much success. He believes that a forward-thinking mind state is indicative of successful people and that this drive is a subconscious part of his nature rather than something he actively chooses. Instead of focusing on accomplishments of the past, he has a strong drive to continue to build for the future. After one Soundset Festival is complete, the Rhymesayers immediately move on to planning the next one.
Remaining an independent label seems to be the secret to the Rhymesayers longevity. Without having an “industry in their backyard”, artists from Minnesota have been forced to create opportunities and paths that are more readily available than in other areas, like New York and Los Angeles. They perfected the touring model for indie labels by going to smaller towns and areas that were traditionally overlooked. As time went on, they built a fan base in areas that are just now starting to be regular stops on commercial labels touring schedules. Another benefit of being an indie label is that local Minnesota artists have had to learn to do everything themselves, allowing them learn about the industry from the inside out and securing more rights to their intellectual property. When asked if being from Minnesota has played a part in the upward mobility of the label and festival, Sayers had this to say:
“There’s something in our character—not that it makes us better or anything. There’s just a mentality that we naturally have coming out of Minnesota that no one really cared. So we didn’t expect anything. I know a lot of artists that came out of the East Coast or West Coast, and there’s a sense of entitlement. And rightfully so. You’re coming out of the birthplace of hip-hop, or you’re coming out of the second most notable region for hip-hop. They have known it up front and in person. It’s right there in their faces. Things have changed so much in the last few decades, but if you were coming out of one of those regions, you would logically go and sign with a major label because they’re right there looking and you and you’re looking right back at them. We didn’t have those things, so it instilled in us a mentality that, one, no body really cared. If we wanted people to care about what we were doing, we would have to figure it out for ourselves.
What makes Soundset unique is the fact that it is an all hip-hop festival. The Rhymesayers want to showcase the diversity in not just the artists, vendors and performances, but also in the sub-genres represented within hip-hop culture. Soundset features graffiti art, a car show, a skate park, food, vendors and more. Being a one-day festival makes it a little harder for the Rhymesayers to secure artists with their budget without corporate sponsoring. Budget limitations and sticking to a theme hip-hop specific performers can make it hard to secure artists when compared to other larger music festivals like Coachella. But Sayers states that Rhymesayers Entertainment wants to keep their prices affordable for the masses and has no intention of raising ticket prices in order to try to compete with corporate sponsored festivals. This is just one more aspect of our hometown all-stars that we love. The Rhymesayers always stay accessible to their fans. The new venue of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds has proven to be a hit with festival-goers. I asked Siddiq what his future vision for Soundset is, and he had this to say:
“ Right now, we’re thinking about perfecting what we’re doing today. Obviously we’re just two years into moving to a new location—so we’re fine tuning that. The immediate goal is really just continue to fine-tune the experience. We want people to come and really have an amazing experience. That goes beyond just putting artists on a stage. I think that’s our focus right now. Taking this new venue and new location and really enhancing the experience people are having.”
Each year, Soundset gets better and better. Our local pride swells with each success of not just the Rhymesayers, but with all of our local artists that have gained recognition past our state borders. We look forward to what Soundset will bring us for the next decade to come.