Rhymesayers CEO J Bird talks Soundset Mishaps, High Points, and Experiences to Help Grow

It seems like every year as the spring arrives, Minnesota throws a curveball. Whether it’s a 25” blizzard, a water valve bursting on a busy highway, or the countless construction projects that re-route daily travel, it seems like consistency is lost among the spring weather; however, there is one thing we can count on. J Bird working meticulously year round to make sure that everything he has control of goes as best it can to provide one of the most incredible experiences for thousands of onlookers Memorial Day weekend at Soundset.

Isaac: So first off, and I wanted to get the honest truth here, did you send Sean on tour just so he wouldn’t tell everybody it’s the last Soundset again?

J Bird: No. But Atmosphere has been on tour since October last year and just finished in Europe last week with 90 shows, so they’ve been super busy, and Dem Atlas was out with them and Keezy and Lioness. So it’s been a very successful run. But yeah, there’s been no conversations in regards to the last Soundset.

Isaac: Perfect. So I know last year we had gotten into talking about Soundset and how it got started and how it’s grown. And what I’m curious about this year is, do you see the need or the want to expand the non-musical elements like the skateboarding, the b-boys, and do you have any other non-musical elements that you’ve wanted to bring into it?

J Bird: I mean, I think the challenge is always figuring out new ways to grow, right? How do you keep the same elements but expand on them? So, the b-boy/b-girl is always through Cross One with freestyle sessions, and he curates a different type of battle. It changes year to year. It’s not usually the same, but then, do we bring other dance elements into it? {…} Nesser at Familia is really good with the skate area to try to figure out a different kind of course to make it something different each year. Some years they’ll be a car there they skate on, who knows what it’s going to be this year, but it’s trying to keep it fresh. Keep those elements involved in it, just like the Last of the Record Buyers is still a thing. It’s still a live production showcase, but this year Just Blaze is going to do a short set at the end, which is something different. You know that we always try to incorporate that, but I think it’s just going to be how, every year, how can you make things better, outside of just the rap and the DJs and the stages to create a different vibe around the site?

It is important to note that not only is there 11 hours of music to enjoy, but many events and foods on site that fill out a one-day festival. J Bird has found a way to consistently build upon ideas while preventing dilution of the festival; however, if there were any grand scheme ideas for the ever-improving J Bird, I thought I would see his opinions on expanding to a multi-day event.

Isaac: Yeah. And it’s cool because you talk about the more you want to grow and you guys being a one-day festival, do you ever see this becoming something that would be overnight or moving it into [somewhere like] Summer Set? Somerset is close by like somewhere we’d have more of a camping experience.

J Bird: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know about the camping. Maybe. I would like to it someday try to get it to be a multi-day festival, but it’s like … There’s a lot of things involved in that to really get it passed through to make it really happen because it opens up a lot of different things you can do when you have more days than one. Right now you look at some lineups, and we’re doing what some people do in two days. It’s over 10 hours of music. It’s over 40 artists. All of these things happen in a span of 11:00 AM and done before 10:00 PM, and we start right at 11:00 and we just go, and it runs nonstop, so trying to get into a multi-day event would be very interesting. Maybe someday. I think it opens up a lot of things if that could happen.

Isaac: I’ve been to some of the festivals where it’s overnight camping and the experience you have with that, and it is unique with you guys to have it all in a day, because you don’t have to worry about … you guys have people coming over from all over the world, so when it becomes multi-day, that’s another element to them. When it’s a one-day they can come in and spend the three days here and [head home].

J Bird: A lot of people that come here that travel, they’re here Saturday for sure, most of them, and some of them are as early as Thursday and Friday because you see people come through the store that are in from California or Canada or other places and they make it a whole weekend. So they’re not just coming in for this Sunday. You have people that are close state-wise that drive in from South Dakota, North Dakota, or Iowa, Wisconsin … day of show, but a lot of people that are flying from other destinations, they’re coming in early. This year, we got people coming in from all 50 states. We got people coming in from all over Canada. The updated international map is crazy. I don’t even know if I could remember it all, but New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, UK, Sweden, Germany, Norway … Dubai, there’s people coming in from all over the place to come in for this for one day, so when you have that kind of commitment from everybody, you really try to present a really start-to-finish great experience for everybody. We have different events around the pre-party, the after-party. There’s some other things that are going to be announced. I mean Sway will be here on the Friday broadcast in the morning from Icehouse.

Isaac: And they always do that, the … or not open mic, but the hiking and the challenge or whatever it is.

J Bird: There’ll be an art opening that will be announced. Some other things that are different … We partnered with Fair State beer, Twin Cities, and they’re going to have a Soundset-exclusive beer at Soundset that’s going to be a version of their Big Doinks. When you look at a lot of festivals, we really try and make a solid effort to maintain the locality of it: local artists on the stage, local painters, local skaters, local dancers, local beers, local food trucks, to really people that are coming here. There’s a real local Minnesota vibe to it, and that’s always been part of it from the beginning.

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The great thing about keeping this festival one day is that it allows for more exposure to the city we all love. Sunday is about the music, but the other events in the area highlight some of the Twin Cities local standouts. From MilkJam to Fifth Element to First Avenue, Minneapolis/St Paul has some unique places to enjoy and Soundset offers the attendees the ability to take in all the music in one day so the rest of the weekend can be spent exploring the beauty of Minnesota.

Isaac: Yeah, and I really liked that, especially when you get the artists from around and you get So I think it’s really cool how it’s set up. This year, you’re boasting some of the most iconic names. You’ve got Lil Wayne, DMX, Run the Jewels, Just Blaze … DJ Abilities is going to be on there. Was there anybody in the lineup in particular that when you got the confirmation for, you were like, “man, we got this person?”

J Bird: It’s always crazy how it starts and finishes. Two artists for sure this year that have been on the list from the beginning. Well, not from the beginning necessarily, but Run the Jewels we’ve been trying to sort out for years. El-P played in 2009, I think. Yeah, 2009, so 10 years ago or whatever that is, El-P played. But we’ve been trying to figure out Run the Jewels with the schedule for a long time. Since the beginning pretty much from at least 2009, been trying to figure out how to get Black Star done, so those two have been part of trying to figure out for years and that’s how it works sometimes. When De La Soul played, whatever year that was … Man, I can’t even remember all these years now. 2011. De La Soul I try to book every year, and it took four years to get them done. Sometimes it’s just like that with schedules. It took till 2014 to get Nas and Cypress Hill done, so sometimes it’s just scheduling and when the time is right and fate comes forward and it happens.

J Bird: I think how we curate it is pretty similar to what it’s become and what it’s been, right? So it’s like a DMX that’s never played. That make sense? Having a DJ like Spinderella, that’s an iconic DJ, that’s been a part of the hip hop community for a long time, being part of it. Cut Chemist as a DJ, Just Blaze as a producer and DJ, but then having Bas or YBN Cordae, Tierra Whack be part of it, and then Lil Wayne, who’s never played it, and then SZA from the TDE camp, such a strong female performer that’s just at the top of her game, be part of it and headlining the stage. I feel like it’s diverse and all over the place. Having Beast Coast with that whole collaboration, […] just to have underachievers, Flatbush Zombies, Joey Badass, and all them together for one set. It’s something very unique that, with this record cycle, who knows if it’ll happen again? We don’t do a whole lot of repeats, but having G-Eazy back, where we were one of his first festivals when he first played … Having him back is really solid too.

Isaac: Yeah and it’s crazy, the wide range of it, because YNB Cordae is somebody that I think … People that listen to solely underground music, I think they’re going to be surprised by him because he’s a little bit more into the mainstream, but he’s got definitely a very good style to him. I’ve been talking about Lil Uzi Vert because he’s somebody that I think, live performance-wise, is going to be one of the craziest shows of the day.

J Bird: I saw him at Lollapalooza last year and it was nuts. He is like a rock star. When you see him live, he has the charisma and he commands the stage and it’s one of the ones I wanted to try to work out. All the Rhymesayers stuff. Atmosphere’s back. Having Dem Atlas play, having Sa-Roc on it, having Abilities on it. Affiliates of Rhymesayers, Keezy, Precyse used to DJ with us on the road way back in the day with Atmosphere and he’s a long time battle DJ. A really good DJ. Having Royce back who’s never played solo. He only played as part of Slaughterhouse in 2011. Having Dessa back, having Tech N9ne back, having Sage Francis back with Epic Beard Men and B. Dolan. These are pretty great things. Prof is back, was Rhymesayers two years in a row.

Soundset has always combined such a diverse lineup. With underground acts playing the same time as some of the biggest names in the industry. This year having a rockstar like Lil Uzi Vert playing the same time as local favorite Dessa. This wide range of artists creates for an even wider fan base. Not just between underground heads and mainstream fans but between kids at their first festival and adults at their 100th. The connection between the youth and the grown-ups is never easier to see than with J Bird and his daughter.

Isaac: One of the things that we had talked about last year that I thought was really interesting was when we talked about you being able to show your daughter somebody like Lauryn Hill, and somebody that has expanded across generations and has encapsulated people. Having worked with Tech N9ne over the years, I’ve seen five-year-old kids at his shows that are rapping every word along [with] him. These artists that kind of take over generations. What do you think causes certain artists to maintain that enthusiasm in between the young and the old and just kind of everybody?

J Bird: You mean like more of what they call legacy artists that have just been around forever? I think that a good song and a great artist and songwriter, it does last forever. For someone like me, right? Lauryn Hill, it’s different because I heard it at a different point of my life. It’s nostalgic, it’s amazing. I was also on the promotional side working with Ruffhouse Records then, so my memories and everything are completely different, but a lot of people discover music at different points in their life. You may just have discovered Lauryn Hill because of your older sister or your mom or your brother or whatever. And then to see her live … Those kind of the songs … When somebody is a great performer and writes great songs, it lasts forever, right? So somebody like Lauryn Hill can come back and what she’s done, what Erykah Badu has done. Even the songs in hip hop, the songs that Black Star made, you can drop them, you can needle drop them at hip hop shows now and people know them, and they have specific reactions to crowds and the energy, and I feel that way about a lot of I mean Wayne has a catalog that just goes way back. He has so many hit songs and so many things, and how I talk about like, “Hey, I heard Lauryn Hill at this point in my life and it’s nostalgic for me,” what Soundset hopefully brings to some younger generations, and I’ve seen it, where kids are there with their parents and this is creating memories.

There is something so globally recognizable about both music and emotional response from it. So much so that some people bury their music with their passions. Whether it reminds them of an ex-girlfriend, a traumatic experience or a lost family member. Music connects the world and creates an energy that we carry with us, this energy is why I got into the media side of music. Being able to capture, either through photos or through my words, the experience that I feel every time I hear that first note, that first time hearing a new artist, or looking at that first photo as I begin to edit. Bird would go on to explain the feeling it gave him.

J Bird: This is creating their nostalgic moment in time of seeing this in this crowd, because you could hear songs and they could impact you wherever you are in your life, but experience them within a crowd and the energy of people and that energy of everything around you and what’s happening on stage will last forever. You’ll remember it forever. I have very specific memories of a lot of shows and songs that bring me right back to that moment, and I think when you have artists like that that make great songs, … When you write a great song and you perform that song live, it’s going to have an impact that people are going to feel. And that feeling will always be there. It will come back to you.

Isaac: Danny Brown, in particular, is one that really stood out to me, and it was a little bit of the experience of it all. But I was at the Eaux Claires Festival, [put on by the lead singer of Bon Iver, Justin Vernon] and he played in between Bon Iver and Paul Simon, so it was a really odd line up, but-

J Bird: But that’s amazing.

Isaac: Yeah, and he came out, and right before he came out, it was like everybody was sitting in circles, they were passing joints around, everybody’s got flowers in their hair, and he came out to the song Die Like a Rock Star, and I thought for sure nobody was going to enjoy this, because I’m a big fan of Danny Brown, but this did not seem like the crowd. I was taking photos. I turn around and there’s mosh pits, there are people going wild and I was like, this is something that … and I think that’s never going to leave.

J Bird: That’s the magic of a live event, right? And that’s the true magic of what festivals are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to create. Something like that, that’s never going to happen again. Those three groups back to back, it just will not happen again, right? When you see a festival, you can experience these artists and their headline and club shows at First Avenue or something and that is something within itself, but experiencing it within a live festival with these groups going around each other, it’s a different kind of energy that this lineup and this moment in time … it’s only going to be once, right? It’s going to change. It’s going to be different year to year. Who knows what happens with this group or this artist. But seeing it in that moment, that’s the energy of it. And that’s really what it’s about, right? Just having this kind of music experience for all ages. When I was younger, you couldn’t see a lot of shows and clubs being a young age. There wasn’t really festivals. There was traveling tours that started, but they would be far and few be in between and to be able to see this kind of thing, it’s just …

Isaac: Yeah. It’s really interesting and I always get really excited around festival seasons, whether it’s … I’ll shoot the X Games again this year, and it’s a different thing when you can be in something like that, have the music, have everything going around. Just the different energy in the air.

J Bird: Because the energy affects not just the fans. It affects the people performing. It affects the people dancing. It affects the people skating. It affects the people painting. And that whole energy … You lead with that. That’s the point, right? To have a great day engulfed by live music.

Those in attendance at Soundset will always take those moments with them. For one day, the magic will overcome most of the fans, but behind the scenes are hundreds working to make sure that day goes off without a problem. The true magic doesn’t just lie in the bass that pumps from the amps, it comes from all the people who create this festival. And I wanted to know what was most excited coming from the Wizard behind the curtain himself.

Isaac: Yeah, absolutely, and with Soundset being a month away, you look back at all the years that you guys have had this, there’s all the legends that have performed, everything else, but is there anything in particular that, as this final month ramps up that you get that thing you’re looking forward to that … that that kid in a candy shop type of feel when you’re …

J Bird: The thing with me is I’m always on a different side of it, and behind the scenes, right now it’s all about logistics of getting it all to come together. Travel, guest list, credentials, van rentals, flights, hotels, time schedule, stage managers, production crews, trailers. This kind of gear, this kind of backline, security, safety measures. All of those things are what wraps up to me. I don’t really think about the show. I mean, I think about the show, but I don’t think about who I can see until the day of because I never know how it’s going to go. And with me, if I get caught up in making sure this is right or getting this artist there or whatever, I try to catch different pieces of people’s sets. The thing that excites me is just seeing people having a good time, and the magic of it all clicking together and working. There’s a lot of moving pieces to do something like this in one day. There’s so many moving pieces to get it all to come together and all that … we have a lot of crew that’s been with us since the beginning, so it’s like these people have worked hard every year at making this happen. Nobody knows them, nobody knows what they’re doing, but there’s a lot of pieces to get from point A to point B, and to me that’s the magic of it is when it all comes together, and the last group is hitting the stage and you have a moment to breathe. Until then it’s like there’s all kinds of things you got to resolve and figure out and go through throughout the whole day.

Isaac: Well, and seeing this from a lot of different angles over the last few years, when I first started coming over here, I actually moved into my apartment four days early so that I could come to Soundset and have a place to stay, and then so I just went as a fan, and then I came here to cover it with my boss the next year, then I did photography for it last year. And seeing it grow, it’s always interesting to me when an artist is 10 minutes late or somebody doesn’t show and people get kind of restless about it and I go … To think everything that’s gone right, and to know the process that goes into making everything … When something small like that doesn’t go right, in my head, I’m just going, “This is so mediocre, or minuscule, compared to everything that’s been going on in the last … Well, I guess you guys kind of start the day after Soundset.

While a lot of stuff comes together and it’s surreal to watch it unfold, there are many things that can go wrong, things that can’t be prepared for and things you expect to fluctuate. The weather, the crowd, the traveling artists all present variables that require a team of well-prepared individuals to handle. Bird would go on to explain what to do when the unknown becomes a reality.

J Bird: So I’ve talked to them, I’ll email them, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with people and that’s how you make things better. You can really work to do something and sometimes it could be a weather thing and you didn’t have enough time to set this part up or you couldn’t set it up. At Canterbury, we had this time where the year J. Cole played, it rained all the time. It rained all through set up, it rained the entire day. And people didn’t leave and people had a great time and they had this crazy energy, but there were things that you couldn’t physically set up right because it was just all mud. We pulled so many wood chips and hay from Canterbury Park to just put on the ground to fill these areas. You go into crisis mode to fix things, And so then, “Oh, why wasn’t this right here?”

J Bird: Right. So they get disoriented at the end, they don’t remember where they parked. They go out the wrong gate. So really trying to have people, “Hey, north, south, pay attention to where you’re parking,” because if you do go out the wrong gate, how do you get to your car then? But there’s ways to do that. You parked in the south. You went out in the north. “What do I do?” You can get on the shuttle or something to take you over there. You can figure out a way to get back, or so it’s just there’s a lot of pieces to it and you try to pay attention to the details.

Isaac: This kind of wraps it up too with our fan question that came in for you, but this was a Joey Atliano, who … Recently, he’s been making waves in California and he’s had the Happiness of Pursuit Festival that he’s been putting on, so I think you guys are familiar. I know Sa-roc has played it. Evidence has worked with him and some other stuff, but he asks, do you have any mistakes, regrets, or advice for people throwing festivals or shows?

J Bird: Mistakes, regrets or advice? Mistakes. I mean there’s always some mistakes that you live and learn by. Trying to think of a good example. One is you can never predict the weather, right? So you always got to have an A plan and a B plan. You can’t just assume things are always going to go great, and even when they do, like last year, you can get really hot weather, and you could think you ordered enough water. You can never order enough water. You got to just go crazy and order whatever you can order and return what’s left. But you learn by these things and that’s why I think one thing is not paying attention to people when they … People get pissed. People can be happy. But listening to people. I’m trying to think of a mistake that really stood out. I mean one thing we learned by is the year Lupe played, we had to evacuate, and knock on wood, that’s the only time we had to do that, but you realize even when you have a really strong evacuation plan, that you need to really reinforce it with everybody because when that happens, not only you, but how you communicate it and all the people involved got to understand their roles in it to get people out of there and where people need to go. And if people don’t want to leave, how you get them to leave. I think you got to always put safety and security above and beyond everything else, so I think that’s one thing we learned from that year. Regrets? That one’s tough because you try to just not think like that. I try not to think, “What could have been?” … Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that. Regret, what was the other one?

Isaac: And advice.

J Bird: Advice, yeah. I mean, the thing is to me, you got to pay attention to the details. You got to try to curate the best lineup you can curate. A lot of times, people don’t realize all the behind the scenes stuff. “Why didn’t you book this person or that person?” They don’t know that we didn’t try to book this person or that person. They may not be touring. They may be too much money for the budget. They may have played the year before. There’s all these different reasons for how things turn out the way they turn out, but you got to be open to things, you got to really work to build what you feel is the best show. People going to hate, no matter what you do. You could hit the lottery and book whatever you feel is the best lineup and there will still be some kids that’ll not feel it, so you just try to ride on the positive side and you try to really. If you work to present the best show, and you know in your heart this is the best you could do, and you’ve done all the steps to try to make it the greatest thing you could make it, and you do what you can for all the fans safety-wise, security-wise, best show-wise, and you work to improve it every year to make things better and not be hardheaded and be like, “Well, that’s how I’m going to do it,” but, “No, hey, this makes sense. We should change this,” and having that open dialogue, it’s the best thing. That’s all you can do.

The truth behind why I look forward to this interview every year is that just five minutes with Jason is enough for anyone to tell that this isn’t about money, it’s not about recognition or glory. He doesn’t do it to be remembered. J Bird puts his heart into something that has given so much to his own heart. I have done two interviews in my career that have been longer than 50 minutes, both times with J Bird, and both times it felt like a few minutes. The joy he has while talking about this festival and music, in general, is something I hope to hold onto as my career continues to grow.

J Bird: There’s a bit of fate involved in it all with any live show. It’s live, it’s live music, things can happen. Your heart’s got to be in it for the right reasons and you just got to do what you feel is best for the fans, for you, for the artists, and I think at the end of the day, things come together and that’s the magic of it. I don’t know about regrets. I’m trying to think if there’s anything I’ve completely regretted over the years. Sometimes you try stuff and it don’t work. The first year, or the second year, one of the years at Canterbury, we tried doing the after-party and before-party there because it was so far out and it just didn’t work. People couldn’t find it. It didn’t have the same vibe because it’s not a club, but you live and you learn by it and then you move on. Changing, 2012, I let that art go and it looks good, but how did you ever let the characters and the name of the festival be more than the artists playing it? You live and you learn by it, there’s so many things like that that you just, you got to just power through it, and it happens on all different levels.

Isaac: Yeah, and then, I mean, and it’s true, to go back and you don’t really regret things as long as you’re learning from them, so it’s hard to say, when you grow, it’s hard to look at that as a bad thing because you grew from it. You made your changes, but so in the last thing that we get into here is always to let you take a minute here to tell everybody about what’s going on in the Rhymesayers world outside of Soundset. What do you got coming up in the future? Any sort of big plans are our announcements that you guys had?

J Bird: There’s a lot of things with new records that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to speak about yet, that what’s public, but a few things that just […] We’re doing a Summerfest stage takeover and Milwaukee, again this summer we’re doing, or we’re doing a basic Rhymesayer two-day thing at this new venue in Denver called The Mission with a bunch of our artists over two days. The big thing I think that is around the corner is next year is Rhymesayers’ 25th anniversary and I think there’s there’s planning and what we’re going to do around that for next year, so I think that just like we did a big 20 year, 25, what are we going to do? I think that that dialogue is just starting to what that’s going to be. There’s always new music and artists are always working on new things. I’m excited to see what Dem Atlas does next. After this last record came off really good with a lot of people and he just finished a lot of tour dates with Atmosphere to what’s going to happen next. Brother Ali just did a Shadows of the Sun tour here and in Europe and it went over really good to what Ali’s going to do next. Prof will probably have a new record, what he’s going to do next, and all of these things are new adventures, and it’s always exciting when there’s new music and new things coming around the corner to what it can bring, and seeing it be getting there like, “Hey, here’s this first draft for this song here it is more polished and mastered and mixed. Here it is on the record with everything else.” And then to see it finally be performed live in front of a crowd for the first time and then months later when people know it, it’s a ride that’s just … I don’t know how you can explain it, but it’s like something … To see those things happen is pretty amazing, and there’s some things coming down the pipeline for sure. Next year will be the 25th anniversary, so we’ll see what we’ll do then.

With so many things in the near future, it was great to talk a little more about the past. J Bird is a pretty accomplished man, but his list of accomplishments is matched by his list of shows and experiences. We would go on to talk about the festivals he had attended and how they had influenced his future endeavors.

Isaac: Yeah, yeah, and because it is true. I mean, it’s hard to speak on regrets on things and I feel the same mentality about it because even things that I may not have … You look back at them and go, “Man, we could’ve done this better. Now we do do this better.” I don’t think that it’s necessarily going to be a regret because it’s either bettered or learned from from it, so unless there’s some sort of total collapse that happened with it, I think that, to me, makes a lot of sense.

J Bird: Yeah. I mean, you just have to grow. You got to look at it and what worked, what didn’t work, what could be better. There’s so many things that are out of your control. You read these comments and people just … You can’t get into these debates and arguments about stuff because there’s so many variables to everything, to how this all really works at the end of the day. We just try to have this event that what we feel is the best we could curate it, and then here it is. Man, it’s just so funny how people … Maybe I’m just older, but when I would go do … You could throw Lollapalooza out there or one of the really first touring festivals. I didn’t know all these bands. I didn’t know all these artists. I never would be like, “Man, Lollapalooza? Who is the butthole surfers,” and just pull this one group out or be like, “Yo, this lineup sucks.” My whole thing was like, “Tribe Called Quest is on this!” I didn’t even care sometimes, and what would happen every time at these festivals for me is I would … I discovered Tool at Lollapalooza playing in the parking lot for 150 people. I’d never heard of Tool but they were playing at this stage that was basically set up on the concrete and I was like, “Man, this group is amazing!” And that was the magic of it then. It’s different now because you can go on and listen to everybody’s stuff but you will discover new music.

The craziest part about the interview was realizing how similar we were when it came down to the rawest of emotions. Having been to a handful of festivals myself, it was interesting to hear him speak on the joys of discovering new music and how those experiences brought about his own ideas.

J Bird: There’s so many different examples that … even outside of rap. I used to like System of a Down. I thought they were a good group, but when Atmosphere … We did Big Day Out Festival in Australia for two, three weeks and I watched them play every day. I came back and bought every record they had because their live performance showed me something that I never even caught in their records or took the time to go listen to their records until I saw them live. Then I loved them. And there’s so many groups like that, and I think even sometimes you book groups by your relationships and you’re like, “Oh,” but you don’t know cause they’re new. Their album hasn’t been out yet, but you’re feeling their vibe. This song was out or they freestyled here, whatever. And then you’re like, “Damn.” There’s so many times like that, when you go back in history of Soundset … We booked Chance and Kendrick, we booked Kendrick early, We booked Chance early. There were these groups that … Wiz Khalifa did and was where he’s at in his career now. These were leaps of faith of believing in artists, when they were just starting out and being like, “This is amazing.” I think a lot of people don’t even realize all the acts that have played Soundset over the years. […]Anderson Paak was that year.

Isaac: Oh, yep, and I remember I had just heard of Anderson Paak, but Danny Brown was a case where he was at Summerset in 2011, maybe, or 2012 and I had never heard of him before, and I was there to see Schoolboy Q because I just heard him, and Summerset, there was three people on the bill I even knew and I went there and I left being like, “This is one of my favorite festivals,” because it was just the whole experience, and that’s how it was for Soundset as well.

J Bird: What you hope is that, hey man, there’s a handful of groups on here I love. You hope that I’m going to discover some new things. Maybe you’ve never had the chance to see some of these groups live.

Isaac: Well, and somebody like student 1, who I think is going to put on a fantastic show. I’ve been following him in the Cities here for a long time, and I’m excited to see what he’ll do with that on the stage, but you’re right. YNB Cordae I think is somebody that can really jump out to a lot of people. It’s neat to see this. I just recently saw Trippie Redd perform at The Myth when he was here, and and when you get all of those into a big crowd there, there’s going to be a handful of them, regardless of what style of hip-hop you’re into that you can go and see, but then you can branch out and see the ones that maybe you wouldn’t have normally gone to see. I’ve been urging a lot of my underground-head fans just to check out Lil Uzi Vert, because it’s a show. It’s going to be different. It’s not going to be the most lyrically dense thing you’ll ever hear, but it’s a show and it’s something that’s worth seeing.

J Bird: You forget how many hip-hop anthems DMX has that are just like … When it hits the stage and it’s just like, “Oh yeah!” That’s the thing, man. It’s the songs and just seeing them perform live, man. And the thing is, you realize, I realize when I go back in time how impactful those moments were for me, and that’s probably why I ended up where I’m at and what I do is because of things that happened to me early in my life. I saw Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC, on one of the first traveling and hip hop tours, which was one of the Fresh Fest tours, and it was Grandmaster Flash, Furious Five, Fat Boys, Whodini, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, and seeing Run-DMC … And I told DMC this when I saw him at South by Southwest a few years ago, seeing Jam Master Jay DJ that night single-handedly changed my life. Changed my whole full circle. I’m going to DJ. This is what I want to do.

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This notion isn’t something new, but its something vital and its the part of the interview that really stood out to me. Although in this particular interview that happened often. This feeling, this energy that is instilled in someone is what I hope my words accomplish. The first time I saw a full concert was a local metal concert that was headlined by DOPE. I remember the energy at a small venue in Green Bay, WI called the Riverside Ballroom. I remember the faces on the people around me expressing everything from ecstasy to anger to disbelief, but every separate emotion had one thing it common. They were all true emotions. That is what eventually led me to do what I currently do, and while it wasn’t a moment in particular. I can look back at that first show and know it was my first step towards finding one thing that I could truly love to experience.

J Bird: But I always went to these shows looking at the merch, looking at who’s doing sound, looking at the lights, looking at how the people went in, how they exited, where they sat, the reaction, just paying attention to the whole show, and it’s funny because I was talking about this run DMC thing to somebody a couple months ago and there’s a new article in Men’s Health or something with Killer Mike. He talks about the same tour, but he talked about how it made him want to be a rapper. But that’s what I’m saying. There’s a whole generation that was affected by that tour without a doubt. There’s a whole bunch of people that went and saw that and they was like, “Fuck this, man, I’m being a DJ and I’m going to be a rapper.” And it affected all of these people, and then it goes on to another generation. And that’s what keeps happening. And that’s like with Soundset, it’s like this is all different generations of this culture from all different areas, from what’s brand new to people that have been doing this for years. That’s what I always felt was the beautiful thing about Soundset is that you could see all these different parts of this genre. It’s not just one-sided at all. It’s all over the place to see the roots, but then …

Isaac: Well, Miss Lauryn Hill with Travis Scott. I remember I was blown away by both performances.

J Bird: But here’s the thing, will that happen again? Will Lauryn Hill and Travis Scott … Maybe somewhere, someday, but that’s the thing, man. What you hope is people leave inspired from it to do whatever they’re going to do in their life, but music inspires, music makes you forget, music makes you feel and when it’s in that kind of environment, man, it’s … and maybe it’s me, because it’s always affected me that way. And that’s where and why I ended up trying to do what I was going to do and what I do now. But it’s those moments, man, it’s just …

Isaac: It’s how I felt about it for a while too, because with especially festivals, the feeling you get from a festival, has always been why I wanted to do the interviewing and the writing about the festivals, covering festivals, and especially the photography, because it’s one thing that you get the cool pictures and the people, but when you can capture the whole experience of a festival, it’s something that’s totally different, and it’s something that I remember seeing FEVER 333 for the first time at … what’s the … Northern Invasion this past year, and from start to finish, I sat there and just went, “People need to see this act.” This is something that I will always tell people: See these guys perform, because it is something to witness.

J Bird: The thing that’s always crazy for me is my day at Soundset is different than a lot of people’s days. When I really see what happened that day, it’s two days later when I just go on social media and I look at all the photos, and I look at the videos, and see everything in the photos that come through with the photographers we work with, then I see really what’s happened, but I don’t get to see everything that I would want to see, but then you could feel … When the pictures are captured correctly, you could feel the energy in just that single moment in time, but to do this, and the work that’s involved, you got to be passionate about it. You got to want to roll through it all. It’s not easy, but people think it’s easy. It’s a lot of work to do a show. Look at what First Avenue does in a year and how many shows that is. It’s not easy to do those things. With bigger productions, you have an early load and that’s all day and night for that crew and that’s one venue in time and that’s it. Then the artist and the crew on the road got to do that every day in other places.

Isaac: Yeah, it’s really intense and it’s the thing. Like I said, I only did the photography side of it, but it’s even a different … than what I went to Soundset as a fan versus going as a photographer, and what you’re looking for, what you’re seeing, and then you get to come back and you edit through and see that, but what you’re trying to capture there versus the fan that’s just taking everything in … It is kind of cool to think of all the different aspect of it. And then you get back and have 2000 photos to go through. Then I start to go, “Oh man, these are some really cool things that I might not have even realized I caught.”

J Bird: Yeah. That’s why I go to a lot of different festivals and shows, and thing is is the thing that’s always interesting to me … Because sometimes, “Oh, I’ll watch this from the side of the stage,” and that’s cool. That’s a different experience, but there’s some times where I’ve watched part of the group from the side of the stage and then part from the crowd, and to me the crowd is always better, because when you’re on a side of stage, people want to be there to get their photos for Instagram or whatever and you see it and it’s cool because you can see .. I like it because I can see what’s going on behind the scenes and stuff. For instance, I saw Run the Jewels at Lollapalooza out in the crowd, and the energy all around you, and the sound, the sound is never going to be great for you on the side of the stage. More people are using in-ears. There’s some monitors, but you’re not hearing it. You’re not feeling it like you are in the crowd.

Isaac: Yeah. It’s definitely different, and it is weird because the amount of people that … Everybody’s like, “Oh, I want to be backstage, I want to be side stage. I wanna … This is what it looks cool to people,” but then, I feel like the people that are backstage and set onstage are going, “Man, I kind of want to be right out in the crowd,” because it’s-

J Bird: If you really want to see a show, the sound is going to be better closer to the front of house, so you get closer to the front of house position right in the center, it’s going to sound great. That’s where you want to watch it. Some people don’t want to be around big crowds or whatever it is, so it’s all your personal preference for how you deal in that kind of environment. There’s sometimes I just sit back to watch, you know?

There are lots of people that I have been grateful to meet in my life, but when it comes to conversationalist, J Bird is at the top of the list. His enthusiasm for music is one thing, but the way he genuinely wants to see the world around him bettered is what makes him amazing. Whether it’s working all year to put smiles on the patrons at Soundset or spending the extra 15 minutes to help an up and coming photographer network around the country. J Bird has continually meant more to the culture of hip hop than most people that have seen him will ever know, but his most important contribution to the culture is the inspiration and energy that he continues to spread to the masses of fans that pilgrimage to St Paul on a yearly basis for a day of music unlike any other. I never know if my thoughts come out right on the page, or if everything will translate correctly, but when it comes to Jason’s love for music… well. I don’t ever fucking question that.

Get your tickets at www.soundsetfestival.com

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