In the middle of the organized chaos that is the Soundset festival we had the opportunity to sit down with Twin Cities rapper Manny Phesto. Born and raised in South Minneapolis, Manny made headlines last fall when “Manny Phesto for Minnesota” campaign signs started popping up in yards. He wasn’t actually running for any office, but instead used a write-in campaign for all of them as a DIY get-out-the-vote push (according to his website he received votes for Sheriff, Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and several judge positions). Manny brings the same combination of irreverence in support of serious issues to his music, especially on debut album Southside Looking In released in April of last year. Our conversation touched on everything from political hip hop and soul samples to what South Minneapolis represents.
MiG: You just had your first set at Soundset, right?
MiG: How do you think it went?
MP: I feel it went good. It could always go better, but yeah it was good. The energy was good, I didn’t forget any lyrics.
MiG: Good to get it out of the way first thing?
MP: Yeah, at first I didn’t want to play so early. I thought the crowd wouldn’t be as thick, but I feel like the energy was probably higher than it would have been if people had been standing around all day. They were excited just to get going. I feel like it was good.
MiG: You’re from South Minneapolis, and rep it hard. What is it about South Minneapolis that makes you love it so much?
MP: I mean it’s what created me. It’s all I know really. South Minneapolis is the backdrop to everything I write and all the experiences I’ve ever had. It’s where I went to school, where I lost my virginity, where I got drunk the first time. Everything was in South Minneapolis.
MiG: How long has your family been there?
MP: My mother grew up in Minnesota, but not Minneapolis. Probably 30 years.
MiG: And your parents are active in the community in South Minneapolis?
MP: Yeah, they’re active everywhere. My father is a well known artist and organizer. He’s done a lot for political movements and labor movements and stuff. And my mother has done some organizing work too with a bunch of different movements. With the farm workers back in the day and a lot of stuff. Yeah, I’ve lived in a very political/politically active family.
MiG: And you bring that into your music as well.
MiG: What is it do you think about hip hop that speaks to you to bring that part of your background into it?
MP: I feel like that’s the essence of hip hop. Hip hop was born in the ghettos, you know, in the struggle and that’s all that politics is. These are the issues that affect us on the day-to-day, and in hip hop it’s all about people relating to you, and a lot of times people don’t even think of certain issues in certain ways. And if you can write it in a way that they’ll relate to it, then you’ll get them to think about something a little more important than they might normally think about.
MiG: It seems to me there hasn’t been as much politically conscious hip hop, being popular at least, right now.
MP: There’s a thin line between politically conscious and shoving your politics down someone’s throat, and I feel like a lot of people that are political rappers don’t know where that line is and there just spitting facts at people. Like “the U.S. did this in ’65 and this” and that’s not how it’s gotta be. It’s got to be real situations that people can relate to.
MiG: What kind of situations are we talking?
MP: I mean, being evicted from your house for one…having your ass beat by the police…anything that I would write about that people might not think about in the way that I frame it.
MiG: But you aren’t all political. You’ve got your fun side as well.
MP: Yeah, I mean, nobody’s all anything, right? We’re all…life’s all about dualities. So, I’m a normal 20-something. I like to kick it, have fun, and go out, but at the same time I’m thinking about shit.
MiG: You’ve described your style as ‘stream-of-consciousness’. What does that mean to you?
MP: For a while I had trouble writing about one specific topic for a whole song, and one of my friends told me ‘man, don’t even worry about it. Your music is just stream-of-consciousness. Whatever comes up in your mind is what you’re speaking on and it all ties in together somehow.’ So that’s really what I think. A song could just be a day in my life. I could go from going to the store, to watching the news, to going to a show, to watching a crackhead overdoes, or whatever. It’s just…stream-of-consciousness.
MiG: What is it about the soul style that speaks to you?
MP: I don’t know, man. It’s the same feeling I get when I hear really dope scratches or a really nasty beat. It just gives you the ‘I smell poop face,’ and you just scrunch up like, ‘ugh, that is so nasty!’ A dope soul sample does that to me. It’s probably just the era of hip hop I was listening to when I came up was a lot of east coast sample based artists, so I guess that’s what resonates with me.
MiG: Do you listen to much of the old soul?
MP: I don’t listen to a lot of old soul. I listen to a lot of reggae actually. When I started writing I started writing to reggae music because I didn’t have any rap beats. The internet was pretty new at that point.
MiG: Last year you had your first album come out, Southsiders Looking In. Did I see correctly, your dad actually did the artwork?
MiG: That must have been pretty cool.
MP: It was awesome. Got to keep it in the family.
MiG: What does that album say about you?
MP: It says the type of things I was thinking about at that time. That album…I wrote it about a year and a half ago now and it came out about a year ago. So it’s just the things of a 23-year-old going through life. My hopes, aspirations, plans, and struggles.
MiG: Things are going well with it. You got some good press.
MP: Things honestly couldn’t be going better with it. What I’ve been able to do, or what my album has been able to do for me I should say, is mind blowing. It’s awesome.
MiG: One of those things, is you got to sit down with Sway the other day. How was that for you?
MP: It was awesome. I grew up seeing Sway. It was definitely a bucket list item. Just like this [playing Soundset]. This year is full of bucket list items.
MiG: You seem to be hustling as best you can, here at Soundset. Setting up interviews, doing what you can.
MP: Yeah, I wasn’t even expecting them to send me the press list, so I got it and am like ‘man, I gotta take advantage of this.’
MiG: Does that come a little bit from that political organizing background? You gotta work the system?
MP: It could! That’s everything, though. If you don’t make things happen, they’re not going to happen. Growing up in the Minneapolis, or not even growing up in it, but witnessing the hip hop scene here, there’s a lot of people that don’t necessarily promote their music as much as they should. There are a lot of albums that are awesome that just kind of fly-by-night because they don’t have the promotion behind them that they need. So I just…going in, I knew that I needed to get everything that I could out of this project. It takes a lot of effort to write an album, record an album, print it up, and put it out, and it sucks to see somebody, not wasting, but not getting what they can out of that effort.
MiG: Overall how do you think the local scene is?
MP: It’s fucking awesome. I’ve been a few different places and I’ve heard from a lot of locals that there’s no scene like this one. It’s the comradery. Like I could go to a show by myself any night of the week and see ten artists that I know and get a ride home from one of them. It’s a big family and people support each other. When I was performing there were five other artists that are going to be performing sidestage watching me. They’re not just kicking it and smoking in the green room.
MiG: What do you think it is about Minneapolis/St. Paul that nurtures that?
MP: I think it’s a small/big city. Once you know everybody, you either like them or you don’t and most people seem to like each other.
MP: Yeah! In two weeks I get to play four islands. But that still hasn’t quite hit me yet. That’s going to happen after today.
MiG: And then when you come back, you’ve got another big show over in Somerset.
MP: Yeah, actually right when I get back, two days later I’m going to Duluth for a festival and then 4th of July I’m doing Sioux City Iowa, and Aretha Franklin is playing that. Saturday in the Park it’s called, and then I’m touring throughout August, late July and early August, and then I’m doing Somerset in mid-August. Then I’m booking a tour for Colorado in September and doing at least one date in Havana [Cuba] in October. One of my goals coming into the year was to plan out as much as I could in advance. So I’ve been sending emails to festivals and venues and everybody just trying to fill my calendar up
MiG: Working on writing any new stuff yet?
MP: Yeah, actually just the last month or so I’ve been getting the energy back to write. It was kind of a dead zone in the winter for me, but it’s been good. I’ve written a few more songs and done some collaborations.
MiG: Who have you been working with?
MP: I just did a song with Rich Garvey. Just did a song with this kid Mic Q.A. from this crew Mill City Collective that’s coming up right now. Just did a song with this kid Ken-C from a crew called Skoolboy in St. Paul. Mike the Martyr and Axel Foley, my normal partners in crime. I Self Devine, one of the Rhymesayers OGs who was in the Micronaughts, we just wrote something. Just trying to write a lot and then see where it all fits together as far as projects.
MiG: Sounds like things are popping.
MP: Yeah, I feel blessed.
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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