My neighbor has a seaweed-green campaign sign staked in his front lawn that’s been there so long that the corrugated plastic is chipping. The brome shoots grow six inches tall around its base. You gotta brush them aside to read the slogan.
“Manny Phesto: For Minnesota,” it reads.
The mailman has asked me about the sign a half-dozen times. So has my brother-in-law. They’d seen similar graphics around town, and they wondered: Who is this prophetically named politico, and why are Twin Citians still holding out for his rise?
Manny Phesto introduced himself to residents of Minneapolis/St. Paul with the 2012 EP Social Capital. Though coarse, it’s a record of purpose, striving for community-built positivity, and it helped establish Phesto as a tenderhearted man of the people. His 2014 debut LP, Southside Looking In, followed up on those original campaign promises, fleshing out the rapper’s vision for a better Minneapolis in 15 boom-bap insta-classics. He led that release with a tongue-in-cheek lawn-papering initiative that positioned him as the can-do candidate for a city with nothing to lose.
“People always think there’s a deeper meaning,” Phesto says, rolling into a laugh. “I had the idea for a few years before I put it into motion. I just thought it’d be cool to do during election season. Just to fuck with people’s minds and get a bunch of new eyes on my music.”
That was five years ago. Since Southside, Phesto’s campaign trail has run cold. You’d need a weed whacker to read his policy statement. But after a five-year sabbatical, the south Minneapolis rapper is restored with purpose. His sophomore LP, Over South, released at the end of May, chronicles the hometown son’s comeback bid.
Phesto is no stranger to stumping. He spent most of 2015 traveling across the Midwest, Mexico, Cuba, and Hawaii in an effort to solidify himself as one of the state’s hardest-working rhymers. But for the past two years he’s been more focused. Phesto relocated to San Diego in late 2016, and since then, he’s been bouncing from West Coast to Midwest to manage a burgeoning marijuana business while maintaining his grassroots Minneapolis presence.
“A friend of mine bought me a ticket, which is kinda hard to turn down,” Phesto says. “That was at a time when I was already traveling a bunch for music, so I was inspired to try out new places and seek whatever was out there.”
Over South , inspired by a quintessential piece of Minneapolis slang, joins both Phesto’s definitions of “south.” Early moments on the record (“100 Grams,” “Going Places”) depict his early ambitions in San Diego, struggling to get the capital to establish his grow operation. However, he’s swiftly betrayed by his partner (“Young Bro,” “Listen”), and the industry collapses around him. In the end, he retreats to south Minneapolis with visions of a better future at home (“Still Lovely”).
“My attitude with going out west was that I wasn’t going out there to kick it,” Phesto says. “I wasn’t going to socialize. I was treating it like a work-abroad situation.”
That work—and the heartbreak, the disappointment, the sleepless nights—is for Minnesota. Phesto’s marijuana business was put on ice by city council regulations, but he still maintains a consulting firm and a brand new cannabidiol company, Scenic CBD. Both act as a Super PAC funding his musical endeavors.
Both locations are joined in song on Over South’s final track, “Sunset Cliffs.” The song pays homage to the California street where Phesto wrote the new record. The location is an anagram for the riverside park where he wrote the verses for Southside Looking In. He shot the “Sunset Cliffs” music video on those inspirational banks, joining the locations in a singular point.
“It was a way for me to contribute to Minneapolis and keep it connected with what I’m doing now,” Phesto says. “South Minneapolis was my introduction to hip-hop culture. It was seeing stickers slapped up from Big Zach and Big Quarters on the way to South High. The cyphers crackin’ off a couple blocks away in the homie’s garage. That’s the area that formed me.”
He might be a transmetropolitan entrepreneur, but Phesto’s definition of success is the same as it was on Social Capital. The idea is to grow alongside those around you. On “Mainroom,” he returns to the wide-eyed candidate he was, dreaming of selling out First Ave and getting his name in City Pages. “Honey” pays tribute to his longtime HQ, the eponymous Northeast club where he’s been a regular since his early cyphers. He’s still gigging at Honey—that’s where he’ll host his June 23 homecoming show—but he’s at least gotten himself elected into the local paper.
“I was just trying to go back to my attitude as a young kid first poppin’ into the scene, what my aspirations were,” he says. “Over South is basically the story of my life. Preparing to go, then going, all the setbacks, all of that shit that changes when you’re out of town.”
Despite the changes a half-decade brings, Phesto remains steadfast in the convictions that brought on his groundswell in 2014. All across town, a crisp-cornered sign is popping up in manicured lawns. It’s a bright, fearless red, radiating with purpose.
It reads, “Manny Phesto: For the People.”
“I’m running for whatever my constituents want me for,” Phestos says. “But really it’s just shameless self-promotion.”
Consider this City Pages’ official endorsement.
With: Cold Sweat, Ben Buck Beatbox, Jantzonia, Baby Shel, Rich Garvey, OKnice
When: 9:30 p.m. Sun. June 23
Tickets: $5; more info here