"The older I get, the better I like St. Paul," says show promoter Amber "Ace" Cleveland of the oft-maligned capital, which hugs the hipper Minneapolis. She fell in love with the growing Lowertown area specifically, which hosts the free all-ages outdoor hip-hop festival For the Love she's throwing this weekend. "[St.Paul's] never had a hip-hop festival. The whole point is to highlight what this area looks like."
For the Love is a sprawling, six-block celebration of the whole city's hip-hop scene. The stacked lineup of MCs, DJs, spoken-word artists chosen by Sol Rebel Phoenix, b-boys and b-girls, graffiti writers, and more will play at the new Bedlam Theatre, Union Depot, the Black Dog Cafe, and outdoor stages.
"There's already a lot of artistic things going on down there, and the community is really supportive of itself," says featured performer Desdamona, who lives in the Lowertown area. She planted the seed in Cleveland's head about throwing a show to posit the neighborhood as a nightlife destination, and thanks in part to a Cultural Star Grant from the city of St. Paul, Cleveland had the financial breathing room to expand her concept. "There's all this energy happening. I think it's perfect timing."
"I don't like to make those distinctions, I just like to see a cross-section," says Cleveland. "I lose this over-concern [for] how [things are] marketed.... I just wanna have fun more than anything. That's For the Love. It's for the love of the community, it's for the love of Lowertown."
For the Love brings together younger rappers like the Lioness, Solly & Veins, and Sweetz P; tried-and-true local luminaries like Glo Pesci and Metasota; live bands like Mayda, Crunchy Kids, and Up Rock; and accomplished DJs like King Otto, DJ Just Nine, and Nimo the Hooligan. (Disclosure: This writer was invited to DJ while reporting this story.) It will also host crews that rarely do group performances, like Guardians of Balance, Illuminous 3, and the legendary reuniting headliners, the Micranots. Cleveland cites the early days of the Soundset warehouse parties as an inspiration for For the Love, so the Rhymesayers artists' involvement is apt.
"We hang out, but we haven't done shows," says I Self Devine, who has joined Kool Akiem as the Micranots only once in the past 10 years. "We've been making music together since I was 16. I'm now 41, so it's a lot of years. There's a genuine friendship and camaraderie that I think transcends the music. Getting back to it was like riding a bike. This is a good opportunity to come together for a community event that's about mixing and merging different forms of expression. I'm looking forward to it."
St. Paul often holds a reputation as the less exciting of the two cities, and not without reason. Cleveland mentions the local noise ordinance that requires businesses to pay extra for hosting noise above 65 db (what they list as "a loud, business conversation").
"I like it because it is fairly quiet for the most part," says Desdamona. "Just in this last year, there started to be a little bit more action and stuff down there. It's an adjustment."
Easier access could make Lowertown a nightlife destination for those across the river now that the Green Line is operational, and Metro Transit is offering 3,000 free Light Rail passes to the event, available online. For the Love hopes to highlight the businesses in the area.
"I'm not allowing food trucks in there, just so it forces you to go to the restaurants located around the area," Cleveland continues. "If you wanna go eat, go to Bulldog, go to Barrio, go to Golden's, go to Black Dog."
After booking gigs at numerous venues for over a decade, Cleveland wants to particularly show love to St. Paul, where she got her start at clubs like Big V's. She's excited about putting together a big event that showcases what the city really has to offer.
"Minneapolis has people that will not set foot across that bridge," she says. "It was St. Paul that gave me my shot. They're willing to take more of a risk. Minneapolis clubs get used to successful nights and they don't want to mess with the formula. It's more of an experimental time in St. Paul, especially in that Lowertown area."