Cherokee Street has become the de facto mecca for artists within the last five years. Previously existing as a bustling business district in South City, the Benton Park / Benton Park West community has seen better days. However, with reinvestment and gentrification, there is now under a rapid revitalization that now includes blank space, an aptly named building that is whatever people choose it to be. Functioning part as a reading room, part as a venue, and part as a mini record store, the floor level gives off an eclectic coffee house vibe. With an exhaustively odd book collection, an N64 gaming system in the corner, and chill music seeping from a turntable's speakers, one feels immediately at home at blank space. Here you'll find some of the city's most experimental hip-hop as well as a number of monthly events that encompass a broader range of the genre: producer showcases where beats are made live on the spot and an open mic of sorts that functions as rap poetry (think spoken word). Not to mention that a number of hip-hop heads help run the place, this spot is a brewing pot for what's next in Saint Louis. Aside from the floor level, blank space also contains an unfinished basement can also host shows, giving a gritty, underground look to performances, sure to please even the snoodiest of hipsters. Somewhat hard to find, you can find this venue on the western end of Cherokee near the corner of Nebraska. After you're finished antiquing with the 'rents, stop on by to grab a cup of tea and talk records with the area's residents.
Still on the South side but several miles west exists The Grove, another up-and-coming neighborhood that offers a lot of options in terms of night life. Atomic Cowboy has become known for their live concerts, bringing in a horde of national touring acts with quite a bit of talent to boot. Though their primary space is used for Mexicali-inspired food and bar patrons, adjoined to the side is the recently-renovated venue the demo. Everything is new and top tier in this place, offering concert-goers a professional music experience that puts the artist front and center. With an elevated stage, an impressive array of speakers capable of producing some serious decibels, and an atmospheric lighting setup, the demo means business, and it should propel artists to perform at their best. In the past, the venue has hosted multiple hip-hop premieres, such as my music video for Mvstermind's 80-D, and other release parties, which include Marc Goone and So'n'So. With a quality bar and two genderless bathrooms, it has all of the amenities to turn up with any live hip-hop show, and since the management has been accessible to local artists, each week you'll be able to catch a quality show in the Grove.
If you take Manchester in the opposite direction to Chouteau and then head a bit north, you'll end up in Midtown, experiencing a rejuvenation thanks to SLU and other area attractions. Somewhat new to Midtown is Plush, a truly unique experience that will win you over with its bizarre charm. Like the Atomic Cowboy, this building has two sides: one for food, and the other for shows. If I were a food critic, I'd be telling you to go here, but since this is a blog on hip-hop, we'll stick to Plush's appeal as a venue. Perhaps drawing some influence from the City Museum, the decor is a little cuckoo in the best sense of the word, as multiple textures and styles collide in a multilevel warehouse environment. The place is huge, with enough room for several hundred guests, featuring a wrap-around bar and side seating for those who like to lurk in dark corners. Its stage is impressive, large without being overbearing, and its sound system can match up to the hype of its performers. Best utilized for a larger show with a big bill, this is a cool space to catch a concert, as you can experience the show from multiple angles (did I mention second floor balcony?), but it can still be intimate enough for smaller crowds to appreciate. Multiple STL DJs and MCs have graced its stage, making Plush a must for those venturing out into the vibrant world of Saint Louis hip-hop.
Note: There are a number of great local venues all throughout Saint Louis that offer a distinct atmosphere and an inviting environment for musicians. The purpose of this post was to highlight three from different neighborhoods in the city that regularly highlight local hip-hop artists. No sleight is meant for those that weren't featured. Go out and watch live, local music (as long as it's good), wherever it's played!