Whilst in New Orleans for Essence Festival 2012, SoulCulture TV sat down with DJ and prolific former-Cash Money producer Mannie Fresh at the House of Blues to discuss his hometown, commercial Hip Hop’s need to diversify, his thoughts on the Southern scene, what it’s been like working with Kanye West and the crew on Cruel Summer, and Lil Wayne‘s work ethic.
He had a lot to say.
Mannie Fresh began producing on the underground scene in New Orleans, and became best known for his extensive work with Young Money – particularly in the ’90s and early 2000s, producing for Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Hot Boys and his own Hip Hop duo, Big Tymers – as well as laying down tracks for Notorious B.I.G., T.I., Rick Ross, UGK and Young Jeezy, among many others.
“Music is all over this city… you see it all day long,” he enthuses of his hometown.
“I’m still taking inspiration from this city, whenever I’m here in this area, you always pick up ten things you didn’t know just from just hanging around, so you know that is the incredible thing about New Orleans. You can just hang out with some people that you just met and you going to leave that room with ten things that you didn’t know and twenty things that you have never experienced.
“That is what is so great about this city; everybody has a story, everybody has some kind of way that they can improve on you, if you are listening or you paying attention.”
Having crafted the sound of the “Bling Bling” era, Fresh speaks on the current sound of the South and the evolution he’d like to see occur in Hip Hop as a whole, with particular criticism for mainstream monotony and loss of regional identity.
“This is what is going on right now: southern music is kind of stuck to me, one way. It’s just 808s, snare rolls and hi hats, you know,” he says. “I like that all these young cats grew up on the Mannie Fresh sound, but I’m looking for a bit of growth. I want something to change. I think we have been in the same spot for a long enough. It is time to say we have done that and move on to something else.”
Elsewhere, “You got New York rappers that sound like they are from the South, East Coast rappers that sound like they from the South – and I’m not saying there is nothing wrong with that, but what happened to the East Coast sound? What happened to the West Coast sound? That is all I am saying, show me some growth in it.
“At one point rap had Public Enemy, Public Enemy was our pro black; we had Slick Rick, Slick Rick was our story teller; we had N.W.A, N.W.A was our gangsta rap and you had Cash Money that was your bling bling. That is four different genres of rap. You don’t have that right now.”
“Now it’s just based on the club – what can I do to make you shake your ass and dance… Hip Hop to me growing up was a teacher as well. It was a culture and a teacher. You had the choice of saying, ‘today I want to hear something positive,’ ‘today I want to hear something that is all about the hood,’ or whatever. Today you just don’t have that right now,” he concludes.
I’d argue such variety does exist in Hip Hop in abundance – but not in its most public, commercial area.
“I guess it is out there,” he agrees, “but what I’m saying is labels are not going to push that; the labels are going like mainstream – ‘we want you to look like this and sound like this, we are not going to take a chance on that artist that’s heartfelt’…
“You have to go underground to go and find that cat – and I’m not saying that nothing is wrong with that – but at the same time he needs to be heard to, he got a family, he got dreams, so why not give him a chance.”
Looking at today’s generation of rising producers, his standouts include young talents “Hit-Boy, Lex Luger, Drumma Boy – there is a couple of cats that are doing their thing.”
“I still think the people that are still relevant, are still this generation,” he adds. “Kanye West is still relevant, No I.D. is still relevant – it’s just that the days of the super producer are over. I would say Pharrell, the Neptunes are still relevant. It ain’t like they fell off, people just stopped paying the money that they want. That’s what it really is.”
Fresh recalls his recent time spent in London working with Kanye, No I.D. and the rest of the G.O.O.D. Music collaborators on the label’s forthcoming compilation album, Cruel Summer.
“It was crazy because this dude’s idea was to get all these talented people together, put them in a room and see what comes up,” he says.
“Other than that, none of us would have never met each other or ever vibed like that. So big up for Kanye for being like, ‘Hey I’m gonna put a dream team together that is just gonna kill it.’
“That was my first experience with Hit-Boy, I met him before along time ago with Polow Da Don, when he was kinda like under Polow or whatever, but when I actually got to sit in the studio him and see his process and how he makes beats, I was very impressed.”
“I’m used to working with people hands on because that is the era I came up with,” he adds, “so we’re gonna work till we figure out something. That is what everyone appreciate about the GOOD Music project; because it’s a factory, you can work with whoever you want to work with until you get that magical song… I think it’s a nuts idea, I mean it aint been done in the last 10, 15 years – to say, I’m gonna put a bunch of talented people in room and let’s cook up some gumbo.”
The work ethic engrained in Mannie Fresh is also something he admires in Lil Wayne.
“Dude has always been hungry, even from the very beginning,” he says. “He has always the first one there and the last one to leave from early on. So it always pays off.”
“You had to know that this was going to happen to him, like I mean come on, the dude was great at what he was doing when he was young, so obviously it is his turn. It will come around to anyone that works hard at it and he works hard at it.
“He knows, ‘I’ve gotta put work, I’ve got to do this’ – and that is what is lacking with a whole lot of cats. They just like I just want to ‘do this, get my chain, my little money and I’m moving on’. This is so much more than that, it’s hard work, it’s dedication, it’s all of that.
“That’s what I do. I love doing music. That’s what Wayne was programmed to do. That is what we come up on. People like how can we put out a record everyday, I’m like that is what have been doing. Any of us that love this and still do it, that it is what we do. Even when I don’t feel like doing it, I’m going to turn my drum machine and do something because I’m programmed to do it.
“It is like being in a studio with a rapper when he tell you he can’t think of nothing, I’m like you not really serious about this shit, shit should be flowing out of your head, I mean this is your job, this your only occupation, this is what you get paid for. You should be inspired.”
In that vein, looking back on his career Mannie reflects, “What am I most proud of is keeping it real.”
“I’ve never had to apologize for nothing, every that I have done I have always been able to defend that song, I don’t think there is a lot of people that can do that. Like if somebody asked you what were you thinking, what was your mind frame whilst doing that song, I always have an answer for all of my songs. So that is what I’m most proud of.”
In fact, he reveals, “The producer thing just took a whole face of its own; I never really set out to be a producer.”
“I’m blessed that people look at me like that, but I’ve always came in this as a DJ – I love DJing, and Djing is helping me get in touch with it is going on right now, even if I like it or don’t like it, but you know you have to get your ear back to the streets to know what is going on.”
“Everyday I’ma do at least three or four songs – that is what I do, you know – but my heart is in DJing, that is what I love. I don’t think I will ever sign with nobody again. I just don’t want to do any record deals with nobody, like been there done that.”
“I think I want to be free like forever till the lights come out. That’s all.”
// Interview by Marsha Gosho Oakes, Filmed + Edited by Versetti for SoulCulture TV