Return Of The B Boy MANNIE FRESH
MANNIE FRESH TRIES TO BRING PEACE, UNITY, LOVE AND FUN ON HIS FIRST SOLO PROJECT WORDS BY CHARLIE BRAXTON
“I’m not talking about nobody,” says a confident Mannie Fresh. “But nine times outta 10, it takes six producers to do an album.” Sitting in a private office at Cash Money’s new headquarters in a nondescript office complex in New Orleans’ east business district, Fresh looks more young buppie businessman than multi platinum rapper, sporting a white polo shirt, blue jeans, a pair of white Birdman sneakers and no bling just a plain digital watch. “The way I was brought up was you got a dude that you know and he do your album. Now you got all these artists and you stick them with like 10 different people and…hope for something to come out.”
Implementing production strategies that date back to Marley Marl and the Juice Crew, Cash Money has sold 23 million records in less than 10 years and changed pop culture by ushering in Hip Hop’s Bling Dynasty a fact not lost on Cash Money CEO Ronald “Slim” Williams, who views Fresh’s production as the cornerstone of their success. “This company was built around Mannie,” says Slim. “Without him, we ain’t shit.”
The reason that Mannie believes in such a tried and true “crew” formula is that he was instrumental in the establishment of the New Orleans Hip Hop scene.
Before he was ‘hood rich, Micka Micka Mannie Fresh was a good old fashioned B Boy.
The N’awlins beatmaker’s father, Byron Thomas, Sr., was a local DJ who gave his son turntables as Christmas and birthday gifts, hoping Mannie would follow in his footsteps. Initially, the 7th Ward native wasn’t feeling DJing. “I been had big mixers and crazy turntables, but I never touched them until Hip Hop came along,” says Fresh. “Somebody gave me a tape from New York with Flash on it. He was doing ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.’ I was just fascinated with it. I was like, ‘Cod damn! How did he do that?'”
So a 13 year old Fresh devoted his time to perfecting the fine art of turntablism. By 1984, the young DJ had mastered his craft enough to team with DJ Dennie D, a New Yorker who had moved to New Orleans. Together, they began performing publicly as New York Incorporated, a mobile DJ crew, which also included No Limit’s Mia X and an occasional breakdance performance by a pubescent Mannie Fresh.
After New York Inc. split, Mannie spun at clubs and did freelance turntablism for local labels such as Yo Records. The company was looking for an MC to record, and Fresh suggested friend Gregory D. The duo made enough noise to land a deal with RCA that released their national debut, The Real Deal. Despite their regional success, fame and fortune was not a part of their immediate future. In fact, in 2015, industry rule 4,080 i.e. “record company people are shady” was in full effect and the boys saw nothing.
“I was just a kid with a drum machine who was just happy to be doing Hip Hop,” says Fresh. “But then when the numbers come in and somebody tell you, ‘Dude, you know you in the hole with us.’ You’re like, ‘Damn!’ You don’t know no better. You go, ‘Well, I’ll try and do y’all another album to get out that hole.’ Then after that album they try and tell you that you deeper in the hole.”
Tired of all the politics and bullshit that went along with being in the industry, the producer abandoned music for his second hustle: stealing cars.
“I would steal cars and sell the parts to insurance companies or whoever wanted them…body shops or whatever. I kinda came up in the ranks real fast. I was like dude that got all the ghetto cars: Cutlass, Monte Carlos…I was the man to see. When Baby and Slim first came by my house, I had a yard full of hot cars on one side and on the other side I had my little four track studio,” he says woefully. “You know, it was kinda like either you’re gonna survive or you gonna perish.”
Today, Fresh is far from perishing, but he’s still trying to build up the Cash Money brand. As a result, he has broken his pledge to never do a solo project by releasing The Mind of Mannie Fresh: Fill in the Blank. He says it was public demand and the dismal state of Hip Hop that changed his mind. Handling 90 percent ofthe production and 80 percent of the rapping with guest appearances by David Banner, Scarface, Keith Sweat and Bun B of UGK, Mannie hopes that The Mind of Mannie Fresh… will return some balance to Hip Hop.
“Rap is dark right now. Everybody wanna be 50. Everybody wanna be G Unit,” says Fresh. “If I was gonna do it…this is a good opportunity…because everybody wants to be a gangsta right now. I’m just gonna do me and try and bring some fun back to the game.”
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