It’s been a minute since we’ve heard anything from Mannie Fresh, the producer that help Cash Money Records hit the mainstream during the late 1990s and early 2000s. But after more than a decade, the New Orleans producer left the label in 2005, due to issues over royalties, and while Mannie’s said he’s still on speaking terms with his former music family, he’s doing things on his own.
In late 2007, Mannie Fresh suffered a devastating family tragedy when his sister was found dead in her New Orleans home. Since then, he fell off the radar, to cope he told us, came back in late 2009 with his second solo album Return of the Ballin’, but has since been rather recluse.
Our man Kenny Bookins (of The Official Hip Hop Trading Cards) caught up with Mannie at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December during a benefit concert in New Orleans. During which, the producer filled us in on what he’s been up to and why he’s strayed away from music over the past year.
But, as he tells us, he couldn’t stay away forever, because this is what he was born to do…
BallerStatus.com: What have you been up to?
Mannie Fresh: For those that don’t know, I had a tragedy with my sister, it set me back dude. I’m not going to even lie to you. It made me think about some of the things I was saying on records and some of the things I was doing and everything, so it kind of put me in a funny place. For the longest, I didn’t even feel like doing music, and during one of my interviews this interviewer asked me, “What would your sister want you to do?” It was just a revelation to me, and I was like “Yeah, what would she want me to do? You know what this is what I was born to do, like what am I doing?” I feel like it’s a rebirth of Mannie, with technology and everything and with things like Twitter what people are saying is incredible.
BallerStatus.com: We miss you dude, we know what you been going through.
Mannie Fresh: I’ve been healing; it’s taken me a long time to even want to do interviews. Contents of my song, I was that dude that was glorifying certain things, but when death come knocking at your door, it makes you change your mind. It’s time for growth, for me to say something of substance, to man up basically.
BallerStatus.com: What motivates you to get up in the morning?
Mannie Fresh: I got so many motivations — I have kids, I want to see my kids go to college. I want them to graduate and have their voice be heard in the world. I want my next generation to do something great. I want to sit back and say, “That’s me, that’s a product of me”, and that’s what I’ll say my father installed in me. My father started out as a street DJ, I went from DJ to producer, so I want something greater for my son. I feel that’s my motivation.
BallerStatus.com: Did your father being a street DJ inspire you to be a DJ?
Mannie Fresh: Oh yeah! Definitely and my dad was easy going, he didn’t force nothing on me. I was in college and crazy story is, I started taking my money and took an internship in California. I went to school in the south — southern, but my parents thought I was in school. I was in California doing an intern, but my dad knew about it. He was like “Don’t put me into it, when your momma find out I don’t want nothing to do with it.” He was like, “I know you following what you believe in, but she thinks you in school.”
BallerStatus.com: What was your internship for?
Mannie Fresh: RCA, I was really cleaning up. I was cleaning up offices, that’s what I started off with. Next thing, it was this kid from New Orleans, I convinced them to sign him and I was doing his music, but they would let me clean up studios or whatever and that was around the same time drum machines came together. I was like, “Dude, I know how to program drum machines.” So, I’m trying to show some hillbillies the new technology of what’s going on, so next thing you know I’m getting like $25 to program drum machines. I was like, “Dude I can do what your drummer is doing and we can leave him at home.” So, it finally had to come to the point where I had to tell my mom this school thing ain’t really for me and I know what I want to do. I totally know what I want to do.
BallerStatus.com: When you went to California, you stayed out there?
Mannie Fresh: Yeah, I was living from crack motel to whatever you want to call it. I gotta get it, so I knew if I came home and I didn’t make good on what I had done, sh**, it was gonna be hell to pay.
BallerStatus.com: What part of California where you in?
Mannie Fresh: I was in Los Angeles.
BallerStatus.com: How long were you out in California?
Mannie Fresh: For about a year and a half. From California, I moved to Chicago for a little while and I met this dude Steve Hurley, he’s like the godfather of house music. I programmed some drums with Steve Hurley and he took me under his wing.
Steve showed some of the business part about it and I lived with him for a little while. From there, I moved back to New Orleans. God has put some good people into my life, even with Steve Hurley … big ups to that dude because he didn’t have to do what he did, but he seen some magic in me. Like “This kid he really wants to do this.”
BallerStatus.com: Are you guys still cool? Have you produced anything together?
Mannie Fresh: Yeah, well, we haven’t produced anything, but were still cool to this day.
BallerStatus.com: Have you ever done a house track before?
Mannie Fresh: Nah, I haven’t done any house music.
BallerStatus.com: Thinking about it???
Mannie Fresh: Yeah.
BallerStatus.com: I got an artist for you…
Mannie Fresh: Hell yeah, but you gotta look at it. Even then, house music to me was the easiest music to program around Steve Hurley’s era, because it was no more than just doo doo doo. I was like, “Dude, I could do this all day, this all yawl want me to do?”
BallerStatus.com: What was your major in college?
Mannie Fresh: Mass Communications.
BallerStatus.com: What artist do you draw inspiration from, whether it be current or past?
Mannie Fresh: Probably the past, Marvin Gaye, without a doubt. The whole story, what labels thought was crazy, this man is insane, he fought to put that album out and it changed the generation. He had something to say and I feel we don’t have artists like that right now. We don’t have any artists that wants to go to the left. I say go head… I would say Kanye every now and then, but we don’t have that artist that will put out an album that’s important to the people.
BallerStatus.com: What about like a Dwele or Raheem DeVaughn?
Mannie Fresh: Yeah I would say that, but I guess the problem would be this. Let rephrase this, you don’t have labels that are willing to push those artist.
BallerStatus.com: Do you need the labels?
Mannie Fresh: Yeah, to a certain degree. I mean, because you have to be heard, its only so much underground can do. You have to look at what hip-hop was based on. We had so many different avenues of music. We had the story tellers, we had gangsta rap, we had pro-black, we don’t have that no more.
BallerStatus.com: They kind of wiped that out.
Mannie Fresh: Yeah, they kind of wiped that out. Hip-hop was education to us. You could go to any file you wanted, if you wanted to hear a good story you go to Slick Rick; if you wanted to hear what was going on in the black community, you go to Public Enemy; you wanted to hear gangsta rap, you go to N.W.A. — you had varieties for which you could go to. You don’t have that right now. A label is like, “We just want what’s going on right now.” It’s one dimensional right now. If you have something to say they trying to shut you up.
That’s too much information everybody don’t need to know that. On top of that, music was freedom of speech, God forbid you say something about a Jew, it’s got to come out the song.
BallerStatus.com: I thought Kanye was really in trouble after he said the thing about Bush, but I think he’s still in trouble. If Bush said that was his lowest point. (laughter)
Mannie Fresh: If Kanye mess up a lil on his taxes, done!!! Just a lil bit (laughter), I promise you, he betta be on point with everything.
BallerStatus.com: Bush ain’t forgot, trust me… He’s saying “I’mma get yo ass if it’s the last thing I do” (laughter)…
Mannie Fresh: Even New Orleans people felt that. We was like, “We glad you said that, but damn, wow, its gonna be price for that one.”
BallerStatus.com: You still live in New Orleans?
Mannie Fresh: Yeah.
BallerStatus.com: Any artists you desire to work with?
Mannie Fresh: Anybody’s who’s creative to me, regardless of what their style is. I can’t say anybody off hand, but anybody who is creative at what they do. It may be somebody like … take for instance, the subject matter you may not like, but if they have longevity in it. It’s something that they mastered because they wouldn’t be here, year after year doing it is what they doing. So, to a certain degree, you have to give it to that person, and on top of that, an inventor of something, the first person. I don’t want to work with someone who is copying somebody. Like if we got 12 more Lil Wayne’s, I’d rather work with Lil Wayne. I don’t want to work with somebody who says they want to do what Wayne doing. I get cats all the time in the studio that say, “Make me a song like and I’m like dude that’s not…”