AIN’T MY VAULT: Mannie Fresh Interview Pt. 1
Gregory D & DJ Mannie Fresh – “Freddie’s Back“
from Throwdown LP (D&D, 1987)
Gregory D & DJ Mannie Fresh – “Buck Jump Time“
from Buck Jump Time 12″ (Yo?, 1989)
Waaah. AIN’T MY VAULT is a new poorly titled and hopefully semi regular series of from-the-archives interviews that I never took the time to transcribe or publish. First up is a conversation with the great man Mannie Fresh about everything from his days with New York Incorporated and Gregory D to the personal and musical impact of Hurricane Katrina. What follows the second half of an hour long conversation that amounted to one quote in “The Big Bang”, a piece I wrote about The Showboy’s proto-bounce classic “Drag Rap (Triggerman)” for Scratch. (Originally conducted 6/1/07)
Noz: So tell me a little about New York Incorporated.
Mannie Fresh: That was my homeboy, Denny D. He came down from New York and they had a mobile DJ thing that was going on. I was doing my own thing, I was doing local things before I got turned on to them. Denny D is my homie DJ Wop’s cousin and Wop was like my cousin got all the schools on lock and they want to check you out. So I came to the dudes crib, did a little audition, showed him what I was made of, what I could do. And they was like “holy shit, you the youngest dude right now and the table’s are on fire” so they put me down with their crew. So all love to New York Incorporated, that was my first family, my first DJ group and we pretty much ran the city from the 80s to the 90s. Ain’t a house we ain’t been to, ain’t a school dance we didn’t do.
How old were you when you joined them?
Probably like 15, 16. And I was DJing before that, dude. My dad was a DJ. I was doing little house parties around my neighborhood in the 7th Ward. When I got down with New York Incorporated it just went to a whole ‘nother level. My dad had drum machines so I had already knew how to program drum machines and all that. I brought that element to it, I changed the game. The DJ ain’t always got to [just] play records, he had to have his own unique shit. My unique thing was, I would stop the party and put my 808 on and break out with one of my analog keyboards, a Moog, a Juno or something and play other peoples songs, funk it how I wanted to funk it. And then it became a big thing. Niggas would be like “Oh shit! Dude what’s up with the beatbox?!”
What type of music did your dad play out when he was DJing?
His era. My dad went from the Motown era to the streets, to hip hop. Man I got two sisters and me, my mom, a few step brothers or whatever and my dad provided for us as a street DJ. So you know, this is genuine love. I’m second generation. And if you asked anybody in my dad’s era in New Orleans [about his] history… shit, he was a bad man.
How’d you eventually link up with Gregory D?
Greg was probably the hottest upcoming emcee in New Orleans as far as getting the party started and getting it rocking or whatever. And dude knew I had contacts from labels around that time. I wasn’t signed but I was the dude you’d come get if you wanted some scratching on a song. The labels would always ask me “do you have an artist? do you know anybody?” so I brung Greg in the studio one night and he busted raps. Next thing you know me and dude was doing songs.
You guys were together for a while after that?
Yeah for some years. I mean, we still cool. Me and dude is still good. We was focusing on southern music. Our first song was a song called “Freddie’s Revenge”, we did a Freddie Kruger song, we kinda freaked that. It was an 808 song, it was a southern song. It was a hit from there. Then we did the song called “Buck Jump Time” which was kind of like an 808, second line type song. It was like the hottest song in New Orleans for fuckin five six years and running. Me and dude always did have hot local songs. But then we tried the major thing. When we got to the majors, the majors started telling us what we should be doing. You can’t fault nobody because [we were] young at the time but Greg went with that. “They saying we need to change our sound.” And I’m like “dude I’d rather keep it the way I wanna keep it.” And the more we got to listening to what somebody else was saying… I’m like “homie, this is not genuinely you, this is not me and it just don’t even feel right.” So our differences was creative differences. I can’t let nobody tell me that this is how I should do and this is how it should be played. I don’t even feel that shit. Allow me at to be me.
What was the next move after you and Greg split?
I got back to DJing. Got down and by me DJing I met Cash Money. They was just a struggling label, they had one artist, a dude Kilo G. And I’m like “homie if y’all ready for this, I’m passionate about it, I”m serious.” So at the time, when I got with Cash Money, Cash Money became the hottest bounce label in New Orleans. Instantly, from the first song I did with them. It became the hottest bounce label and at one time everybody on Cash Money was a bounce artist. Ms. Tee, UNLV, Lil Slim, Pimp Daddy, Magnolia Shorty, Magnolia Slim was signed to them. All this is bounce, dude. BG and Lil Wayne started out as bounce artists. And what happened was BG was more gutta, he was pretty street and I was like man let me try some different type beats. Because you know, at one time New Orleans was just flooded with bounce music, it was a hundred bounce songs out there. I was like “homie let’s just try something else.” So we tried a different thing on BG, really putting some different music behind him and when it came out, the rest is history. It put Cash Money on the map, this is not just all bounce, this is really a rap label.
Now how did the bounce heads respond to you making more traditional rap music?
A lot of people was ready for change anyway. And I always kept it real, I tried to give you everything that you want, it’s like [on] Juvenile’s 400 Degreez “Back That Ass Up” is a bounce song. It was just my way of giving you everything that you want. Okay, we got some real music on here, we got some shit with musicianship and we got that bounce song for everybody that’s a Cash Money fan that loves bounce and all that. As long as that happened, everybody was always cool.
I was always impressed by the sheer amount of beats you were making in those days. Were you just constantly in the studio?
Dude I’m like that right now. That’s where you doing this interview from. I’m in the studio everyday, homie. That’s what I’m programmed for. I came up in it.
I look at it like this is about hip hop. Some people feel that the whole era is gone, that it’s dead. Nah dude, not really. It’s just that somebody gotta come along and do some bold things. My thing right now is, I’m trying to get a record company that believes in me and lets me do me and then watch the change happen. It’s gonna come. You gotta know the history of it anyway, most cats don’t know the history of it. I don’t know how most cats feel and I kind of hate to use the term hip hop because in this era they don’t feel like they are hip hop. But I’m like I am hip hop. I went from cassettes to CDs to fuckin downloading.
It must be offensive to hear so called true school types say what you do isn’t hip hop.
You can call it whatever you want to call it. But if you love this and you really passionate about it you gonna see. This is hip hop. A lot of cats is just getting money. Like “this some shit I do to get money.” Get money, there ain’t nothing wrong with that. If you did something and the numbers came in right then by all means [get paid]. But if you looking at this like “this is just something I do to get money” then you don’t really love this shit. You don’t breathe it, you don’t believe it. So you can make the statement that there’s some bullshit. But if you really love this… It’s a sad state when, say, your favorite motherfucker, the record company is not behind him. They don’t see what you see, they don’t hear what you hear. You feel that shit just as much as that artist feel that. Now a record label, if it ain’t what they want they ain’t gonna put a lot into it. It’s like how you gonna change when you really ain’t gonna get behind it? It’s like Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Goin’ On. It was a whole big struggle to put that out and somebody had to believe in it. Somebody had to believe in that even though ten people fought it, somebody had to believe in it and say “okay, this is the album that’s gon’ bring forth change.” We can’t keep it one way. And I’m not mad at none of the young artists, I’m more so mad at the record companies because they got this safety net thing where they’re like “nah, don’t push the envelope. keep it right there.” And I think there’s more artists that want to do different shit but they know their label ain’t gonna get behind them if they come in there with some different shit.
Are you going to be able to bring some different shit in the future?
Man, it’s a struggle for me every day. I’m trying to convince my label to let me do me.
You’d think with all your success they’d have more faith in your work.
But see what it is, when you do songs for somebody else you kinda know what they want. But when you doing your own shit or doing some project with somebody you get to be creative. And me personally, I’m used to doing albums, so when I turn in some songs and I get that look like “what the fuck? dude this ain’t what we was expecting. we was expecting you to do some shit like what’s going on right now, the last [hit].” Nah, I can’t do that.
Do you get that from artists also?
Oh yeah, I get that all the time. It ain’t nothing that’s gonna kill me. My biggest thing is to keep pushing. To record companies time don’t change. I’m not the Mannie Fresh that was in the 90s. I’m grown, I’m more mature. You’re not gonna get me to get out there and fuckin show my watch and dazzle my ring. Don’t get me wrong, I can still do a song or two like that, but I’m not that dude. I’m not the dude that’s just gonna make songs constantly about white tees and watches and shit like that. I’ve been there, done that. Now allow me to grow. I want to say to the world “what does life mean to you?” Is life just getting paid and having cars? Or is life more [about] family? And if I pick the family road then that’s not really what a label wants from me. “Well we was expecting you to be like ‘money, cars and bitches.'” Homie, I don’t feel that way 24-7.
And when you go through something like the hurricane, that’s my city. To watch shit like that happen the way it went down. It was very hurtful. It was a lesson for me, it put shit in perspective like “dude, you not indestructible. you can’t just run around and think that you can turn your feelings off.” To see people that you know and people that you love just struggle and it ain’t shit that you can do about it, but just sit there and take that, that’s a hurtful feeling. And that just made me feel that, for real, for real, your family is more important than any other possession that you have. We take shit for granted. Me, you, everybody in the world. Just [say] a simple ass “I love you, mama” because you might not be here tomorrow.
What effect did the storm have on New Orleans music? Can it rebuild?
It’s gonna take some time because New Orleans is a culture, bro. It’s a movement, it’s its own little world and what’s missing right now is all those elements. Everything that I pulled my music from. It’s like going home and you don’t have none of them elements around. You in a foreign place. New Orleans is young kids, dudes that’s jazz musicians and none of them read music but all of them picked up something and they perfected it. You could go see that 24-7 and now that is not there no more. If I needed somebody to do horns on a track I could go right to the neighborhood, get me like three kids and be like “come on, I need you to do these horns.” You don’t have none of that no more. You get inspiration from going to see somebody else do something. Like if I want to go see a jazz band or whatever, that’s inspiration for me, that makes me want to go home and do some jamming shit. And that’s what I drew off of, that was everything that I loved about the city and now we don’t have that. It’s gonna take time for that to come back. It’s some real shit that I miss about New Orleans that touched my soul that is not there [anymore]. And you want it so bad but it’s like “damn”.
When something is your city, it’s your city. Right now I’m in Houston and I forget. I’m so used to going to New Orleans and people know you, they treat you like they know you. “Oh, that’s just Mannie.” So in New Orleans I could go to the House of Blues, chill out, watch the DJ get off and do his thing. But here it’s some foreign shit and somebody want an autograph and they want to stop you every second. For real, for real, dude I’m really a hip hop head. I go out and I’m checking out music. And when [I’m] there that’s where my mind at. I’m not really used to the whole “you got fans, you got people who want to take pictures.” Because in my city everybody knows me, or rather knew me. So if I went out it was just “What’s up Fresh?” and that would be it. But now there’s so many distractions because I guess I never was on that whole little fame shit. It’s distracting to me because I really love music. I go out to the club just to hear music. Sometimes you forget that people do look at you as “that Mannie Fresh thing”.
Come back tomorrow for some discussion of The Showboys and “Drag Rap (Triggerman)”, the origins of bounce and the makings of an old school New Orleans house party. You know, the stuff I was actually getting paid to research.