For a blazing Friday afternoon in Louisiana, Mannie Fresh is cool, calm, and collected. Escaping the sun to an air-conditioned media trailer, the 53-year-old musician is home for the 2022 Red Bull Street Kings brass band battle. Visibly cheerful, he describes the soundtrack he starts his days with.
“I’m old school. I got to listen to Marvin Gaye to get my day started,” he shares with VIBE. “I got to listen to Minnie Riperton to really get my day going. Even if I’m doing rap, that’s my lock-in music to get me started. It’s going to start out with some old-school soul, just so I can appreciate music and go in the studio going, ‘Okay, my soul is filled. Now I can go at this.’”
As a multi-hyphenate who knows his way around the culture, the rapper, producer, and DJ has established himself as one of New Orleans’ go-to virtuosos. With 17 multi-platinum, platinum, or gold Cash Money albums from 1998 to 2004, he remains an authoritative voice with decades of lauded experience. As such, a brief exchange with Mannie Fresh is sure to include commentary on current and future generations of Hip-Hop.
With high hopes going forward, he envisions a future where Hip-Hop artists continue to seek inspiration rooted in tradition, pay homage and expand room for the artists and entities that built the culture from the ground up. With his success, he hoped to open doors for other artists to succeed on their own terms.
“It’s all right to be in whatever category you in,” he assures. “If you’re a storyteller, if you a bling rapper, whatever, and all of that. To me, when I was growing up, rap was a teacher. It had a whole bunch of categories. And now we on ‘get rich.’ That’s all we on, ‘get rich, get rich, get rich.’”
In the immediate future, Mannie Fresh gears up to spend the rest of the year revisiting his classics, adding new songs, and DJ’ing lively parties—all with his Bayou state origins intact.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
VIBE: How has being from New Orleans and brass band culture influenced you?
Mannie Fresh: A lot of my stuff is just sound bites from brass bands. A lot of my drums are brass band-influenced. Growing up here, you hear that all the time, every day. A funeral, a good time, or a bad time, it’s always a brass band. We do it differently from anybody here. If you are a popular dude, you going to get sent off with a brass band, with a second line. We celebrate life. That’s the cool thing about it. You hear that in my music. I think my music is high energy, and a lot of it is the sound bites of what I heard growing up with brass bands.
Do you think some of the New Orleans artists might lean on that familiarity, or is it a pride thing? Is it a double-edged sword maybe?
We still a city that’s in rebuild stage from Hurricane Katrina. A whole bunch of culture was lost from New Orleans. You had people that were scattered. If you went to Atlanta for four or five years, you picked up some Atlanta habits. And so you had to adjust back. If you came back from Atlanta and there was somebody who stayed in New Orleans, and you sounded like T.I., we were like, “Man, where you been at dude?” And then you were trying to push that on other people.
This generation is the only generation that I’ve ever heard say slang from different places. New Orleans is so built on its own language, and its own way of communicating. You had kids come back going ’Son, word is bond.’ And then you’re just like ’Where you been at?’ So we in the rebuild stage where we trying to figure out, okay, where do we fit in now? If you young, you had a disconnect for a little bit, so you got to have a connect again. I feel like a lot of these dudes trying to find their identity again.
How does Mannie Fresh feel about Hip-Hop right now?
I love it and hate it. I have my love moments where I’m just like, that was cool, and I hate it when I have these moments where it’s somebody who has this gift to get your family out of poverty, or whatever, because Hip-Hop always tells that story. That’s one of the things I hate too. Nobody wants to say that they grew up in a loving environment. Everybody is like, “I was from the ‘hood. We sold drugs, we da da da.” And I’m just like, well how many people going to be from the ‘hood and sell drugs? None of y’all grew up, right? Like nobody? And if that was the case, and you actually got out of that environment, then why are you going back to it? Why not use this as a stepping stone?
You’re in a position where you ain’t got to do that now. I love—and it’s crazy because we only got a handful of them, the Kendricks [Lamar], the J. Coles—because they the dudes who giving you the message, and radio is not playing them. And as DJs, sometimes we got to dig and play those records ourselves to bring it to our culture, but radio and the clubs not playing that. It’s all right to be in whatever category you in if you’re a storyteller if you a bling rapper, whatever, and all of that. To me, when I was growing up, rap was a teacher. It had a whole bunch of categories. And now we on get rich. That’s all we on, get rich, get rich, get rich.
I feel like in the late 2000s, early 2010s, it changed from wanting to be the best to wanting to be the richest. Is that something you could agree with, and what do you think is something that impacted that shift?
Cash Money impacted that shift. But what a lot of people don’t like, and I’ve said this over and over and it’s been taken wrong, but I just don’t think most people have intelligence. F**k it. I’m just going to say it. We really don’t have intelligence, because you don’t understand when I say that we was not trying to turn rap into that. That was our category. That’s what we were good at. We was right with Nas, we was all right with Easy E, we was all right with Public Enemy. You know what I’m saying? We was all right with Slick Rick. It was just a category. But nobody thought rap was going to turn into get rich, get rich, get rich, get rich.
I challenge you to go find what’s your niche. Go find what you good at, whatever you do. I can’t speak for everybody in Cash Money, but I could say for Mannie, this is my category, this is where I fit in at. This is what I’m good at. I never said I was the best rapper or none of that, but I can talk some shit. I can raise a dead man up, but it wasn’t meant for everybody to do.
Where do you see Hip-Hop in 50 years?
I think Hip-Hop will still be around, but I just think we just got to change the rules. This is not to hurt any feelings, but if your feelings hurt, so be it. I think in order for it to keep growing and be bigger and better, this generation got to pay attention to the last generation. You got to know where it came from. You can’t just keep going forward, going, ‘I don’t give a shit. I’m about the money.’ We going to destroy Hip-Hop. Do I want you to get paid? Of course. If you did the job, and you showed up or whatever, do that. But if you don’t know nothing about it, then that’s kind of corny.
So I think that we got to start doing homework. I think the younger generations got to start paying attention to the OGs. Record companies, if you want an A&R, hire an older rapper; his experience might save some of these kids’ lives.
What are you working on now?
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter VI, I think that’s where we at. That and some other stuff. Oh, on Cash Money, all of my albums are going to be rereleased with maybe two or three added new songs. All of them, back-to-back on Universal. Everything from the Big Tymers, to Lil Wayne albums, to Juvenile, to The Hot Boyz. All of that. Every platform. I’m also in every city, every town, now DJing, so I’m in your area.