There's a lot you can learn from Mannie Fresh. The producer extraordinaire has been in the music business since the '80s, back when he was DJing local clubs in his native New Orleans just as bounce music was coming into fruition. But by the time Fresh had hooked up with Baby and Cash Money, bounce had quickly become saturated in the NOLA, so Cash Money turned into a rap label. Soon enough, Cash Money signed local buzzing rapper Juvenile, along with other rappers like B.G. and a teenaged Lil Wayne, signed a historic distribution deal with Universal Records, and was on its way to becoming one of the greatest rap labels ever.
From 1997 to 2004, Mannie Fresh went on one of the greatest runs of any rap producer. Armed with endless creativity, he produced hit after hit, platinum album after platinum album for Cash Money. He largely fell off the map from about 2006 to 2012, but it was mostly due to legal issues when he left Cash Money and business ventures gone awry (you can see him talk about what happened here). But when you talk to Mannie, one thing becomes abundantly clear: He's more than just a beatmaker.
“I picked the singles, what we was doing that day, and then we did it,” said Mannie about the Cash Money days, sitting in his hotel room in New Orleans while in town to be honored by the Red Bull Music Academy.
Mannie wasn’t just the sonic architect of Cash Money, but also the mastermind behind the label's aesthetic and values. Over the years, he influenced the label and its artists in countless creative ways. It was Mannie who insisted Big Tymers rap in an outlandishly extravagant style; it was Mannie who tried to talk Juvenile out of ill-advised singles like “U Understand” (Juvenile later told Complex, “I shouldn’t have ever did a song like that.”); it was Mannie who saw Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter as the album that was going to set up the label's future. But that's not all. It was also Mannie who figured B.G. was better off as a street rapper than a bounce rapper, it was Mannie who tried to get Cash Money to sign T.I. before he blew up, and it was Mannie who helped save the label after Juvenile left.
Many of those things, and many other things Mannie told us in our nearly three-hour conversation, are largely unknown to the average rap listener. That is, until now. We sat down with Mannie to learn everything we could, and there’s a lot to learn when you enter the mind of Mannie Fr-Fr-Fr Fresh!
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
Lil Slim “Bounce Slide Ride” (1993)
Album: The Game Is Cold
Mannie Fresh: “That’s what kind of set it off for Cash Money. That song jumped off instantly, like within 30 minutes. As soon as it hit the club it was like, 'We’re an official record label.' Before it was like, we got this label called Cash Money Records, and we want to do some songs, but we’re not sure. When that Lil Slim song hit, the whole city rallied behind that song. So from there, it was on.
Cash Money really had no intentions of being a rap label.
“Cash Money really had no intentions of being a rap label because when it started, it really was based on bounce. It was one bounce song after another. I started to doing bounce songs for them, and they jumped off. We thought bounce music was over because it was just over-saturated, that’s what made us go to rap. I never thought bounce would be around, or it would evolve to somebody calling it twerk. I was probably one of the first dudes doing bounce beats, but we was just like, 'Damn, everybody doing a bounce song. How do we change this?’"
UNLV “Drag 'Em in the River” (1996)
Album: Uptown 4 Life
Mannie Fresh: “There’s places where I’ve been like, 'I can’t believe ya’ll know the lyrics to this song.’ I could be in the Buzzard Nuts, Arkansas, and drop 'Drag Em From the River' and people know it. I guess it’s one of those songs that floated around.
“Mystikal had one of these songs where he took jabs at UNLV, the dude Yella. He would be like, 'Yella! Ya coward hearted.' He would make all these references to this dude Yella who was in UNLV, so Yella was like, 'Okay, I’m gonna’ sit on it.' Yella wasn’t a good rapper, but he had the streets. They loved this dude.
Juvenile said that was one of his favorite beats and the song that made him want to come to Cash Money.
“So when he did the 'Drag Em From the River' song it was brutal. At the time it was this guy Chuck who owned the record label, and everybody knew this, and when he said the line, 'I’ma drag ’em from the river dump his body in Chuck’s yard,' everybody already knew this dude because New Orleans is a little small town, and everybody was like, 'Damn he went at his head.'
“Juvenile said that was one of his favorite beats, and the song that made him want to come to Cash Money. That’s how he got to use the beat. I still had the reel, so when he brung it up, he did his song over it. He’s like, 'You don’t even know how much I love this song. This was one of my favorite songs.' I’m like, 'OK, do what you want to do on it.’ So when they came out it was one of those songs that changed Cash Money as well. Like, 'Oh yeah, we know we got it.'”
Magnolia Shorty “Monkey on tha Dick” (1997)
Album: Monkey on tha D$ck
Mannie Fresh: “We used the term 'DJ.' So they would say, 'She’s turning out all the DJs' and basically that meant a block party. They’re like, 'She got this song that’s turning out all of the DJs called, "Monkey on tha Stick,"' and I’m like well, 'Dawg, I haven’t DJ’d in a while, so I don’t know what’s going on out here on the streets.' They’re like, 'Nah, she’s going to come in here today and you’re going to see.'
This little girl comes in the studio with maybe 14 other little girls. She did that song in one take.
“This little girl comes in the studio with maybe 14 other little girls. I wasn’t expecting it to be that because it was like a young girl. So she came in there, and they had never been in a studio, so they’re like, 'How does this shit work?' I’m like. 'OK, I’m going to drop a bounce beat, and ya’ll do your thing. When the beat comes on you can just stand there and do whatever you want to do.' She did that song in one take. They was in there cutting up, jamming with her. The energy and everything, she convinced you that this song was going to be a hit before anybody because she brought her little cheerleading squad with her, and they was amped up. She was like, 'Put that out and watch what happens.'
“Sure enough the next day, they put that out, and they were trying to find her to do a radio edit of it. She didn’t even know what that meant like, 'What you want me to do?' I’m like, 'You got to clean it up. You can’t curse on everything. This song is big.'
“I didn’t know that everybody had already heard it because she was going around from place to place performing it anywhere there was a DJ. People were just waiting for somebody to put a beat behind it. Once I recorded it and half-ass straightened out her vocals it was just like, 'Oh my goodness.' It’s one of the songs that if you drop in New Orleans you get a crazy response.”
Juvenile “Solja Rag” (1997)
Album: Solja Rags
Mannie Fresh: “I had already knew about Juvenile because I was DJing, but the first time I met him was at a bus stop. I told him to rap, and he just did song after song. It was mind blowing, like, 'Damn, this dude really know all of his songs.' He was like, 'Whatever you want me to rap about, I’ll rap about it.'
I immediately went to Cash Money and said, ‘Ya’ll gotta get this guy Juvenile.’ He felt the same way and was like, 'I been trying to get on one of your beats.'
"The rhyme schemes that he was using and his wordplay, I was just like, 'Dude, this the future.’ I immediately went to Cash Money and said, ‘Ya’ll gotta get this guy Juvenile.’ He felt the same way and was like, 'I been trying to get on one of your beats.'
“‘Solja Rag’ was designed for Juvenile. It wasn’t one of them beats where I was gonna chop it and see who I was going give it to, it was Juvenile all over it. I’m not playing it for nobody else but Juvenile, this was his song.
“There were bits and pieces of songs that was like that, but nobody had ever heard anybody rhyme like that or the beat break down like that—other than ‘Mantronics’ because that’s where I got the snare rolls. So it was just a breath of fresh air and caused a lot of people to just be like, 'Oh my goodness, this song is crazy.' The things he was saying was phenomenal. I like to say a hit to me is this guy’s rewind quality. That song had nothing but rewind quality all over it.”
B.G. f/ Big Tymers “Get Your Shine On” (1997)
Album: It's All on U, Vol.1
Mannie Fresh: “The first thing was B.G.. Baby was like, 'I know this kid off my block, and he can kind of do bounce, and he can rap.' The first songs that we were doing with B.G., we were trying to merge bounce and rap. But he was so gutter it was scary to people. They were like, ‘Goddamn, this kid is murderous.’ [Laughs.] We was like, ‘We going to have to wait a while because I don’t think the world is ready for him.’’
“B.G. would start rapping to me, and I was like, 'This gotta be a different format.' Sometimes I think we were even trying to force it, and it would be a like happy song. I’m like, ‘Nah dude, we gotta go back and do that over.’ I’m like, ‘Listen, you can’t do that traditional New Orleans beat that I was doing at the time like if it was Juvenile. This dude is raw street, and we gotta take a whole other approach to how to do his music.’ I finally figured it out like, ‘Your music has gotta have that street feel to it that go along with the tone of your voice and what you’re saying.’
“[Cash Money songs with ‘shine’ in the title] started from B.G. 'Get Your Shine On.' It was so big deal in New Orleans before the Cash Money had the deal, everybody in New Orleans was saying that, so it was one of those phrases that wasn’t going away, so we had to do it in a few songs. People kept saying 'on,' like get something 'on.' So we were like, 'What’s a hood version of that?' Older people would be like, 'What does shine mean? It sounds like you got it a lot going on.’ I’m like, 'Get your shine on.'
B.G. had the type of fans that was just like him. We would show up to concerts and they would basically cuss us out and be like they just love him. He brought out the serial killers.
“B.G. was just like his lyrics. It was weird because [he’d leave and come back] like, ‘I’m ready to record.’ It was always mysterious like, 'Where you go at?' But you press record and dude go in. He’d finish the song and he be gone. Sometimes the dude would have nothing but talk for you, like 'What’s going on in the world?' or he’d be like, 'I don’t wanna talk about nothing. I just want to record this song, this is what going on in my mind.'
“It started coming full circle, with drugs and everything like, dude was really doing this, he was doing everything he was saying. I just thought he was Alfred Hitchcock, like he’s telling some deep ass stories and he got a great imagination. But then it’s like, ‘You know he really do all this shit?’ I’m like, 'Oh, I didn’t.' Early on [I didn’t know about his drug issues]. He never really hung around. Almost like he didn’t want us to see it like, 'I’ll come talk about it and then I’m gone.' Later on, it became very obvious. We didn’t realize that he was really speaking the truth. It came out later on that this dude is not just rapping, like this dude is really doing all this shit. B.G. and Wayne was kids, but they just had street knowledge. That’s the way you grow up in New Orleans.
“B.G. had the type of fans that was just like him. We would show up to concerts and they would basically cuss us out and be like they just love him. Like,'That bullshit that ya talking about, we don’t fuck with that. But B.G., we riding with you dude.' And it would be the craziest dudes in the world, like he brought out the serial killers.
“People love him to this day because it was brutally honest. He would be like, ‘What I want to do is what I’ma do, that’s my business. Take me for whatever it is, love me, hate me.’ It’s very few artists that can tell you the truth. I’m remember turning to Baby like, ‘That’s going to be his strength, he’s going to make something that the hood is going to feel, he connected to people in a way I’ve never seen.’”
Big Tymers “Big Ballin'” (1998)
Album: How You Luv That
Mannie Fresh: “I met Baby just from DJing in the club when I was young. At first [when B.G. was still young and Juvenile hadn’t joined] we decided to concentrate on Big Tymers. Bun B, who was always a good friend of ours, was like ‘Ya’ll could do this, just do what comes naturally.' So we started making songs. I was like, 'How about if we just do songs and don’t over-think them? Just do them real simple.' My thought was, you had Jay Z when he first stepped on the scene and young Biggie and a couple of other rappers who were balling. But I was like, 'They not doing it to the extreme.'
We needed to do it the extreme coming from the South. The whole thing about the South, they love big s***.
“We needed to do it the extreme coming from the South. The whole thing about the South, they love big shit. If anything is big, they joining in. I’m like, 'We can’t play with this, we going do this we really gotta do it.' Fake it ‘till you make it, but it’s gotta be incredibly big. So when we did the Big Tymers, it had to be the most craziest thing that anybody would say, like, 'I got a space shuttle from NASA.' [Laughs.]
“Everybody from down South was like, ‘Damn, that’s what I been thinking! I want to say it that way, but I was scared to say it.’ They didn’t know how it was gonna be taken because it’s like, 'Do you take these people seriously?' Once it started becoming a reality people were like, 'Oh, they really do donuts in Lambos.’ I was always big on the visuals too, it can’t just be a record. It gotta be visual. So if you say helicopter, you gotta bring a helicopter. The thing about Big Tymers was if they said they had it, they had it.”
Juvenile “Ha” (1998)
Album: 400 Degreez
Mannie Fresh: “'Ha' was the last song for 400 Degreez we added. I felt like we needed one more song that needed to be raw, it can’t be something we thought about. He was like, 'I got something, but I really don’t know if they ready.' I was like, 'Let me hear it.' He started saying, 'Ha,' and I programmed the beat real quick. I was like, 'Dude, this is the song. This will be incredible.' He was like, 'You really think so?' It was that scary moment as an artist when you feel like you might have gone too far. I was like, 'No dude, I love everything that we’ve done on 400 Degreez, but we haven’t done anything like this, and nobody’s ever heard anything like this.’
It was that scary moment as an artist when you feel like you might have gone too far.
“Usually if we was working on an album, I did beats right there on the spot like, 'Give me your rhymes so I can feel my beat patterns close to whatever it is that you doing.’ It was almost like this old school James Brown approach, if I had a bass player, somebody doing horns, it would start off with him rapping. Then I would do the beat, next thing you know the bass player joins in, then I’m telling somebody these are what the chords are, and before you know it, we’re done with that song and we’re moving on. [Laughs.]
“To me, it’s easy to do a bunch of songs because look at all the music we got in the world. You got classical, jazz, funk. All you need to do is go listen some of that and you’ll come up with ideas. Nothing is truly yours, you’re going to get an idea from something. You got some people who say, 'I came up with that all by myself,' and I’m like, 'Really? Those are Marvin Gaye chords.' There’s so much stuff out here that you can get great ideas from and put your little twist to it.”
Juvenile f/ Mannie Fresh & Lil Wayne “Back That Azz Up” (1998)
Album: 400 Degreez
Mannie Fresh: “The crazy thing was the song was probably a year and a half old. Juvenile was already doing that song in clubs, but it didn’t have that beat to it, so it didn’t have the impact. It was more like a DJ backspinning and him saying his rhymes, but no music on top of it. I was just like, 'Dude, that song is so incredibly cool, you just gotta figure it out how you make it touch everybody.'
I figured, how do we get everything? If we put 808 drums under this with the bounce, we got the hood. We got to get white America too, how do we do that?
“I figured, how do we get everything? If we put 808 drums under this with the bounce, we got the hood. We got to get white America too, how do we do that? I was like, 'If we put some classical music on there, not only are you going to get young kids [but white America too].' I remember Sharon Stone commenting about 'Back Dat Azz Up' like, 'That’s my favorite song,' and I’m like, 'You got Sharon Stone backing that ass up? You arrived.'
“I definitely smiled when I was making that record. I was like, ‘This right here, this the one.’ It’s one of them songs that will go on for forever. If I went up against a whole gang of tough ass DJs, I would open my set up with 'Back Dat Azz Up,' like, 'It’s over. Who want with me?' Every producer dreams of a 'Back Dat Azz Up.' Not to discredit 'Ha,' but 'Ha' does not have that feel to it. I’m pretty sure I can’t play 'Ha' at a Bar Mitzvah and kids know it. They’ll be like, 'I don’t know that, but I know ‘Back Dat Azz Up!’"
Juvenile f/ Hot Boys & Big Tymers “400 Degreez” (1998)
Album: 400 Degreez
Mannie Fresh: “A lot of people don’t know, the Universal Cash Money deal was really based off of Big Tymers sales. It wasn’t based off of Juvenile because Juvenile wasn’t even there yet. I was just like, 'It’s only so much we could do, but if we put Juvenile at the front of this, that’s ya’ll rapper.' We were just creative game spitters, we can talk shit, but we got somebody that can go toe to toe. So I was like, 'Get this dude and let’s do his album.' That’s why 400 Degreez had to be that album and the songs had to be incredible.
At the time, the only flaw that Juvenile had was he didn’t know how to count bars.
“I had like a cheesy vocoder, and I was just trying to figure out, 'What can I do? I want to do something with the vocoder, something.' '400 Degrees' started out with me just doing that, 'You don’t want to fuck with me, hot boy, hot hot...' and it was originally a Hot Boys song. I was playing around in the studio, and Juvenile was like, 'I got the song ‘400 Degreez.’' He was like, 'It would be crazy if you could do that,' and I was like, 'OK, let’s do that.'
“Now even if you pay attention to 400 Degreez, some of his bars are crazy, and we kind of gotta meet where he’s at. We just would run the drum machine first and then go back and do the keyboard parts while he’s rapping in the other room. That’s why a lot of the songs off 400 Degreez got crazy count points to them, like it’s 14 bars and the hook comes in. At the time, the only flaw that Juvenile had was he didn’t know how to count bars. He was just, 'I RAP.' Some of the verses would be 14 bars, some would be eight, and I’m like, ‘We’ll just work around you.’”
Hot Boys f/ Big Tymers “I Need a Hot Girl” (1999)
Album: Guerilla Warfare
Mannie Fresh: “That was just a fun song. One of them, 'Hey, let’s just do some bounce stuff for New Orleans.' That’s the essence of New Orleans. We didn’t go too far, but we gave you that classic little break and the hand claps that you hear in every song in the world. I’m like, ‘We need one of those classic bounce songs.’ I know Master P had a song called 'Thug Girl' at the time. When I listened to it like a month after it was released I’m like, 'OK, this is Baby taking jabs at Master P on this song.' I’m wondering if this is what this was about. [Laughs.]”
B.G. f/ Juvenile & Lil Wayne “Bling Bling” (1999)
Album: Chopper City in the Ghetto
Mannie Fresh: “I can honestly say I did not see that becoming that big. It was a Big Tymers song, but B.G.’s album was so dark we decided to give him that song. I was like, ‘It’s really nothing that’s going to give him the numbers that ya’ll trying to get out of this. You gotta put something on here that’s going to have world appeal, give him "Bling Bling." You want to sell records, right? You can’t just have him talking about murdering and killing people through the whole thing.’ But then I’m like, ‘Goddamn, the whole world saying this!’ When you hear Oprah saying 'Bling Bling' I was like, 'Oh shit, this is crazy!'
We even got into an argument of who started the hook. I’m like, 'Dude I came in here and told you the hook' and Wayne was like, 'No, I wrote that.'
“We even got into an argument of who started the hook. I’m like, 'Dude I came in here and told you the hook,' and Wayne was like, 'No, I wrote that.' I’m like, 'Dude, you did not write that. I did the beat, and I already knew what I was going say.’ Then I started, 'Bling Bling, every time I come around your city.' That came from something that Wayne said prior to that. I always thought that it would be incredible if he could use that in the song and make that a hook.
“The only person I could say that always had they hooks was Juvie. But if I did a song, I had the hook already because I knew what I wanted to go with the song. When I did ‘Bling Bling’ I was listening to Jonzun Crew’s 'Space Is the Place.' It’s similar to that song, but I liked the hits in it. I was just like, ‘If it sounds kind of like that energy, that’s what it’s going to be.’
“My production style is from a DJ point of view. I want to see you move, as a DJ you know exactly what songs to play. Somebody can say, ‘That’s the emptiest song I ever heard,’ but you know silently as a DJ why they like it.”
Lil Wayne f/ B.G. & Juvenile “Tha Block Is Hot” (1999)
Album: Tha Block Is Hot
Mannie Fresh: “That was a beat I used to play at parties, and it always had got a good response. Wayne asked me about it. That’s what was so incredible about Wayne, he always knew what songs were hits and would always come back around to it. I might have played before and nobody said anything about it. When the room cleared up like, 'What about that beat? Can I get that? I heard that played three times and nobody did nothing to it, I already wrote the rap to it.' I’d be like, ‘OK, let me see what you going do it.’ And he killed that beat.
That’s what was so incredible about Wayne, he always knew what songs were hits and would always come back around to it.
"Wayne was the first one there, last one to leave. That’s the reason why the dude is where he is at right now, because of his work ethic. If you didn’t show up, he had a verse for it like, ‘Oh I got something for that.’ If we’re working on something and you’re writing a song, I’m like, ‘Who got a song?' Wayne would be like, ‘I got a song.' So I’m like, 'Let me do you right now.' Every day he would be like, 'I got three songs.’ Wayne took writing serious. Everybody is in a room writing and Wayne’s like, ‘I already got the song, I did it three days ago.’ Or he would would be like, 'I’m going to make it seem like I’m writing this song, but I’m going to be the first one to be like, 'I got something!'
“I think Wayne learned from Juvenile. When Juvenile came to Cash Money what was so impressive he already knew his songs. 400 Degreez was already wrote, I just had to put music to it. Wayne was like, this dude ain’t gotta write these rhymes, he was just going in there doing it. I need to know my songs when I go come here because it’s more efficient.”
Juvenile f/ Mannie Fresh “I Got That Fire” (1999)
Album: Tha G-Code
Mannie Fresh: “I remember having A&R conversations with Juvenile. He was looking for a 'Back That Azz Up' song again, and I’m like, ‘Dude it was a crossover song. If you want that I can’t make a song about your Oscar Meyers. You gotta do some shit that appeal to women.’ He’d be like, ‘I don’t understand what you're talking about, I’m Juvenile.’ I’d be like, ‘Without you knowing, that song appealed to women, not that you were trying to do that. Now you came back with another song talking about your dick, it’s not gonna get the same [reaction]. If you want that same success you have to gear it for women.' He’s like, ‘I don’t get that. Let’s just do that song.’ I’m like, 'Okay cool.' [Laughs.]
“Me and Juvie, we have great respect for each other. But I think when success happens with a lot of artist they turn into producers. I’m like, 'Write your raps, let me do this part. I’m not going to write your raps, you not going to do my beats.' It’s not just him, it’s a lot of artist who will get a producer that established a sound with them, and they’re like, 'I kind of know what I want.' It’s cool to know what you want, but if it didn’t work out, it’s like let the guys that you hired do what they do.
I wouldn’t even feel like this is me patting my own back but facts are facts: I never had a bad album with Juvenile. It’s like, okay dude you left and you weren’t produced. You are an artist that needs to be produced.
“I wouldn’t even feel like this is me patting my own back, but facts are facts: I never had a bad album with Juvenile. It’s like, 'OK dude, you left and you weren’t produced. You are an artist that needs to be produced, it ain’t gotta be me.' That’s one thing I know about him.
“If you’re the head honcho and everybody is scared to tell you something, they’re just going to let you do whatever you wanna do. If your lyrics are crazy, I should be able to say, 'Hey dude, record that over. That’s not it.’ But if you get that point that nobody can tell you that... Or you say, ‘I’m going to take some short cuts. I’m gonna leave, and I’m gonna go get some mediocre producers, and I’m going to mix it myself.’ You forget some of the elements that made you hot.
“This is not aimed at him, but think about your favorite artists when they sign with somebody else and their vocals sound completely different. Like, that dude before knew how to EQ your vocals, all of that is important. A lot of artists don’t think something that small is technical. I know how the world got used to hearing you, so I have to set your vocals like that every time I do it. But when you do a song and all of a sudden you sign with Joe Shmoe Records, and they’re like, 'Sounds great!' And all of a sudden, somebody is like, ‘He’s real bassy and his ad libs don’t sound the same. They’re not the way they used to be.’
“People that I grew up on and that I love, sometimes I hate when they go to other labels. It’s not their fault, it’s whatever the deal was. The producer who did it, he knew him so well. Now they over here working with these dudes, and they don’t have a clue who this dude is and what this sound is.”
Cash Money Millionaires “Project Bitch” (2000)
Album: Baller Blockin
Mannie Fresh: “I always noticed when we were doing something on tour that the crowd would sing along to. It would be one line that was incredibly cool and I would be like, ‘That’s the hook!’ It made things easy. The 'Project Chick' line, we got that from 'I Need a Hot Girl.' Whenever Turk said that line, the crowd went crazy. I’m like, ‘I don’t know what it is about that line, but we need to turn that into a hook.’
“Those were the last glory days of hip-hop. It wasn’t no politics in it. It was just having fun and doing records. If you was working on somebody's album within your family, everybody wanted to make it a good album. If we’re doing Wayne’s album this week then everybody would show up. Like, 'Yo, I need a verse on that, I need to get on that.' It was friendly competition. If Juvenile had a crazy verse, Wayne would be like, 'I’m going to rewrite mine, I’m not even ready to say it yet.'
You can have a Lambo but you still gotta have something that the average guy can afford so he can feel like he’s a part of you. So in every video we had some Chevy trucks and some Lambos. The white tees made it so when you went to the concert you could fit in.
“If somebody missed a session, it was incredible to somebody else. If Turk didn’t show up, Wayne would be like I got it, I’m glad he didn’t come. When we did 'Project Chick' the hook was supposed to be Turk, the line came from him. But he didn’t show up and Juvi was like, ‘I got that. Don’t worry about it.’ [Laughs.]
“That video was shot in Lil’ Haiti, Miami. My biggest thing was still we got to stay in touch regardless of what’s going on. It’s something simple in music that I understood early on. That’s why Cash Money has had longevity. You can have a Lambo but you still gotta have something that the average guy can afford so he can feel like he’s a part of you. So in every video we had some Chevy trucks and some Lambos. The white tees made it so when you went to the concert you could fit in. We had a whole culture of people showing up to our videos in Dickies and white tees. Like, that’s what they do, that’s what I want to do, and it’s affordable. I can buy a hundred white tees.
“Right now, when you shoot a video, they paint a picture of this kid you don’t even know but the video makes it look like that he already made it. It’s out of touch. I’m like, Damn, don’t nobody live average? The greatest thing in the world that showed us that was Trinidad Jame$. When he came out with that video everybody was trying to figure out what they loved about this song. It’s dude with no shirt, rubbing a puppy in a basket. I’m like, ‘That’s everyday life for a lot of people.’ They was walking in the video, they wasn’t riding in no bad ass cars. It just reminds you of what life is because now the picture is painted a million times with every video that you see, like, ‘I made it.’”
Big Tymers f/ Lil' Wayne & Juvenile “#1 Stunna” (2000)
Album: I Got That Work
Mannie Fresh: “ That was our first time saying, ‘Okay, Baby, we going to let you hold your own.’ So this beat had to be incredibly cool because he was not big on rhymes. The first time we did it, it was alright. We had this dude Lac who always was on our songs and always hung around. Lac was singing that hook, playing around. I was like, 'Man, what the fuck is that?' He was like, 'I was just saying that because y'all was saying, 'Number One Stunna.' So I was like, that’s the hook.
Lac pretty much had the song but he didn’t want to say it. I’m like, 'Could you please give that to Baby?' he’s like, 'I’ll help him write.'
“All of a sudden, after we did the hook, Lac started rapping. He pretty much had the song but he didn’t want to say it. I’m like, 'Could you please give that to Baby?' and he’s like, 'I’ll help him write.' I always thought the beat had to be way harder than what he was saying but it turned out that it was a super match. Lac rewrote it, came up with the hook, and it was incredible.
“It was that toss-up point with Baby. ‘Do I really want to rap? Am I sure that this song going to happen?’ I’m like, 'Dude you gotta take that "I’ma winner" approach. You can’t be like, "I’m going to do this but I don't know." The missing element was before our homeboy Lac. Once he started putting his pieces on, Baby felt good about it.”
Big Tymers “Get Your Roll On” (2000)
Album: I Got That Work
Mannie Fresh: “The hook to 'Get Your Roll On' came from this Wayne song we used to do at concerts all the time. When the hook came up people started remembering it. If we went somewhere twice, the crowd would start saying, 'Everybody get your roll on!' I was like, ‘That’s a hook already in itself. We only came here one time and it’s not even recorded and people remember it.’
“The verses had to be so simple so that you don’t even have to think to remember it. It’s gotta be like, 'I...put...in...work..' No tongue twisters. Every now and then you can put some swag in it, but keep it simple because the hook already made it a big song. I wanted people to know it so the second time they heard it, they knew the words to it.
The hook to 'Get Your Roll On' came from another song. I was like, ‘That’s a hook already in itself. We only came here one time and it’s not even recorded and people remember it.’
“The shock value of that video was like, ‘Who the fuck would spend that much money on a Lamborghini and spin it around like that and tear that car up?’ It made normal kids to rich guys say, 'What the fuck?!’ You couldn’t go to no club down South without seeing a car doing donuts in the parking lot. That shit made everyone crazy. We was doing a show in Tennessee and they were like, 'Somebody got hit in the parking lot.' We would be like, 'What happened?' They’d be like, 'Some guy was doing donuts in the parking lot and I guess he wanted ya’ll to see them.' [Laughs.]
“It was all the dudes that was with us in the Cash Money entourage [who chat on the hook]. People were already doing it because of the crowd response, so it was like let’s get everyone in the studio and let them do it. We got this thing called Second Line in New Orleans and it’s like the jazz band. We did Second Line every night before we went out when we was on the Ruff Ryders tour. You had Ruff Ryderz, Eve, and Swizz Beats and they was just like, 'What the hell?'
“When we did the song I used a SP12 and a 808. The old 808 midi does not work with the SP12 so we had to match the tempos because I wanted the hook to come down with this big boom bass. I had to come up with the tempos and merge them so it was a lot editing. Everybody felt like I was taking too long on this song like, ‘How you got this piece to tape over here, you got the hook over here, and you splicing tape putting stuff together? I’m like, ‘This is going to work, trust me.’”
Juvenile “U Understand” (2000)
Album: Tha G-Code
Mannie Fresh: “It wasn’t meant to be something to rap on. It was a DJ break beat, Juvie just rapped on it. It was one of my breaks that I was using as a DJ and he was just like, 'What is that? I like that. I got this song ‘U Understand.’
I'm like, ‘Why are you putting out another album?’ Juvenile's like, 'They’re saying I need to.' I’m like, nah, dude.”
“Next thing I know, the song was recorded. He recorded that song without even telling me. He rapped it to me in my ear and told me the first couple of lines. So I was like, ‘This is cool little beat, I’m going to do some scratches.’ I come back to the studio and he had done it. It was only one thing, the beat continues on the same way and didn’t have the 808 break that came in the hook. I’m like you gotta do something to break it up, it’s just doing the same thing. Even though he did the hook, I had to change the drums.
“We didn’t have to do that album [Tha G-Code] because had so much momentum off of 400 Degreez. It was like a year or something later and I was like, 'Why? You still haven’t done "400 Degreez" as single, we never did "Ghetto Children" as a single. It was a couple of songs we never did as singles off of that album and we were at seven million copies and still selling strong. I'm like, ‘Why are you putting out another album?’ He’s like, 'They’re saying I need to.' I’m like, 'Nah, dude.”
Big Tymers “Still Fly” (2002)
Album: Hood Rich
Mannie Fresh: “Big Tymers saved Cash Money when Juvenile left. 'Still Fly' was one of the biggest songs. Nobody seen that coming. It was a number one song. Cash Money always had great-selling albums, but we never had a song that peaked [that high] on Billboard. [Ed. Note—“Still Fly” peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100 while “Back That Thang Up” peaked at No. 15 and “Bling Bling” peaked at No. 14.]
“Real talk, that right there blew Baby’s head up. He was like, 'Oh my God, we’re the greatest. Juvenile can’t top us, Wayne can’t top us. We peaked at number one we’re the Big Tymers!' At the time, that’s what Cash Money needed. People were like, 'Oh shit, what they gone do? Juvenile’s gone.' That song came out of nowhere and lasted for a long time. You could drop it at a party and people would go crazy.
Real talk, that right there blew Baby’s head up. He was like, 'Oh my God, we’re the greatest. Juvenile can’t top us, Wayne can’t top us. We peaked at number one we’re the Big Tymers!'
“At the time, I was trying to save the label. What’s crazy is, everybody hated that song. They was like, 'I don’t know what he’s doing in there, he talking about "everything in his mama name.’’' [Laughs.] I was at Universal telling them this is the one and they were like, ‘Baby said he don’t know what you got going on, you just did the song and he don’t think that’s it.’ I truly had to fight for that song.
“Every lyric in that hook is how people really live, that’s what made the song huge. It don’t matter who you are, where you from, it’s like that was really me. [Laughs.] Everything that he’s saying in this hook is really me and everybody’s been there. Even when nobody was thinking that way, I was thinking that way. I was always thought you had to balance it out, it’s not all just shiny.
“Usually, all our songs prior to that, I mixed. I didn’t mix that song. If I’m not mistaken, a young engineer in Miami mixed it but he turned out to be a good dude because he mixed a lot of songs after that. If I’m not mistaken, his name was Sean C. I was trying different things, I wanted to do something different with the 808s. What made me want to do it like was this UGK song 'Let Me See It,' The 808s on that was kind of like [mimics the 808’s 'boom boom']. At the time, nobody was paying attention to it but I thought it was a great idea. I liked what he did with the 808’s, so I kind of did my own twist to that on 'Still Fly.'”
Big Tymers f/ Tateeze, Boo & Gotti “Oh Yeah” (2002)
Juvenile f/ Mannie Fresh “In My Life” (2003)
Album: Juve the Great
Mannie Fresh: “It was one of them moments that made me smile because for the first time I understood what my role was. One magazine was talking about producers and A&R’s and I never really knew what an A&R did. Juvenile did an interview and the guy was saying, ‘I think Mannie Fresh fit you like a glove because you’ve never had an album that went platinum without him. You kind of went missing, no one is discrediting you, but when you went back with him, your career picked back up to where it was. You had a platinum record off the bat so it was obvious it was something people missed.’ Juvenile said, ‘Mannie knows what my sound is. The whole time I was recording before I got back people was just letting me record and nobody told me nothing.’
We did In My Life' when we were still kind of beefing with each other. When he came back to the studio, I stopped the tape and I was like, 'Listen dude, you gotta do that over.' It was tense.
“We did 'In My Life' when he got back and we were still kind of beefing with each other. When he came back to the studio, I stopped the tape and I was like, 'Listen dude, you gotta do that over.' It was tense. The whole room was just like, 'Oh shit. This dude is just coming back and you already starting and telling him he gotta do shit over.'
“I was like, 'Listen dude, that’s not it. You gotta start that over.' He took a deep breath, nobody knew what was going to be said. He’s like, 'Alright, bruh, if you want me to do it over, I’ll do it over.' I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think you can do better than that.' He was like, 'You just pick up right where you left off, you don’t really care huh?' I’m like, 'I’m telling you you gotta do that over' and he was like, 'I’m going to do it over.'
“After he came out he was like, 'I appreciate somebody telling me that because you realize if you’re out there on your own and you’re that dude, nobody is going to correct you because they feel like you’re a paycheck and they want to make money. They don’t want to tell you something's not right.'”
“Later on, we were going through songs and there were different producers that he was messing with that was submitting songs. I heard 'Slow Motion' and I’m like, ‘That’s you all day long. I’m going to make sure this song is one of the singles. I think that song is going to be big.’ I know he didn’t think I was going to say that because I didn’t produce it. That brought him to another place like, Mannie really does want me to win, regardless of when I think he’s being arrogant or crazy or whatever. He finally was like, ‘You do know my sound and what I’m trying to do.’
“The only other thing we bumped heads over was I wanted to mix the song. I’m like, 'If it’s not me then I want somebody who has mixed your songs before with me.' He was like, 'Dude want his people…' I’m like, 'In order for your vocals to be right, I have to have somebody to mix this song. It’s a big song but it don’t sound big.' Once we got the song mixed right, he felt it.”
Juvenile f/ Baby “Bounce Back” (2004)
Album: Juve the Great
Mannie Fresh: “‘Bounce Back’ was one of those songs that was designed for him. He was like, ‘You like this?' I’m like, 'Dude this beat right here is you, I know it’s you.' We were going through it and he was like, 'I don’t know about them beats' and I’m like, 'I got you.'
I could feel the pressure from Baby and them, I’m not going to lie, Like, maybe this could be it.
"When Juvenile left Cash Money, I didn’t panic. When it all happened, I didn’t talk to Juvie. An article came out and Juvenile said some things and I was salty like, 'Damn, your problem was with Baby, it wasn’t with me.' When I finally got to talk to him, he told me his reasoning and I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s understandable.’ But I wasn’t panicking. This what we do, we make records. If we can’t do that, then we’re not a company.
“I could feel the pressure from Baby and them, I’m not going to lie, like, maybe this could be it and it made me feel like I really wanted to win. I’m like, ‘I know y'all nervous because three or four stories get out and people are saying ‘Juvie is gone, y'all are done.' But we going to keep on making records, we good, let’s go.’
“Not to discredit Juvenile because he was a big part of the success of Cash Money, but I’m like this label been around before him and it’s going to be around after him. If y'all going to smooth it out, smooth it out, and if not then move forward. He came back and, right off the bat, the album jumped off."
Lil Wayne “I Miss My Dawgs” (2004)
Album: Tha Carter
Mannie Fresh: “We had a meeting when we was doing Tha Carter. It was like we have to come out with something that’s incredible and is going to set this label up for years, where people will be like, 'It wasn’t a fluke.' I never felt that way, but we always had people like, ‘Can they do it again? Can they change their sound?’
“I’m like, ‘Tha Carter is going to define rap for a while.’ Wayne was like, 'You really think?' I’m like, ‘I really do. It’s got to be something incredible. This needs to be your album, that’s the one where you can listen to these songs from one to whatever else is on there and this a jamming ass album.’ He was like, 'I’m going to put my thinking cap on.’ We drew from so many things from when we were doing that. We brought in his mom like, ‘What do you think somebody your age would want to hear?’ She gave us all of these great ideas. That’s where I came up with the Al Green song, 'Way More Flyer Than You.'
I’m like, ‘Tha Carter is going to define rap for a while.’ Wayne was like, 'You really think?' I’m like, ‘I really do. It’s got to be something incredible. This needs to be your album.
“I asked his mom to give me some songs that she could play in her age group and she was like, 'Frankie Beverly and the Maze.' I’m like we’re not going to be able to clear that, he ain’t letting nobody use nothing. I think she might have said something that’s traditional New Orleans, I’m like, 'Nah, New Orleans knows that song, nobody else.' Then she said the Al Green song and I’m like we can do that one and I felt like we covered that part. I was bringing in people and asking them about generations: In your era, what was jamming? What do you think? What can we do to make this something that’s unforgettable?
“When we did 'I Miss My Dawgs' and he was talking about The Hot Boyz. He was like, 'I want to do this but I don’t want to get Baby upset.' He was like, 'I don’t want the streets to be mad at me and I don’t want it to be taken the wrong way.' I’m like, 'If it’s what you want in your heart, then do it.' At the time it, everybody left so it was a hard thing to do. Baby and them wasn’t affiliated with none of these people. Even though they were on a label, he was about to make a song saying sincerely like, 'I miss ya’ll' and I’m like all of this needs to happen.”
Lil Wayne f/ Mannie Fresh “Go D.J.” (2004)
Album: Tha Carter
Mannie Fresh: “'Go DJ' was a song that was done way before. It didn’t sound like that, but it was a phrase that UNLV used to say about me. They said it on one of their earliest songs, saying, 'Go DJ, that’s my DJ. Mannie Fresh, that’s my DJ. Wayne was like, 'I remember this song when I was growing up. They played it in the clubs. They used to always say ‘Go DJ, that’s my DJ.’ Can I use that?' I’m like, 'Yeah, it’s basically my song.’ Like I said, Wayne always went back to stuff that people would forget about.
When he did the song, it absolutely made no sense to me. I thought it was going to be about DJing. I was like, 'Damn dude, you just rapping your a** off on this song but you never made no reference to nothing about the DJ.'
“When he did the song, it absolutely made no sense to me. I thought it was going to be about some DJing shit. He was like, 'Can you do the hook?' So I did the hook and the beat and I was like, 'Damn dude, you just rapping your ass off on this song but you never made no reference to nothing about the DJ.' It was one of them moments like, 'Dude you gotta trust me too.' I’m like, 'I’m going to let you have this one.'
“Before he even did the rap, I did the hook and thought he was going to say some incredible shit about DJs. I was telling Baby, 'This ‘Go DJ’ thing going to be big. We’re going to send it to every DJ that plays our music in that market and give them their little five minutes of a fame. Send them a camcorder, let them record their show, and we’re going to edit all those clips in the video.’ I hear the song and I’m like, ‘You’re not talking about no DJs or none of that.' [Laughs.] He’s like, 'I think your idea is great but I don’t think it’s going to work.' So I’m like let’s just see what happens. Wayne was like, 'I’m really on some rapping shit. That’s what you told me you wanted, that’s what it’s going to be.'
Young Jeezy f/ Mannie Fresh “And Then What” (2005)
Album: Lets Get It: Thug Motivation 101
Mannie Fresh: “Jeezy was hot mixtape wise. Def Jam was like, 'How do we get you to go mainstream? We gotta get you with Mannie Fresh. He knows the science of how to get the streets, how to get the norm, and get you on the radio, and it won’t be corny.' He was really worried like, 'I really love the streets but I don’t want to sound corny.' I was like, 'Dude, you’re not going to be corny just trust me.'
I was saying, 'Boom boom clap, boom boom clap' and there was a guy in there that was saying, 'Jeezy, you gotta tell him to take that out, it sounds a little corny.' I’m just like, 'Jeezy, have a little sense of humor.'
“When you’re young you don’t understand this. He’s like, 'I got the hottest mixtape in the streets.' But in the numbers world, that does not mean nothing. We just signed you to a major label deal, you’re giving away a mixtape but we’re trying to sell some records. After talking with them I told them you can have the streets and appeal to other people. I’m like, 'I’m the white t-shirt dude that got a sense of humor. It’s nobody else you can go to to get it across.'
“So when we were doing the song and I was saying, 'Boom boom clap, boom boom clap' and there was a guy in there that was saying, 'Jeezy, you gotta tell him to take that out, it sounds a little corny.' I’m just like, 'Jeezy, this is going to be the biggest part of this song. It’s alright, just have a little sense of humor.' When the song came out and people were singing that part whenever he did it, he got it.
“I was glad Jeezy understood what I was saying. It’s not going to offend anybody by me saying 'boom boom blap' on your song. He was like, 'I didn’t think it was really that much thought into it.' I’m like, 'Sometimes you got to think about how to win everybody. The whole reason your label is getting me, they’re trying to get you to win everybody. You’re going to have something that everybody likes.’”
T.I. “Top Back” (2006)
Mannie Fresh: “I knew Tip from the beginning. When we was recording in Atlanta, early Cash Money, Tip had a small underground following. I’m like, 'This dude T.I., this is y'all Juvenile.' When Juvenile left Cash Money I was trying to get them to sign T.I. I brung him to meet Baby and everything. But Baby and them really didn’t see T.I. being a big artist. But I always thought he was a big artist before he blew. So we always stayed in touch. Tip was just like, 'Thank you for bringing me over trying to get the deal.’
“In the midst of me leaving Cash Money, T.I gets word. He was one of the first people that reached out, 'Come on. Let’s do this. Let’s get this song in.' I did one song called ‘The Greatest’ with him before 'Top Back' on the album before that. I went and visited the dude in jail and he did ‘Top Back’ while he was on house arrest. I had no intentions of it being a single. He was like, 'This a standout song.' It proved Mannie can make it without Cash Money. He did Jeezy and he did T.I.
When Juvenile left Cash Money I was trying to get them to sign T.I. I brung him to meet Baby and everything. but Baby and them really didn’t see T.I. being a big artist.
"I had a big hit with T.I. and Warner Brothers came at me, but Cash Money would send a letter like, 'Nobody can touch Mannie.'
“I was able to produce but I couldn’t get out of my contract right then and there. I’m like, 'Well damn, I want to change the world right now.' I wanted to do my thing and I was really bent on getting a whole group of young kids and doing something crazy. But every time I wanted to do it, I would get blocked by Cash Money.
“When I was with Tip, I was doing back-to-back songs that were hits. We had a Chevy commercial on the Super Bowl and he was like, 'Mannie, you my go-to guy. You’re welcome here.' I had people like that who had my back. I could’ve gone with Grand Hustle but I could never do it because of what was going on with Cash Money.”
G.O.O.D. Music “The One” (2012)
Album: Cruel Summer
Mannie Fresh: “I did the drums on it. Honestly, we had much better songs than that, but that’s Kanye’s thing. So many cool things that were scrapped. It was a good idea but it wasn’t executed right because it was like going, 'Hey dude, this is what you’re hiring me for but you won’t let me do it.' I really felt like Kanye would have got it being a producer like, 'Just let this dude do what he do.'
You gotta trust your people. You can’t run a company and you want to do it all. Why are you employing anybody if you don’t trust them?
“It’s a weird thing when you do something and ten more people come behind you. That’s not what it sounded like yesterday and they’re like, 'We let so and so.’ You’re like, 'Why?' Even artists are like, 'It was good how it was. That made no sense at all.' But it was his thing. You gotta trust your people. You can’t run a company and you want to do it all. Why are you employing anybody if you don’t trust them? I feel like he had a good idea but it was way too much going on.
“When the idea first happened, it was so much hype. All you gotta do is live up to what you’re saying, just make good music. At the time, you had Maybach Music and you had Cash Money. So in a sense, the world is ready for something new. I thought G.O.O.D Music was going to be that next big thing, have that seven-year run and things was going to be crazy.
“I thank Kanye for giving me the opportunity and the paycheck. But I thank God that I was a much older artist, more seasoned, because I was like, 'I’m good. I’ll be a freelance producer. I don’t think I’m ready to jump in with nobody right now.' I had been on those situations where I did it how I did it because I really thought G.O.O.D Music could have been something incredibly cool, but it’s got to be like, let these people do what they want to do. You’re that boss dude now, stand back and let them do that.”
Yasiin Bey & Mannie Fresh's OMFGOD Album
Mannie Fresh: “We damn near done. It’s hard as hell to record with dude. Anybody that knows Mos, knows dude is the craziest. He’s got a heart of gold but he’s the hardest dude in the world to track down. The other day, we were talking about Jay Electronica, like, 'We got to get this verse from Jay Electronica.' I’m like, 'Okay I’m ready. Where is Mos?' I hear shit like everybody else, I’m like, 'He got kicked out of the country?!'
Everybody says, 'You’re the most patient person in the world that’s worked with [Yasiin].'
“We definitely have songs. A lot of times, I’m this person right now, I’m impatient. I’m ready to put it out but I have to go through his lawyer. There have been times where I said I’m going to put this out and next thing I know his people surface. I’m like, 'Ya'll have been missing for a month', and they’re like, 'You didn’t say nothing', and I’m like, 'I don’t know where dude is.'
“Dude just surfaces. When he does, he’s ready to work. Everybody says, 'You’re the most patient person in the world that’s worked with him.' I’ve done the songs in bits so it’s like, 'When I see you, I’m going to record you. I’ll build around you. I can’t be in the studio with you for a long time, so give me the lyrics and I’ll build songs.'”