In the late ’90s, New Orleans native Mannie Fresh was one of hip-hop’s most successful producers. As the in-house producer for Cash Money Records, he delivered such hits as Juvenile‘s top 20 single “Back That Thang Up” and B.G.’s “Bling Bling.” In addition to his production work, he rapped alongside label head Bryan ” Baby” Williams as half of the Big Tymers and his signature sound-a rolling, Southern bounce lit with hints of house-defined Cash Money’s output until 2005, when he left the label citing business disputes. He briefly signed to Def Jam as an artist, but then, in 2007, his sister was shot and killed in her New Orleans home.
Fresh has been relatively quiet in recent years, but has started stepping out again with a couple of high-profile DJ appearances including a set at the 2010 Fool’s Gold holiday party alongside label co-founder A-Trak and Young Money/Cash Money rapper Drake. That appearance, he says, helped him “fall back in love” with hip-hop, and after taking a year off to take care of family affairs, he says he’s getting “back to the basics,” working with such heavyweights as Juvenile, Kanye West and Dr. Dre.
1. What made you come back to music?
I’m not really feeling what’s going on in music right now. Everything sounds like it’s programmed-you drop it and it does it for you. It all sounds the same. The fault is on the record company and the artist. Record companies are not allowing artists to go outside the box, therefore everything sounds the same. I just want to give something that has real feeling behind it.
2. You’ve been independent since leaving Def Jam. Would you ever sign another deal?
No. I’ve been approached by several record labels and I told them what I’m telling you: I don’t want anybody to dictate my future. To me, Def Jam put my career on hold. I was used to making 13-14 songs a year and they trickled that down to nothing. They were telling me to go out and get big records. I went and got a record with [Lil] Wayne and brought it back to Def Jam. Although it got a million hits on my page, they still refused to put it out. To this day I haven’t got answers. I don’t hold grudges. I just know I won’t do it again.
3. Drake’s recent No. 1 album, “Take Care,” includes the song “Practice,” which samples “Back That Thang Up.” Do you have anything else in the works with Drake?
I sent Drake a couple of songs for Juvenile’s album [“Rejuvenation”]. I’m waiting for him to pick what he likes, put whatever he wants on it and send it back. When “Practice” came up, he reached out and said he really wanted [the sample] on his album. I appreciate him for making the phone calls, making sure all was right and I got what I asked for, despite my history with Cash Money.
4. What’s your current status with Cash Money?
We still have money issues. We will always have them, as long as Cash Money is selling anything that has Mannie Fresh on it. ‘Til this day, I’m like, “Dude, what’s going on? Where are the statements for this?” There’s always some kind of complication, that’s all I can say.
5. There have long been rumors of a Cash Money reunion record, or tour. Do you see that happening anytime soon?
Everybody has to get paid. It would be something large if Cash Money did a tour with the first generation of artists, but with everything that’s happened, we need money upfront and on top of that we all need our own attorneys. You don’t get my money and pay me-I get my money directly.
6. In addition to contributing to Juvenile’s upcoming album, “Rejuvenation,” you’ve been working with Dr. Dre and Kanye West. What’s that been like?
Kanye inspires me through his work ethic and his approach. He’ll tell you his whole warm-up speech: “When we’re doing a song, we’re not doing a song just to be doing a song. We’re striving for a No. 1 song.” With Dr. Dre, he’s a perfectionist. A lot of people ask why “Detox” is taking so long. It’s because Dre is somebody that is trying to top what he’s done. Will he do it? I don’t know if he ever will, but I respect that he’s trying to do so. You have to wait for a masterpiece.
We’re all fans of Dre down South. He can park it in Atlanta and I promise you Detox would come out tomorrow.