Speaking at length about his early production techniques and the rise of Cash Money Records in a retrospective interview with Complex, Mannie Fresh detailed the development of artists like Juvenile, B.G., and Lil Wayne while highlighting songs like “Solja Rag,” “Bounce Slide Ride,” “Bling Bling,” “Tha Block Is Hot,” and more. The Big Tymers producer also pointed to moments from his catalog leading all the way up to his contributions to G.O.O.D. Music songs and his current work with Yasiin Bey.
Explaining the inception of the label and its early success as a function of Lil Slim’s single “Bounce Slide Ride,” Mannie Fresh detailed the general transition from bounce music to more explicit Rap.
“Cash Money really had no intentions of being a rap label because when it started, it really was based on bounce,” he said. “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?’”
Recalling his first time meeting Juvenile, Mannie Fresh went on to outline how the New Orlean’s emcee became a flagship artist for Cash Money.
“I had already knew about Juvenile because I was DJing, but the first time I met him was at a bus stop,” he said. “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.’ 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.’”
Addressing another new-to-the-label rapper in B.G., Mannie explained his true-to-life lyricism and struggles with drugs.
“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,’” Mannie Fresh said. “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.’
“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.”
Addressing one of the label’s most obvious assimilations into the mainstream, Fresh detailed consciously trying to build a hit when producing Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.”
“I figured, how do we get everything?” he said. “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!’”
Speaking more generally about Lil Wayne’s career specifically, Mannie Fresh attributed the rapper’s sustained commercial success to his obvious work ethic.
“What was so incredible about Wayne, he always knew what songs were hits and would always come back around to it,” Fresh said. “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.
“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.”
At the end of the interview Mannie Fresh spoke about his current collaboration album with Yasiin Bey, tentatively titled OMFGOD.
“We damn near done,” he said. “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?!’
“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.’”