In 2010, you couldn’t turn on the radio in LA without hearing Mann’s voice. His hit song “Buzzin’” is easily recalled off the title alone, and when it was released it was one of the hottest singles in the club. Only 19 at the time, Mann appeared to be well on his way to a promising career making catchy, poppy Rap tunes. At some point between then and now, however, the rapper has grown some dreads, gone independent after leaving a major deal with Mercury Records, and reformulated his sound into something completely new.

Where did it all start for Mann? Mann told DX in June of last year that his favorite album growing up was Ma$e’s Harlem World, even if he was only five years old when it was released. He revered the emcee; “That’s who I wanted to be,” he recalled. He proceeded to start rapping at the age of 13 and was eventually discovered by record producer J.R. Rotem. His deal with Mercury Records eventually gave way to independence, which allowed the artist room for experimentation and to develop a new sound. It’s easy to tell within the first few moments of listening that Mann’s latest single, “Smokin’ Dope,” does not sound anything like “Buzzin’.” The lyrics reflect deep and pensive thought, as if Mann has discovered or is on the brink of discovering the meaning of something very important. His vocals contain hints of Kendrick Lamar, and his change in sonic style from his early single-driven days is just as remarkable as that of other reformed artists like Audio Push. So has Mann smoked a little bit too much dope or is he onto something? We think it’s probably the latter.

What inspired the vision behind your new music video for “Smokin’ Dope?”
I wanted people to really see me. I’ve been with the biggest artists and have shot the most elaborate and expensive music videos. This time around, we just wanted to keep it all the way simple and clean. Just me in the woods, smoking dope in the dark, talking about the shit that’s on my mind.

Was the visual aesthetic your creation or did you leave that up to Cali King Films?
North Eagle and Cali King both brought the idea to life. I knew I didn’t want to shoot anything that took away from what I was saying; it was their Idea to one take it and leave it raw.

What can we expect to see on your upcoming studio album The Grey Area?
People will get to see a self-realized Mann and also start to see where we are going with this PeaceLife thing. When I decided to start this album almost two years back, it was the beginning phase of a new life. While recording The Grey Area, I underwent a real transformation. I’m not the same Mann from “Buzzin” or “The Mack.” He died back in 2012. This album will break it all down and expand on my ideas of love, drugs, and society.

You’ve collaborated with a number of artists – many with big names already, i.e. 50 Cent. What’s been your favorite collaboration of your career thus far?
It sucks because my favorite collaboration never really came to light. On one of my earlier mixtapes, I had records with a pre-famous Kendrick Lamar and a pre-famous Frank Ocean. At the time, I knew that these dudes were going to be game changers, and I had a good relationship with both. Now look, they are both huge. I’m still glad I can say I was able to swing that before they were poppin.

Can we expect to see any big collaborations on The Grey Area?
No, this time I kept it close to home. It’s mainly PeaceLife artists on there like Tone Oliver and BEeFF. But I do have a Problem and a Dizzy Wright feature.

How has being an LA artist affected you and your music?
In the beginning it hurt my career. When I got signed back in 2008, nobody was looking for LA artists if you weren’t Gangbanging. Since then the script has flipped. LA is the poppin spot if you’re rapping, but I recently moved up to the Bay Area to release this project. I enjoy the nature up here.

Who do you think is best putting on for the city right now musically?
[ScHoolboy] Q’s album was dope, but I think YG’s album is about to get shit crackin in the city for sure. I’m anxious to hear that.

Where do you see your career going in the next few years?
We just want to continue growing. I see PeaceLife as a company transcending all boundaries though. This type of movement starts with music, and ends up changing the world. As far as MANN, I’m going to continue to make music and spread this peace thru my music and at my live shows.

Have you set any goals for yourself?
Just touring. A LOT!