Mannie Fresh Breaks Down His Biggest Records (Part 2)


Earlier this week, XXL unveiled a detailed breakdown of producer Mannie Fresh's extensive catalog. The sound architect who molded Cash Money Millionaire's sound, which took the now world-famous label to immense success, had many things to say from his production approach, behind-the-scenes anecdotes on how classic records such as "Back That Azz Up" was birthed, to his relationship with various members of the label. On Part 2 of XXL's interview with the producer, Mannie Fresh opens up on his last days with Cash Money, his ventures and relationships with artists such as T.I., and Young Jeezy, and his upcoming endeavors. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)

Juvenile “Mama Got Ass,” Project English (2001)

Juvenile "Mama Got Ass"

Mannie Fresh: Oh, yeah. That was like—in New Orleans, we really have some mamas that are just fine ass mamas, and we were just like, ‘Wow.’ And we used to just always say that. It was really Juvie’s brainchild, but you know when you hear someone say something and he or she keep repeating it, like, ‘Dude that’s so repeatable.’ Juvie used to always say it. He came in one day with the song written, and we was just like, ‘Okay, damn dude. You made that shit a song, that’s hot!’

“All through out Cash Money, I never abandoned the SP 1200. At the end of the day, I still use my SP 1200, ‘cause I like the way the drums sound. Like all my drum sounds—if I put them in a program or whatever, I’ll still take them out of my SP 1200, to me it sounds that good.”

Lil Wayne “Shine,” Lights Out (2001)

Lil Wayne "Shine"

Mannie Fresh: “Actually that song was for Mikkey. I don’t know how it wound up—the dude Mikkey from Chicago was signed to Cash Money. Originally that was supposed to introduce him, I don’t know whatever happened—they got into it. It became Wayne’s song or whatever. Mikkey was a bright skin dude; he’s a friend of Kanye. Kanye and Mikkey came through to early Cash Money. And Mikkey was on a couple of features. And I remember Kanye playing some beats and they were beats that was later on Jay-Z’s album, and when he was playing them I was like, ‘This dude got something. I don’t know who he is or what he’s doing, but he got something.’ But for some reason, Kanye saw something that Mikkey didn’t see. Mikkey ended up staying and signing with Cash Money and Kanye was like, ‘Nah, this is not right, I’m bouncing.’

“Yeah, that song came out of SP-1200, Triton Keyboard. We were at New York, towards the end of the album. I remember when we recorded that it was a weird thing. We recorded the song while we was mastering. I don’t want to tell you if I’m right or wrong, if it was Wayne’s or Juve’s song, I just know we were mastering somebody’s album. And I was like, “We need something.” And that dude, Mikkey was like, “Man, I really like that song.” Well, we just went next door, did a song. And then it became, “That one can go with everybody, do another one for Mikkey.” He just got stripped of the song.”

Lil Wayne

Big Tymers “Still Fly,” Hood Rich (2002)

Big Tymers "Still Fly"

Mannie Fresh: “Funny, funny dude. Nobody liked that record. When I was making that record, nobody liked it. They were like cutting me up. If I were to tell you there were beef behind that record, ‘cause Cash Money was at a critical [point] when that spot was done. Juvenile had left, and everybody was like, ‘They done, that’s their star, that’s their dude. What else do they have over there?’ And B.G., was in the process of, ‘Man, I’m outta here.’ So there was like that ‘these dudes are done, it’s over here.’ So I was like, ‘Dude, this is going to be the song right now. This song is true.’ Regardless of how you look at it, some people are going to look at it like it’s ignorance. But I’m like, ‘If I can answer for my lyrics? I’m alright with it.’ This song was so true, regardless of the comedy in which I’m doing it, that’s everyday life for so many people. It was just like, ‘Man, you’re tripping right now.’ There were so many dudes like, ‘Man, you’re so tripping right now.’ The crazy thing is, I was talking to Gillie the other day, and Gillie was like Baby stepped out of the room with him and said, ‘Man, what is Fresh doing? He’s really tripping in there. We got to stop him. This is the one he done went ol’ boy.’

“Yeah, it was like, ‘Hey, dude we need to talk to you for a second, what are you doing? You in here trying to sing, and you’re talking about, got everything in my momma's name.’ They were just like, ‘Bro you’re really tripping.’ Because by the time it was time for [Baby] to rap, I had already done the hook, I had already done my verses and all of that. By the time it was time for [Baby] to do something, he was like, ‘Man, I’m not getting on that record.’

“I fought. I came at him like, ‘Listen dude, I never asked y’all to do nothing. We collectively always agreed on everything. So I’m just asking you, out of respect, let this record go. Let it fly. I never told y’all how to pick something.’ ‘Cause you know, they always asked for opinion, but it was more so everybody voted on it and we let it go that way. So I never really flinched. But on that one I flinched. I was like, ‘Listen dude, this song right here, it needs to be the single. Dude, I got such a good feeling about this song, it’s crazy.’ Because it came from me, having real life experiences. I consider myself not to be a rapper, but just my thought process of me doing that, it was everyday shit. Everything I’m saying here, is something you’ve done before, you just got to look at yourself, and say, ‘Yes that’s me.’ It does not matter it fits everybody. But he was like, ‘Dude, we’ve always had this image that we the ballers. We supposed to be the dudes that got a quarter tank of gas?’ And I was like, ‘But dude, everybody do that.’

“And you got to think about it, that’s Cash Money’s first number one song ever. Remember that, the first one to crack the Billboards. Everybody was like, ‘Man, nobody thought it was going to be that.’ It’s like with that song, and if I’m a DJ, and I’m dropping that? Automatically people will just look at me like I’m supposed to sing it. Like, ‘C’mon man, we didn’t just expect you to play it. At least give us the hook on it!’ Yeah, I would say, it’s definitely [the biggest] record during my era. That’s crazy to have everybody against you and be like, ‘Dude that’s not it,” and it ending up having to be ‘it.’”

Why Cash Money Fit In

Cash Money

Mannie Fresh: I feel like in the era that Cash Money was doing they thing, we still had Nas, we’ve still had other people doing different things, rap is not just one dimensional. That’s why I always said Cash Money fit in; their era may hate them or love them. Because they was they was the bling. But now I don’t think rap is like that anymore, rap is just one-dimensional. Back then you had categories of rap. You have your ballers over here, you have your pro-black over here, and you have your storytellers over here. Now it’s just one thing. I felt like that’s where we fit in. I remember Nas, when they interviewed him and asked him about Cash Money, ‘Man, they good at what they do. They stay in their lane and that’s what makes them great and what they’re doing. But can you imagine that, as much as people really say they don’t like them, can you imagine them going at it, on some conscious tip? We would really dislike them. Just leave them alone, and let them do what they do.’”

Big Tymers “Oh Yeah,” Hood Rich (2002)

Big Tymers "Oh Yeah"

Mannie Fresh: “It was something that I got the idea to do the song. I was listening to some old Michael Jackson shit where he was like, ‘Look over your shoulders, honey.’ I got the whole little melody from there. I didn’t jack his melody; I just wanted it to sound like that, that old ass that got the little synth. I just wanted it to sound like some old fashioned, feel good. Music was just kicking, I was just riding in the car, and I heard that song and was like, ‘Oh Shit!’ And I came up with that hook. And the crazy thing was people in New Orleans started saying, ‘Oh, yeah!’ So I was like, ‘Yeah, we need to get that before someone else get it.’

“Boo & Gotti were more signed to R. Kelly at the time. Around the time when everything happened with R. Kelly, Cash Money was one of the first labels that embraced him. We did a show in Chicago, and this is crazy, we were talking about this backstage ‘cause R. Kelly wanted to come out. This was around the time when all the stuff was going on with him and it was half and half. Some people were like, ‘Yeah, dude it’s a cool idea.’ Some people were like, ‘Yeah it’s a bad idea.’ ‘Cause we were on the Cash Money tour, and R. Kelly was backstage and he was like, ‘Man, would it be cool if I come out with y’all?’ So we didn’t know how the people were going to take this, was there going to be boos? There are all types of shit going on with R. Kelly. But we missed this dude. We were like, ‘Fuck it, let him come out.’ We get to the end of our set and doing it, and we were like, ‘We got a special guest for y’all…’ Then the crowd went crazy! From right then and there, he was like, ‘Man, whatever y’all need. I got y’all, just for embracing me. Everybody else is closing doors on me, nobody wants to be bothered with me.’ So from there, it became, ‘Yo, I got this group, Boo & Gotti.’”

Lil Wayne “Way of Life,” 500 Degreez (2002)

Lil Wayne "Way of Life"

Mannie Fresh: “Oh, man. Definitely inspired by Biggie. We were just like, ‘Dude, there’s something about sampling this song. Everybody who has sampled this song has won. Dude, c’mon, shit let’s make a go at it, and see what happens for us.’ I played the sample, I remember this at the time, ‘cause I was still using a SP-1200. And that’s around the time that Jazze Pha had stepped in officially, and I was just like, ‘I’m going to have to loop this or whatever.’ Then Jazze was like, ‘Man, I can just put it in the MPC.’ So Jazze actually looped it, in his drum machine and I made the beat on his drum machine. And I was just like, ‘Dude I’ve never made a beat on an MPC ever.’ I was like, ‘Dude I didn’t know it had this much sampling time. I’m used to just cramming shit into my little drum machine or whatever. Or I got two of them on the table.’ The thing of it is, and even finishing it, I was like, ‘Let’s get TQ on the hook. It’s going to be big for him, and we’re trying to make him, right?’ For him to do the hook, that made it more incredible.

“In the end I say, ‘What happened to peace? Peace.’ And you got to think about it, ‘Paid in Full’ started that whole era of that record. It just like, ‘Dude, that was that same bassline. Man, we got to pay homage to where it came from, for some hip-hop heads that know.’ Even little stuff like that gave us a lot of respect from New York kids. It was like, ‘Well, damn, dude knows his history or whatever.’ ‘Cause people thought around that time, people down South were in their own little world. And the crazy thing is, and the reality is that all really grew up on New York rap records. We didn’t even have a sound yet.”

Big Tymers “This Is How We Do,” ‪Big Money Heavyweight‬ (2003)

Big Tymers, "This is How We Do"

Mannie Fresh: “Shit, that was just one night leaving. Me and Jazze singing that shit, and he was like, ‘Man, you need to run with that shit.’ The whole song was inspired by the song Trick [Daddy] had with Cee-Lo. I was like, ‘Dude, I want something that sounds like that,’ because that song was so big down South. I just wanted that rhythm with the guitars and all that. I’m just singing the hook over and over; around that time we’d leave the club and go back to the studio. I’d be like, ‘Dude, I got the hook, let me go in.’ And as I sang it, ‘Walking to my escalade,’ they were like, ‘Yes dude, that’s the line right there!’”

Juvenile “In My Life,” In My Life (2003)

Juvenile “In My Life,” In My Life

Mannie Fresh: “That song was a fight. Because he actually had to rewrite the song, three times. That was actually our introduction back working together again. When he first did it, I was like, ‘Yo, dude, the raps all over the place. C’mon man you can do much better…’ ‘Cause even after not working with someone, you still expect a certain thing. And he kind of took it on a silent note, you know how it is not working with somebody, but you still expect a certain thing. I was still like, ‘Dude, I still expect perfection from you.’ For me, the first time he did it, I was like, ‘Damn, dude I get it, you did this for the money, but still give out a quality project.’ So when he rewrote it, the first verse was cool, but the second one wasn’t. Then when he redid the second one, I was like, ‘Okay dude, now we there.’ Even with him, he was always like, ‘I always respected Fresh, ‘cause even when I did like it? He always told me something was wrong.’ That was our introduction back working again. So it wasn’t easy, ‘cause it was like, ‘Man, you said some things about me and I said some things about you. Now we’re supposed to just get back in the studio again?’ Even with that song, the crazy thing is you know when you got a good response from the time that album dropped, Juve was a on a tour bus.”

Lil Wayne “Go D.J.,” Tha Carter (2004)

Lil Wayne “Go D.J.,” Tha Carter

Mannie Fresh: “That was an older song I did for this group, U.N.L.V., but they were so popular in the city. Wayne grew up on that song, it came out when he was a kid. He was like, ‘I remember when they used to play that song.’ At the end of the song, the rapper from U.N.L.V. said, ‘Go DJ, that’s my DJ!” And everybody used to always sing it in New Orleans. And Wayne was like, ‘I just want to do that song over, and take the from it.’ And I was like, ‘Man you can take the hook from it, ain’t no big deal, that’s a song that I wrote.’ So it was kind of like a remix, that was an early and vintage Cash Money, that was only on the local scene. Let’s just say it was a local New Orleans song that everybody loved. But I give [Wayne] the credit for it; he saw the genius in it. He came back with it, when I was like, ‘Dude, New Orleans people get it, but I don’t know if everybody else will get it.’ But when it came, it was like, ‘Damn! They get it!’ That’s one of those songs that in all honesty? You’ll never understand. Because none of his lyrics had nothing to do with ‘Go D.J.’ But it just embraced.

“None of that shit made sense. None of it had anything to do. When we was originally doing the video, they were asking me like, and I was like, ‘Dude, what y’all should do is send camcorders to all the DJs and all the radio stations or whatever. And let them record themselves on the air, and we’ll just edit it all up.’ So we thought that was going to be the video. Then we ended up actually doing the video, they were like, ‘Fly out here…’ and it was some prison. That’s classic Cash Money; it doesn’t have to make sense.”

Mannie Fresh “Real Big,” The Mind of Mannie Fresh

Mannie Fresh “Real Big,” The Mind of Mannie Fresh (2004)

Mannie Fresh: “Well, I wasn’t really trying to do that. That was something that was force-fed. I’ve been saying that since the beginning, even interviews at 106. Not to say that, I’m not proud of it. I’m very proud of it. It was more pressure from Universal to Slim and Baby, ‘cause they got to turn in something. Like, ‘Y’all got to turn in a certain amount of albums to get this money.’ So they were like, ‘Dude, we’ll give you some money to finish it.’ So I was like, ‘Okay cool.’ Looking back at it, that’s the worst possible opportunity for a producer, because they just gave me the opportunity to go nuts! You know what I’m saying? Otherwise that would’ve been me doing songs for everybody. So they were like, ‘Dude stop, you already have like 30 songs!’ But I was like, ‘Well, y’all are telling me to just do this!’ I remember when I was doing the album, it was two weeks later and I told them ‘I’m done.’ And they were like, ‘You’re done? How many songs do you have?’ And I was like, ‘Well, we could cut it and go through them. But I have 40 songs.’ They were like, ‘You have 40 songs?’ At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with it because I was in love with music. I guess what made it so bad, when you’re that dude, and you’re used to being in the lab, but not doing that part of it, you don’t have somebody to tell you, ‘Hey, bro, typically albums don’t have 30 songs. You just went in. You were just doing what you do.’

“Even then, that was the beginning of our fusses. That was the beginning of my arguments with Cash Money. Because the single was so big, it was like, ‘Okay, we got ‘Real Big.’’ But the next thing I know, Baby is going to shoot a video for something but they going to go off of ‘Real Big’ with another song. And I was like, ‘Why we doing that? This song’s hype is ‘Real Big’ and is at the height of everything right now. We doing a video for something that’s not coming out? We just doing it, to be doing it? What’s the reason for this? This going to be on his album?’ And they were like, ‘Nah, he’s just doing the song.’ So at the time, I had Universal calling me, and they was calling him like, ‘Dude, you’re putting yourself in competition with your own artist? That makes no sense. Why go off his record, and go on this record?’

“I was just like, ‘Dude, I’m not the type of person that wants the popularity that he wanted. If it fits you, go ahead dude.’ But just for the light to shine on me for a little bit, it kind of bothered him. I noticed that. So I started seeing a bigger side, where it’s like, you don’t want anybody to be bigger than you. We had some concerns with him in Cash Money, and everybody was scared to address it. But if I say it, it’s like, ‘Damn dude, we do Baby album and he got Pharrell, The Clipse, Toni Braxton, he got the works.’ We doing anybody else album, it’s like, ‘Y’all can’t go outside, its only what you got in here.’ That’s when the questions started coming up like, ‘I want to grow, I want to grow as an artist.’

“Well, presently, we’re involved in the same thing over royalties. I just feel like at this point anything that will be salvageable, will never be salvageable. Because, and I’ve always said this, I don’t have no problems with Cash Money and none of the artists. I just have a problem with their business ethics. I’m just like, anything that I did? I want to get paid for it. That’s my music. I own it. And for somebody to feel like I don’t owe him this because time has passed…I mean dudes, y’all still say that’s your catalog. And all in all, that catalog belongs to me. I’m not asking for nothing from Drake, that’s your money, none of that. I love them people’s music. I always say that I’m a hip-hop fan, and I’m definitely a Drake fan. But when it comes to my business, I want what I worked for it. And that concept is this with Cash Money, as long as they are in existence, they will always have to pay Mannie Fresh. It’s like dude; you just have to adjust to that.”

Mannie Fresh_Leaving Cash Money

Young Jeezy “And Then What,” Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)

Young Jeezy "And Then What"

Mannie Fresh: “Jeezy didn’t like that ‘boom, boom, clap’ part. I told him, ‘Dude, I promise you that’s going to be the part that the crowd sings.’ He thought it was so corny. He was like, ‘That’s not really what I represent.’ I told him in a heart to heart, ‘You know, you’re a street phenomenon, but the streets ain’t buying records. The whole reason why they hired me is to figure out how to get you in everybody living room.’ I was like, ‘Give me a little leeway and trust me a little bit.’ ‘Cause he was like, ‘Dude I think that’s corny as shit.’ Then I was like, ‘Yo, let’s come on, I promise you this is going to be the part the crowd goes nuts on.’ And he said it himself in a few interviews, ‘You know what? This dude Mannie told me this was going to be one of my biggest record. And he delivered.’

“Def Jam knew he was on fire at the time. But it was more mixtapes, and they were like, ‘How can we get people to buy this?’ At that time, Jeezy’s manager, Coach, vouched for me. He was like, ‘Dude, Mannie knows the science of the streets and crossover.’ And the crazy thing is, I’m blessed to be this dude. Street cats will still accept me, whatever I do. Because that was my introduction, that’s how I came in, they’re like, ‘We’ll let him do a street song and crack jokes and do whatever it is the hell he do, ‘cause he’s not apologetic, he will tell you.’ I’ve said this in interviews, ‘I don’t know what it is to make a ‘Dear Mama’ song, or something like that because I grew up with both my parents.’ Yeah we did grow up in housing, but we didn’t know we was there ‘cause had good structure. So I can’t tell you that poor-ass story that most people tell you that it was hard, because we had to do this and that. I just knew I was loved. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, because I always hear it. Only thing is y’all couldn’t have had such a bad-ass life!”

T.I. “Top Back,” King (2006)

T.I. “Top Back,” King (2006)

Mannie Fresh: “The crazy thing is, ‘Top Back’ was actually Juvenile’s song. When Juvenile was signed to Atlantic. So Mike Herring told me to do some songs for Juvenile, and I played, ‘Top Back.’ I really had that song for him, and the way it’s titled in my Triton right now is under, ‘Juvenile Hit.’ The crazy thing is I played the song for Juve, we was at T.I.’s studio at the time in Atlanta. So [Juve] came through to listen to beats, and when I played it, he walked in and said, ‘Yo, that shit is way too loud, it’s too annoying’ and then walked out the session. And T.I. was like, ‘Damn, dude he didn’t like that?’ I was like, ‘Fuck, I don’t know, maybe he going through something.’ And that was the first song I played. And then T.I. was like, ‘Dude, let me get that.’ That’s crazy.

“And the crazy thing was, when I had it on a CD, I just had it on a two-track. So T.I. went in on the two-track, did the whole shit. And he’s the dude that doesn’t write shit down. He was like, ‘Man, let it run.’ The beat ran on for an hour, and then he went in on it.

“And if you listen to that song, T.I. goes, but I don’t think he meant anything by it, ‘Man, I’ma show ‘em what to do with one of your beats Mannie Fresh.’ Because out of respect, he was like, ‘Damn, dude, I feel like Juve owe you more than that. Just to come in here and be like, I don’t like it and walk out.’ And then he was like, ‘Dude, is something going on with y’all?’ And I was like, ‘Nah I thought we was all good.’

T.I. “Big Shit Poppin’,” T.I. vs. T.I.P. (2007)

T.I. “Big Shit Poppin’,” T.I. vs. T.I.P. (2007)

Mannie Fresh: “By that time we had chemistry, it was so cool. We did about everything in 30 minutes. It was the quickest session ever. I came in there with my drum machine, and with my dude Charles Calloway, who plays bass guitar and rhythm. And I was just like, ‘Dude, I want this one to feel soulful.’ He did a little guitar licking behind the beat, and it was done. And Tip was like, ‘I feel good about this. This shit must be phenomenal if it happened this quick.’ I was like, ‘Okay Tip, whenever.’ That was a high point for me, after everything that happened with Cash Money. At the awards they kept calling the dude’s name. And here I am sitting on this side, and Cash Money is sitting on the other side, and it restored confidence in me. I was like, ‘Dude, you can hold your own. You got the biggest song popping right now. This is the song.’”

Mannie_Fresh_Last Image

Looking Back at Cash Money
Mannie Fresh: “I mean, with time everything changes. I know I’m not the same person who I used to be. I totally get that. It’s more so credibility and what’s real to me. I don’t think I would’ve had a role with Cash Money. Based on our prior experiences. I don’t really think I could’ve had a role with them. ‘Cause I mean, only time will tell. I’m truthfully hoping that dude has learned his lesson and he’s a different person. You know what I’m saying? But you got to think about it, the new generation of Cash Money could be me, 10 years from now. You know what I’m saying? And I say this, but I don’t say this to slam Baby or Ronald; when people say, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie,” it’s constantly lawsuits with these people. So it’s not just me. I’m just like, ‘Dude c’mon man, if you have producers on a album, every producer saying they didn’t get paid, that’s crazy.’ What are the chances of that happening? Again, I’m not saying this to slam dude, but that’s one of the things that tell me that I don’t belong back over there. Because these things are still happening.”