Arts Desk

What I Learned From Mannie Fresh During His D.C. Visit

manniefreshMannie Fresh has been completely off my radar these days. It's not that the producer hasn't been working, but his name doesn't ring as loudly as it once did. Fresh rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a producer for New Orleans label Cash Money Records, composing such hits as Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up," B.G.'s "Bling Bling" and Lil Wayne's "Tha Block is Hot." Most recently, he helped produce "The One" from G.O.O.D. Music's 2012 compilation, Cruel Summer.

Fresh was in town yesterday for a live studio taping of NPR's Microphone Check with music journalist Frannie Kelley and producer/DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, best known for his creative work with A Tribe Called Quest and Lucy Pearl. At NPR's headquarters, Kelley and Muhammad interviewed Fresh about his work habits (he doesn't like dimly-lit studios) and his quintessential self-made instrumental (he hasn't made it yet).

Here's what else I learned about Mannie Fresh last night:

He has many names.

Mannie Fresh. Elvis Freshly. Mannie Davis, Jr. During the interview, an audience member asked Fresh to name his favorite producers of all time. He excluded everyone, repeated the aforementioned monikers, and added one more: "Me, myself and I." Fresh doesn't lack confidence.

Mannie has a new song with Yasiin Bey.

It's called "Let's Go," and well, it goes. Amid a raucous trap beat, rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) sounds invigorated. Over the past few years, it's been unclear if Yasiin wanted to rhyme or not. On "Let's Go," however, Bey steps outside his comfort zone: For the second verse, Fresh switches the beat and the rapper spits a double-time flow. Though Fresh and Bey are an unlikely pair, "Let's Go" shows it could be a fruitful partnership. "It's a breath of fresh air," Fresh says of the Bey collaboration. "It's what hip-hop needs." The two are recording a joint album, OMFGOD.

Mannie doesn't like current music.

Yeah, it's been a common theme lately, but Mannie didn't mince words when asked about today's rap and R&B. "I think I keep hearing the same song over and over again," he told Kelley and Muhammad. "We just got a whole bunch of wannabes." There's not enough variety on the radio, and artists just aren't that creative these days, he said. So, is there anything out today that inspires Fresh musically? "Nope."

He's got beats forever.

Once Fresh was done answering questions, he played a few gems straight from his iPad. The event, which had been meticulously controlled to that point, turned into an experimental stroll through his catalog. He flipped Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" into a bouncy jam, and chopped Tupac's "California Love" into what could be a Top 40 radio hit. But his spin on the theme of "It's Showtime at the Apollo" was his most intriguing mix, enveloping much of the original tune with his signature blend of 808 bass drops. He even cuts up some country from time to time. "When I'm trying to get your attention, that's where I'm at," Fresh told the crowd. "That's what I do."

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