Editor's Note: The following guest editorial was written in response to the exclusion of Mannie Fresh on our recent list of "The 8 Greatest Hip-Hop Producers of All Time."
Mannie Fresh is one of the greatest producers of all time. However, for some reason, be it willful ignorance or just plain dismissiveness, there is a wide section of the hip-hop community at large who do not believe the first sentence of this article to be true.
I am not one of those people.
The criteria for being considered great in hip-hop is relative to whoever you are talking to about it. Especially for producers. Is it longevity? Is it sales? Is it whether or not the producer in question is responsible for crafting a “classic” album? Is it innovation in sound? Is it all those things? Whatever your standard of consideration for greatness is, Mannie Fresh probably checks all those boxes—and maybe more.
Relevance is often used as a tool in rap arguments to substantiate the stance taken by those who disagree with you. I’ll utilize it here to address the question of longevity. Since Mannie’s entry into the mainstream rap canon more than two decades ago, his relevance has not wavered. In the post-Hot Boys loosening of the Cash Money grip on rap music, Mannie’s soundscapes were still covetable to up-and-coming artists of the time like Young Jeezy, who employed Fresh to make himself accessible to a wider audience while still maintaining the street edge that earned him his gigantic buzz. Even in today’s rap music landscape, Mannie Fresh production is still in vogue.
Now let’s address sales. We’ll break it down by the numbers. From 1998 to 2003, Cash Money Recordsreleased at least 23 albums that were entirely produced by one person… Mannie Fresh. Out of those 23 albums, seven of them sold Platinum or better and another seven reached Gold certification. Nine albums earned top 10 positions on the Billboard 200 chart, with the fourth studio effort from his Big Tymers group, Hood Rich, debuting at number one. By any metric, those are first ballot hall of fame statistics. That kind of volume at that level of success is unprecedented. Especially, when you consider that a lion’s share of this music was made sample-free! In essence, Mannie Fresh is the foundation upon which the once-dominant Cash Money Records empire was built.
Moving along, let’s answer the question of whether or not Mannie Fresh has produced a classic album. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Depending on your aural preference one could argue that he’s produced multiple classics. However, for the sake of this article, we will focus on one particular album: Juvenile’s 400 Degreez. Starting with the obvious, this album houses what is one of the most instantly recognizable songs of the last 20 years, “Back That Azz Up.” This song is the rare occurrence in which a record bridges generational gaps. Chances are that your elderly grandparents and your teenage cousin all know what time it is when they hear that song. I’ve been DJing parties for over 20 years, during which time I’ve played every type of event imaginable (corporate parties for major brands, weddings, small indie concerts, sketchy nightclubs, large festivals all over the world). One thing that has remained constant throughout my career of party rocking is the immediate and visceral reaction to those lush, synthesized strings and the rallying that “Cash Money is taking over for the 9-9 and 2000.”
There are some producers who spend their entire careers chasing after a song that has that kind of impact. Mannie did it 20 years ago! In 2011, Cash Money Records signee Drake sampled “Back That Azz Up” for album standout “Practice.” And in 2017, even Mannie Fresh himself interpolated the song on Big K.R.I.T.'s “1999.”
Outside of “Back That Azz Up,” the rest of 400 Degreez is what I consider to be Mannie’s production magnum opus. To this day, the album's lead single, “Ha,” sounds unlike anything before it or since its release. The frenetic, un-quantized drum patterns sound like an old drunken blues drummer busking in the French Quarter on a set that has old beer cans for drum heads. It’s distinct, unique, and fantastic. One could also argue that the current trend of the full-on beat switch mid-song found in the music of Kendrick Lamar and Rapsody could be linked back to what happens during the chorus on “Ha.” Mannie was always ahead of the curve. Throughout the rest of this masterpiece, Fresh generously incorporates the stuttering and rolling 808s and triple-time hi-hats that recording artist Amore King eloquently pointed out is prevalently found throughout the DNA of today’s current urban music.
What producer could take a record they produced in 1995 and use the exact beat with little to no changes made six years later for a totally different artist and have it chart in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100? Mannie Fresh did that. What producer who almost exclusively lived in the rap music space can say that they are responsible for over 10 million records sold? Mannie Fresh can. What producer can boast that they have a record with Teena Marie in their discography? You wanna take a wild guess? It’s Mannie Fresh.
In the mid to late '90s and early aughts, when rap music became the unstoppable juggernaut that it has remained for the past 20 years, every powerhouse label had teams of producers churning out music. Bad Boy had The Hitmen, No Limit had Beats By The Pound, Dr. Dre had Scott Storch, Mel-Man, Daz and Mike Elizondo, Ruff Ryders had Dame Grease and Swizz Beatz, Roc-A-Fella had Kanye, Just Blaze, Bink!, Trackmasters and more. Cash Money had one guy who stood toe to toe and record for record with all of those other great producers. That one guy was Mannie Fresh.
I’m just here to say, cut it out with the disrespect and give Mannie Fresh his flowers.
Bonus: A 45-song Spotify playlist of music produced by Mannie Fresh.