What Mannie Fresh’s career teaches about ‘Homeboy Business’

cashmoneyFact: Mannie Fresh is one of the best hip-hop producers of all time. He may be too humble to claim that, so I’ll say it.

That distinct New Orleans signature sound that got the world’s attention would not have been the same without him. As a producer, the sonic architect gave us epic and memorable tracks like “The Block Is Hot”, “Go DJ”, “Number One Stunna”, “Back That Thang Up”, “Set It Off”, “Get Your Roll On” and many more. As a hitmaker, not only did he reinvent southern hip-hop, but he helped create the rise of (what appeared to be) an unstoppable dynasty.

The block was hot in the mid 90’s thanks to his Cash Money crew – Juvenile, Baby, Turk, B.G and this young teen who would become a G.O.A.T. It’s hard to believe Lil’ Wayne was just 16 years old when he graced the hook on “Bling Bling.” The song would foreshadow what was ahead – a lifestyle the group craved. The type of success that can take you from Holly Grove to Hollywood.

Before I go any further, let me just say New Orleans as a music scene was popping for several other reasons. Master P was making a name for himself after his success with ‘bout it, bout it’ as he crafted his own label with a down south gritty sound.

But now let’s go back to that “fly as a son of a gun, son of a stunna…”

With the success of Wayne and Cash Money, we got to see the undeniable creativity of Fresh. Because of him, New Orleans had its own identity as a Southern hip-hop scene. A city that in the 90’s competed for notoriety against the future mecca of hip-hop: Atlanta. The Southern region was demanding respect. And Mannie Fresh helped the region gain that. Same way Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family brought the spotlight to the A.

Mannie Fresh often times said the mid 90’s was a defining moment for the music business industry. Artists got to see how much money they could make as entrepreneurs and businessmen. They only got in it to get out of the projects. They learned that putting ‘the pain’ of their life experiences in the music could help connect them with people all over the country.

But one thing Mannie Fresh regrets is doing “homeboy business.” This is when artists and producers (who work alongside lifelong friends) don’t properly document business deals, songwriter and producer credits, royalties, publishing rights, etc. As soon as the friendship goes south, millions of dollars are on the line.

In his latest album, Rick Ross touched on this topic in the song “Idols Become Rivals.” In the track, Rozay said Birdman’s allegedly questionable business practices ripped apart the Cash Money dynasty. As a hip-hop fan watching it all unfold from the sidelines, Ross says he prays Mannie Fresh will bounce back from the legal issues with Cash Money once he left the label.

The entire industry realizes Mannie Fresh is one of the greatest. But he had nothing to compare his come-up to. He had to learn from his own mistakes on how to make the right kind of business moves. When you treat the beginning of your rap career like a hobby, there are opportunities you can miss out on that can be critical down the road. Like not having the rights to your instrumentals, lyrics or brand.

Learn from Mannie Fresh. Yes, trust your circle but make the right moves for  the longevity. So when you get hit with that “It’s not personal, it’s business”, you know the business is taken care of. Twenty years after making “Back That Thang Up”, the song continues to bring in revenue and get radio play. Something they might not have thought of as young moguls in the making.

I’ve listened to several interviews recently where Fresh tells aspiring artists to avoid “homeboy business.” Do it the right way. Loyalty is royalty. But at some point in your career, you’ll have to be able to separate loyalty from royalty.

As a hip-hop fan, I look forward to the day when a Cash Money reunion tour will be a reality.  Puff’s Bad Boy has been able to do that. And Cash Money was the Bad Boy of the South so here’s to hoping that will happen someday.

What rap legends have in common with Nina Simone

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Maybe this is why Nina Simone is one of the most sampled musicians in hip-hop music. Her art resonates with the underdog story. In addition to her remarkable talent, she remained unapologetically true to her authenticity. But being (and remaining) true came with a price.

The price Nina faced is waiting until time ran out to get wholeheartedly recognized for her cultural influence, daring take on social issues and incredible vision as an artist. What do I mean by this? Let me just make one quick example. The queen just got inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll hall of fame last year when she was qualified to be inducted in 1986.

How does that happen? I call that long overlooked. Just like what so many hip-hop legends experience during their lifetime. Not feeling widespread love ‘til it’s too late (unless you’re one of the lucky ones).

The reason why I’m making the comparison between Nina and rap legends can be best explained by Kanye West’s lyrics from his song ‘Big Brother.’

‘If you admire somebody, you should go ahead and tell them. People never get the flowers while they can still smell them.”

I wonder if the late New York rapper Craig Mack got a chance to smell the flowers. I spent the whole day reading beautiful tributes about Mack who helped lay the foundation for Puff’s dynastic label Bad Boy Records. He died at the age of 46.  

Although Craig Mack voluntarily walked away from the rap game, I wonder if being reminded of just how much love millions of hip-hop fans still have for him would convince him to bless the mic once again. Yes, he didn’t reach the success Biggie Smalls experienced as a labelmate, but he was a pioneer like BIG even if he didn’t make it as big as he could have.

Craig Mack joins so many others who probably didn’t get the praise they deserved for their creative contributions to hip-hop and so many other rappers who left us too soon.

Hip-hop artists often talk about the struggles of coming up as an underdog and not feeling the love throughout their career. Sometimes the love is felt when they’re no longer there to see the standing ovations. Sometimes the awards and mainstream recognition comes after they’re gone. Just like Nina Simone.

It’s heartwarming to see all the artists coming forward to say they were influenced by Craig Mack, how he gave them a solid foundation for success and how much he meant to them. If only he heard at least 5% of that just a few days earlier.

Here’s to the samples not created yet that may keep that legacy going for future generations to appreciate. Just like our queen.

Story by: Neima Abdulahi, instagram: @NeimerDreamer