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.

Demystifying the mutation of music genres [Mississippi delta blues + folk + rock ‘n roll]

johnhurtBlues singer Mississippi John Hurt never got the credit he deserved. I mean, what African-American musician born in the late 1800’s did? He came into this world in 1893 – barely free, broke, and somehow discovered his own unique style that easily turned him into a musical treasure. 

Hurt worked as a sharecropper, singing the riveting tunes of the Mississippi delta blues with his fingerpickin’ guitar. He was a self-taught musician. Channeling his God-given talent during an ugly time in history. Humming the tunes of spirituals that kept an entire race optimistic and hopeful. Hopeful that their lively and intricately woven lyrics about better days would someday come true.

The Mississippi Delta, widely recognized as the birthplace of the blues, is located between the Mississippi River and the Yazoo River. The distinctive region extends all the way up to another music landmark – Memphis, Tennessee.

Hurt came from the era where the state you were born in became part of your stage name. This was a trend in the early 1900’s. Examples of other delta blues artists are: Mississippi Joe Callicott, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mississippi Slim. All these artists would go on to influence commercially successful blues singers like BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. You know, the ones who managed to market their brands in the North aka the land of opportunities.

Here’s how the Delta influenced several generations and movements to follow. Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger was a white man capable of captivating black audiences with charisma and relevancy during a segregated society. Remnants of slavery lingered in Jim Crow’s south. It lingered in the politics, cultural norms and music.

What Pete Seeger was able to do was parallel his music career with social activism – creating protest music that excited people from all backgrounds (and angered others). The Harvard college dropout took a liking to John Hurt’s authentic folksy & bluesy music. Hurt would perform poetic songs about the lonesome valley on Pete’s television show “Rainbow Quest.”

Pete gave Mississippi John Hurt a platform to speak his truths. If it wasn’t for the almost-forgottens like Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger would not have been as successful with his folk music revival movement. You can argue with me on this, but I stand behind it. Generations of influential musicians spiraled out of the Mississippi delta sound.

Artists like Mississippi John Hurt influenced Pete Seeger – who you can’t mention without also acknowledging Woody Guthrie’s career. Seeger went on to influence the lyrical genius Bob Dylan who influenced John Lennon (once he pursued a solo career). Lennon would go on to influence many modern day contemporary rock ‘n roll singers. Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones were both influenced by the delta blues. So were all the British Invasion bands who mimicked the soulful and fiery harmonic delivery of blues singers – a hallmark style distinguishable and hard to execute without the life experiences to bring the lyrics to life.

Blues music originated as a temporary escape to make the best out of harsh situations. You can imagine what I mean by harsh. The testimonies inked in legendary blues songs paved the way for artists who demanded social change – Bob Dylan, John Lennon, etc. African-American folk culture, birthed by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, deserves its credit. Not just in small-town museums in the Mississippi delta, but everywhere. It’s timeless music. The kind of music probably playing somewhere in heaven right now. Rest in peace to all the delta blues legends.