Mannie Fresh brings Cash Money hits to Célébrez en Rosé in Columbia, Maryland

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Mannie Fresh at Célébrez en Rosé (Part 1)

After spitting fire for the past two years at National Harbor near D.C., the Célébrez en Rosé music festival is now changing locations to Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods in Columbia, Maryland, this weekend.

This year’s lineup includes Mannie Fresh, Ginuwine and Jacquees for a pink-themed party at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

“Anything could happen with me,” Fresh told WTOP. “With my energy, sometimes I go from a DJ to performing some of my songs, then back to a DJ. The good thing is that I wear a whole bunch of hats, so expect a whole lot.”

That’s right: DJ Fresh will be spinning records like he does with his voice, pronouncing his name like a turn-table scratch: “Fre-e-e-fresh.”

“That was just a play off what Eminem did doing scratches with his mouth,” Fresh said.

Born in New Orleans in 1969, Fresh made hip-hop history by meeting Baby (a.k.a. Birdman) to form the rap duo Big Tymers, who eventually joined forces with the Hot Boys (Juvenile, Lil Wayne, B.G. and Turk) to form the rap supergroup Cash Money Millionaires. They had their own record label Cash Money Records, founded in 1991.

“I met them DJing throughout the city,” Fresh said. “New Orleans was forbidden land, uptown doesn’t get down with downtown and vice versa, but I was a DJ that everybody loved, just by going in their territory, DJing every week and knocking down walls to say, ‘This is silly right now. Let’s all come together.’ They were starting a record company, so me being a DJ transforming into a producer, I was like, ‘Give me a shot and watch what happens.'”

In 1997, Fresh and Birdman released their first Big Tymers album called “How You Luv That” (1997).

“We took the concept a little bit different,” Fresh said. “We wanted to sell something that nobody had done. Our whole persona was to be bigger, better, faster, stronger, Daft Punk, ya heard me? He was the perfect person because he always did talk that kind of talk. That was our lane. We was like, ‘OK, you got storytellers, but you ain’t have nobody who says, ‘Instead of a Cadillac, how about a space shuttle?’ We were thinking on that level.”

In addition to Big Tymers projects, Fresh also produced Juvenile’s album “400 Degreez” (1998), ranking on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums. Its first single “Ha” delivered the chorus, “You a paper chaser, you got your block on fire, remaining a G, until the moment you expire, you know what it is, to make nothing outta something, you handle your biz and don’t be crying and suffering.” Every line of the verses ended with the word “Ha.”

“The way ‘Ha’ happened is we were at a restaurant in Nashville and [Juvenile] was saying that jokingly: ‘You something something something, ha, you da da da da da, ha,’ and I was like, ‘Dude, we need to go do that song,'” Fresh said. “I was beating on the table and when we got back to the studio we recorded it and the rest is history.”

The album’s biggest hit was “Back That Azz Up,” which hit the radio as “Back That Thang Up,” reaching No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remaining Juvenile’s biggest hit until his chart-topping “Slow Motion” in 2004.

“Juve used to do that song … it was big at block parties,” Fresh said. “I was like ‘It would be kinda cool if you did ‘Back That Azz Up,’ but we took a different take on it. What if we put classical music to it, add some 808 drums and had this intro where you could set up before you get to the dance floor?’ A cool song to me always had an intro that gave you time to hurry up, finish your drink and get to the dance floor when the beat dropped.”

While Fresh produced more Juvenile albums like “Tha G-Code” (1999) with hits like “U Understand” and “I Got That Fire,” he also produced the stable’s other solo albums, including B.G.’s “Chopper City in the Ghetto” (1999) with the catchy “Bling Bling” and Lil Wayne’s “Tha Block is Hot” (1999) with the ghetto lament “F*ck the World.”

“B.G. changed the whole structure of what Cash Money was,” Fresh said. “The first generation of Cash Money was a New Orleans bounce-twerk label. Then B.G. came along and changed my production style, just how incredible he was with his rhymes …  Wayne on the other hand, I feel like my music with him is like Bible First Testament, then he gets to something else later on, but to see him grow up and evolve into what he is now, that’s just crazy.”

In 2000, the Cash Money group starred in the movie “Baller Blockin'” with a soundtrack of “Rover Truck” (“Let me get the keys to that rover truck!”) and “Baller Blockin'” (“Why you blockin’ us, baller blockin’ us?”).

“‘Baller Blockin’ was the craziest thing,” Fresh said. “There was no script, we were just shooting. For it to turn into something like, ‘Wait, are you for real? It’s platinum? This movie is actually a million sold?’ In that time, your stuff had to be in the theater! Your VHS tape goes platinum on just some kids like, ‘We’re making up a story as we go.’ It really had no storyline to tell the truth, but the world was so in love with what we were doing as entrepreneurs.”

In 2000, the Big Tymers dropped their massive second album “I Got That Work,” featuring the hit single “Get Your Roll On” with staccato lyrics spit in brief spurts of one-syllable words (“Ro-lex, mo-sex”).

“That was me, I always thought simplicity will always sell,” Fresh said. “When we did videos we stuck to Chrysler 300s, then we might give you a Lambo, but we always gave you something that was regular as well, something that just anybody could get. We tried to not just oversell it. We wanted to be like, ‘We got the Lambos, but we also got the cars that the average working man could get and just fix them up a little, something everybody could have.”

That same album also dropped the smash hit “#1 Stunna” (“what a what what”), featuring a chorus of pop-culture action-hero references from Evil Knievel to “James Bond, Jackie Chan and that b*tch MacGyver.”

“That was our heroes growing up, you know what I’m saying?” Fresh said. “We thought that they did the most incredible stunts in the world! You had to actually live in the ’80s to now what Evil Knievel is! Now, the disconnect with culture, they don’t really have no heroes, they don’t look at nobody like action figures as somebody who was almost bigger than life to you … everybody who we named, they was like in their own right a star.”

After producing Juvenile’s “Project English” (2001) with the hit “Mamma Got A** (She Get It From Her Mamma),” Fresh and Birdman delivered their third Big Tymers album “Hood Rich” (2002). It featured the catchy tune “Still Fly” about spending on flashy things no matter your bank account: “Gator boots with the pimped out Gucci suits, ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp. Can’t pay my rent ’cause all my money’s spent, but that’s OK ’cause I’m still fly.”

“When I wrote that, nobody liked that song, they thought I was going too left with it,” Fresh said. “I was like, ‘This is how the world lives. That lyric, the hook of that song is everybody. Everybody can relate to that.’ When I was writing that, I was thinking this is a song that everybody can relate to. It didn’t just go to the hood or whatever, because you got wealthy ladies riding around with a quarter-tank of gas right now in their new E-Class [Benz].”

Fresh next went solo for the albums “The Mind of Mannie Fresh” (2004) and “Return of the Ballin’” (2009).

“It was actually cool,” Fresh said. “‘The Mind of Mannie Fresh’ is a cult album to a lot of people, they just loved the craziness of what I did. So many people tell me, ‘Dude, this is my favorite album.’ It’s gold status, something that usually a producer, they don’t work out too well [solo] … I did a whole bunch of songs because I’m the producer. Nobody was going, ‘Hey, narrow it down to nine,’ so I just went crazy. When I feel it again, I’ll do it again.”

Indeed, rap fans from the city and the suburbs ate up the solo offshoots of famous rap factions, from Cash Money Millionaires to Bone Thugz-N-Harmony, from N.W.A. to The Wu-Tang Clan., from Death Row to Bad Boy. Among such giant groups of hip-hop history, Fresh maintains that Cash Money is criminally underrated.

“Cash Money’s sound changed the way hip-hop is,” Fresh said. “Right now, trap music is really Cash Money’s sound, it’s that era. I don’t think we get enough recognition for changing the world … look at the tree branches that came from it — Juvenile, Mannie Fresh, Lil Wayne, people that’s still active. … Numbers don’t lie. When you do the math on how many records Cash Money sold as a self-contained label, nobody’s done that.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Mannie Fresh at Célébrez en Rosé (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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