Mannie Fresh has a very interesting mind. The word “interesting” does not always mean something good, but here it does. This shit is bananas.
He is a producer and rapper, but has always been more famous as the former. Cash Money’s empire was built, at least partially, on his big old back, with his big glitzy grimy beats on a whole bunch of songs that you already know if you know this stuff. Although his duo, Big Tymers, has not yet broken out on its own, Mannie has been stepping out on his own a lot more these days, his round jovial figure gracing videos even when he doesn’t say a word on the track. I guess he figured it was time to do a solo record, and I guess he figured he would just let his freak flag fly.
This album fills me with great joy because it is free. Mannie Fresh is untethered here, free of logic and care, just doing any damn thing that leaps to his mind. Want a cute dance song where he does the wop and the prep with a cute girl? Punch it in. Want a gangsta tune about sleeping with a basketball player’s girlfriend? Cue it up. Want a slow jam love song to big cars, all done to an Al B. Sure sample? Yup.
It’s a comedy album over all. The skits are funny (Petey Pablo popping up to narrate “Great Moments in Ghetto History”), the songs are funny (“Not Tonight” is a filthy-ass soul song by “Mannie Pendergroff” featuring lines like “I just wanna fuck you baby”), the ambience of the whole thing is funny. There are a couple of running gags here that will make you fall down laughing, because hearing robotic answering-machine voices swear is ALWAYS funny (“Damn Mannie what did you do to this bitch” OMG), and because the idea of Lil Wayne trying to sneak dirty stuff onto Mannie’s album is a hoot.
Sure, it also functions as a music album. The tracks are smooth, whether they are shiny and pimped-out like “Real Big” or disco-ey like “Pussy Power”, and some of the rapping is improbably solid. There is really no denying the elemental power of a southern bounce groove, so there’s no point in doing anything but celebrating a record where that bounce is wed to some weird vocal stuff, or where it veers weirdly into the universe.
In fact, a lot of this stuff would sound a lot weirder that it does, had not many other producers decided to get rich with the Mannie Fresh formula, so it is never truly avant-garde in a showy way; Mannie knows his people, and his people don’t want any kind of Rick Wakeman / Merzbow shit. But there are self-deprecating duets with women who are not impressed by the Mannie mystique (just like De La), even though he does the prep and the wop for them; vocal gasps and pings are perfectly logical percussion instruments; gangsta songs are set to dance beats; doo-wop and soul are just as huge in the sound as any other kind of music. It’s not radical or anything - but is this album, within the confines of modern hip-hop terminology, a damned sight weirder than it needs to be? UH, YEAH. Is this a good thing? UH, YEAH.
Don’t play The Mind of Mannie Fresh around the kids or the grandparents, because it is kinda hardcore with the sex talk in some places. I’m not sure there’s anything here that is truly mean-spirited or evil. Mannie is an equal opportunity offender; he says his music is for “dykes, fags, straight motherfuckers”, which is almost Rainbow Coalition-type inclusionary these days. And although he portrays women as desperate money-grubbers, Mannie also portrays men as uptight tightwads who care more about themselves than about anyone else. (Hence the skit about the couple at the Alligator-Ass Bar-B-Que, where the man warns his date that she’s ordering from “the fuck side of the menu.”)The ongoing trope of him wanting to make a romantic “hugging and kissing” album is pretty funny, and the nasty sex talk undercuts it nicely, but your tolerance for stuff like this might be a lot less than mine.
I would compare this, in terms of sheer musical control, to hip-hop albums like De La Soul Is Dead and The College Dropout>, although it is certainly nowhere near as good as the former. But it’s a lot more fun than the latter, and probably has a better attitude towards women than any Kanye West song of which I can think. Also, it is less pretentiously unpretentious than Kanye; unlike that guy, Mannie Fresh doesn’t feel the need to put himself out there like he’s the king of the damned world. I mean, he says he is (“Real Big” features the classic self-deprecatory lines, “I’m rich, bitch / I’m a real Big Tymer”), and he probably means it but you don’t really get the sense that he is all messianic like our guy Kanye. Mannie’s okay with just being a producer who can rap, and has some funny things to say and some funked-up crazy tracks to set those raps to.
I love this record more than I love a lot of albums that I’ve given higher grades. You need sadness and slowness and downerness? Look around you, there are millions of artists out there that can do that. I’m tired of all that stuff, I just want to hear some jokes and be able to sing along with some messed-up songs. For me, Mannie has delivered hugely.