For a few years, I wrote many cover stories for AntiGravity magazine. I believe one year I wrote eight out of 12. It always provided a thrill, seeing my story blown up on that extra-large front page. Those cover stories also introduced me to many interesting artists. In 2011, honored as hell, I met and picked the brain of Cash Money Records’ beatmaker Mannie Fresh — and later felt deeply embarrassed by the resulting cover…
AntiGravity editor Dan Fox and I met Mannie Fresh upstairs at the Maison on Frenchmen Street. The man responsible for almost all of New Orleans’s most famous rap songs wore a fresh but simple maroon Polo shirt and jeans. I forgot to check out his shoes, but I doubt they were solid gold. He looked like a guy who’d make fun of rappers with silly diamond teeth, when in fact he played a huge part in building many of those rappers’ careers.
Mannie and I got along great. He could see how much I respected him, plus I asked a lot of technical questions about gear, and about the different genres of electronic music he’d studied. “I heard when you were starting out,” I said, “you worked in Chicago on house music tracks with Steve Hurley?”
“Yes, someone at the record company mentioned to Steve Hurley that there’s this kid from Louisiana and he can program drum machines like nobody else,” Mannie was happy to tell me. “At the time, Steve Hurley was signed to Atlantic. He invited me to Chicago to try some things. And I was like, ‘What is it that you do?’ and he said, ‘House music,’ and I had no idea what the hell house music was. So he plays me some of his songs and I ain’t gonna lie: I thought it was the dumbest shit I ever heard… He said he wanted something different, so I made these house beats, but I put snare rolls in em and I raised the hi-hat up on em. Back then everybody programmed at 1/16, and I’ve always programmed at 1/32. And he was like, ‘That’s the edge that I been waiting for!’
“I have always thought your bright synthesizer sounds reminded me of house and techno,” I admitted.
“Yeah, my techno side definitely comes from house. House was really experimental back when Steve Hurley was doing that; you could use Moogs; you could use, I don’t know, organ. It would just be two chords [mimics house music keyboards] and it’d be a huge house hit. You’d use some synthesizers with arpeggiators that just went crazy and everybody loved it. So I learned that from Steve Hurley and was like, ‘I’m gonna incorporate this into rap.’ And it pretty much worked.”
Near our interview’s end, I pulled out my Zoom Streetboxx drum machine, hoping he’d autograph it. “Oh man I have this same machine!” he declared, uncapping the Sharpie I handed him. I used that drum machine, signed by Mannie Fresh, in my rap class for many years, until a thief stole it from my car.
I felt excited that I’d connected with Mannie Fresh — until the magazine came out, with his name spelled “Manny” on the cover in the biggest letters possible (see photo above). The Q&A inside remains maybe the best interview ever with Mannie Fresh, but the cover kicked it in the balls. It almost made me cry. It definitely made me laugh. I wondered when Mannie Fresh would call, mistakenly thinking I’d designed the cover…
Later that year, while walking down Frenchmen Street, I saw Mannie Fresh standing some feet from the curb, sipping a drink, smiling huge while accepting hi-fives and hugs from fans and passersby. I’d had some drinks myself and walked up to him like an old friend, “Hey Mannie Fresh! Good to see you again. You remember me?”
When he turned and saw me, his huge smile went flat. “Yeah I remember you,” he mumbled.
Cold. I just kept walking.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.