The Mind of Mannie Fresh
ike most living things, Mannie Fresh would very much like to be loved. So much so, in fact, that his mind seems thoroughly weighed down with enough retarded sexuality to fill a middle school locker room. Of course, the thing about 12 year old misogynists is that they think there’s a prayer of a chance in their stunted swagger, while the New Orleans-bred Cash Money millionaire—only $2 from a billionaire, according to his account books—seems as faithless about his fantasies as he is joyful. For a producer whose projects have sold over 23 million records, The Mind of Mannie Fresh puts him front and center for the first time, in all his glorious faults and perversities.
Mannie doesn’t waste a whole lot of time establishing his agenda right out of the gates. Over signature swinging Korg horns and dazzling percussion breaks, he proudly announces: “For the ladies, I’d like to break it down for y’all, we’re doin’ something like this,” before spilling into the tuneless wail that has characterized Fresh-helmed dirty south anthems like the Big Tymers' "Still Fly"—a funny, laid-back bravado. Alas, his pleading is in vain. On “Conversation,” the oh-so-cruel ladies make Mannie dance until he’s spinning his purportedly luxe wheels amidst hi-hat ricochet and odd-time bounce-beats, spiraling into surreal braggadocio about 54-inch pictures of himself. Oh, and the women he can get only call to ask for money, and are unceremoniously insulted by his protective and apparently sentient answering machine.
For as much of the good-timey horniness that permeates the album, Mannie’s heart gets compellingly bi-polar; the faux-r&b jam of “Not Tonight” is piloted by the greasy alter-ego of Mannie Pendergroff (choice line: “I’m lookin for a ho, not just any kinda ho… somebody with some good credit, yeah I said it, somebody I could, you know, use their name to co-sign on a house or car or something like that”), which comes only a few songs after the strikingly earnest anti-materialism of “Nothing Compares to Love,” a stellar production whose chorus of children’s vocals, hazy Doppler-synths, and steaming back-alley percussion is one of the best stretches on the record.
As a respite from the Southern smoke of Mannie’s goofy porno rants-cum-humor, Cash Money affiliate Lil’ Wayne shows up to darken the mood of “loving, hugging, holding hands, fucking, and all that shit,” wheezing seductively about things violent before he gets cut off by Mannie’s return—a hilarious foil, if for no other reason that it’s hard to figure out which one the straight man is. When the dust settles, it turns out Wayne’s malice is kink anyway, offering one of the weirdest lines of the album: “can I touch you? Or can I cut you? I got a box of band-aids in my Escalade, I ain’t playin’, come on.”
Of course, it’s not an MC record, it’s a producer’s, and it’s unlikely to be heard any differently. The Mind of Mannie Fresh might not stand as well as a collection of his sparkling beats and board work, and it's a little on the long side, but it’s pleasantly loose when compared to the commercial flood of baller anthems he’s made his name on. Like so many producer’s records, there’s an unmistakable mystique surrounding it, especially when it’s the first solo record from someone with such enduring success and influence on the last decade of hip-hop. Sure, Mannie can get a little tiresome when he brags about spraying your wife’s face with semen, but in general, his humor survives because it’s unusually self-aware and well-tempered, careless enough to be hilarious, and self-deprecating enough to be—just sometimes—tender.