Before his Tampa DJ set, Mannie Fresh talks vaccinations, Lil Wayne and potential Verzuz re-do

He plays The Ritz Ybor on Monday.

click to enlarge Mannie Fresh, who plays The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on Aug. 23, 2021. - BLK Dating/YouTube
BLK Dating/YouTube
Mannie Fresh, who plays The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on Aug. 23, 2021.


If you’ve been on the BLK dating app, then you might’ve seen a video for “Vax That Thang Up,”

And the clip might’ve led you to believe that Mannie Fresh—who produced the late-’90s Southern hip-hop megahit ““Back That Azz Up”—remade the song as a vaccination PSA, which is great considering the vaccination misinformation being dished out by other rap luminaries like Pete Rock.

But you’d only be half correct.

Mischief Monday: Mannie Fresh w/DJ Ku/Buckwheat
Monday, Aug. 23, 10 p.m. $15.
The Ritz, Ybor City
sunsettampa.com

“It was more of a commercial,” Fresh told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. The 52-year-old is playing a DJ set at The Ritz in Ybor City on Monday, and while licensing his music for commercials and such makes sense for the Big Tymer, Fresh is also 100% behind getting the shot.

“That’s part of how I make money, but I thought it was a great decision for me because it's something that I believe in,” Fresh added. “We're not pushing people or telling you to take the shot—if you don't want to do it, you're an adult, you don't have to do it—but I still have the right to voice that it's something I believe in.”

Fans shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Fresh is a vaxx stan either. From the onset of the pandemic, he flew the “Virus Killaz” banner with the focus on getting people talking about getting better and killing the virus as quickly as possible.

He’s “wholeheartedly vaccinated,” and would 100% get the booster shot if it becomes available to him, and on Monday he’s taking every precaution to have a safe show at The Ritz, a venue forced to operate in Florida where the governor has made it near impossible for private businesses to impose vaccine mandates on their customers.

“If you work in certain fields and you do certain things, you gotta get vaccinated. I'm not throwing that back in nobody's face, but there's so many conspiracy theories that are so crazy,” Fresh said. “The miscommunication is so nuts. Like I said, I'm not pushing that on nobody. If that's not what you want to do, don't do it, but by all means at least know what you're talking about—know your facts.”

But while he’s down to vax that thang up, there is one thing Fresh won’t do—that’s go back to Verzuz, where he faced off against, and embarrassed Scott Storch in April 2020.

“I'm too competitive, everybody's skin is soft. Put it like this: Scott and I are good friends, but if we're battling, I came to battle—we can talk after,” Fresh said. “We can't do this if somebody else decides that they want to turn this into something else. The rules are already written—this is a battle, so I came to compete. After we're done, I'll still have great respect for you, you're gonna have respect for me, but right now, this is competition.”

Read our full Q&A with fresh—where he also update us on Lil Wayne—below.

How you doing Mannie? What are you up to right now? I have a romantic version of you being in the studio and stuff like that, but you're also kind of a man of the people, and I see you getting into local politics and stuff like that.

Every now and then, bro, I like to give a little opinion. If it's something I believe in, then I'm with. It's not always good to be quiet. Sometimes you’ve got to use your voice—I would encourage everybody to do that. I know we're living in sensitive times and people are crazy with other folks having opinions, but we can't let that go, that's a big freedom.

So you and Juvenile are in that new “Vax That Thang Up” spot, and it’s notable in the context of some of the misinformation coming from guys like Pete Rock. One of the greatest rap songs ever is now kind of like a vaccination PSA—can you talk about how the new version happened with that dating app?

Honestly, most people didn't even know what it really was. It wasn't giving information on how to get vaccinated, it was actually for a dating service. It wasn't a remake, it was more of a commercial. It was me licensing my song out. I think that's what I'm supposed to do right now, at my age and at this point where I'm at my career—I license my music out, that's how I make money. That's how I do it, and on top of that, I thought it was a great decision for me because it's something that I believe in. The biggest thing was, we're not pushing people or telling you to take the shot—if you don't want to do it, you're an adult, you don't have to do it—but I still have the right to voice that it's something I believe in.

Well I mean if you want to smash with Scott, you got to get the shot.

I mean, it's crazy right now how the whole world, if you work in certain fields and you do certain things, you gotta get vaccinated. I'm not throwing that back in nobody's face, but there's so many conspiracy theories that are so crazy. The miscommunication is so nuts. Like I said, I'm not pushing that on nobody. If that's not what you want to do, don't do it, but by all means at least know what you're talking about—know your facts,

But on one hand, you've always kind of advocated for public health in your music. On “Real Big” you advocated for people wearing condoms with that lyric, “Clap off lights when you’re getting affection/Clap on lights when you’re finding protection.”

You know, before this vaccination thing, what we were doing online, we were the Virus Killaz, that was my online thing. When when it first hit, when I was on my platforms on Instagram—whatever platform I was going on—it was Virus Killaz. We were already talking about people getting better, and about, killing this whole virus. I'm like I have to go back to the Virus Killaz.

New Orleans closed its bars in this latest surge—and today we’re learning that bars will require vaxx cards to come in—so I have two questions, and forgive me if I'm intruding, please tell me if I am, first, are you vaccinated?

Yeah, wholeheartedly.

Would you get the booster?

Yeah! It's not my first time getting a shot. That's what I mean—take this into consideration: Let me ask you some questions, and I hope the general public will get what I'm doing and what I'm saying. Do you smoke cigarettes?

Sometimes.

OK. It's kind of like the same thing, you don't know everything that's in the cigarettes, you know what I'm saying? So if somebody says, “OK I don't want to get vaccinated because I don't know what's in it.” I'm like “OK, you drink, right? You don't know all the ingredients in there, you don't know all the ingredients in liquor.” You don't know what's in a cigarette—but at least there's a science behind the vaccination. So if somebody says, "I'm not doing it because I don't know what's in it," I'm like, "You just took seven things today that you didn't know what the fuck was in it."

I mean I get a flu shot every year, so it's not the first time I’m getting a shot. And who knows what's gonna happen down the line with this. Like I said, I'm not pushing it on somebody, but I just would like people to think further; don't listen to what somebody else says—go find out information for yourself.

Earlier you mentioned being in that stage of your career where you’re supposed to be licensing your music, but you’re also in a stage where you’re out there playing gigs. You played LETS get FR.EE festival recently, and that looked like a really good time.

Yeah.

So I understand you gotta play shows, but you’re coming down to Florida—and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Florida’s had a much looser approach to coronavirus than Louisiana—are you concerned at all about coming down here to play a show?

Yeah, I know, but I'm gonna take precautions that I need to take. Sometimes our job descriptions require you to do things. Think about it.  I'm a DJ. I'm not gonna throw myself at people and take risks, but I'm gonna do everything that I can do to stay safe. My job is still to be a DJ. I chose this line of work, so I can't be a scared-ass DJ.

Yeah, the resident, DJ Ku, who hosts “Mischief Monday,” the party you’re playing in Tampa was a proponent of shutting down at the beginning of the pandemic—a really unpopular thing at the time because folks have to make money, you know—but he rocks maks, gets tested every week. Ku is also is big on opening DJs not ruining the vibe for the headliner, so I’m wondering what’s the idea night for you? What kind of rooms do like to play, and what mood do you want the room to be in? Do you know what you might play in Ybor City when you get here?

Honestly, I don't know I'm not a playlist DJ. I wait until I get in front of the people.

I really never know what I'm gonna play until I get the vibe of what the room is like. Now, I can honestly say I kind of like the smaller hole-in-the-wall type places because they make you work for it. It's easy when there's this crowd that really knows the hits—you just play the hits, but sometimes you can't do that.

Sometimes—like what you just said—[DJ Ku], big ups to him, first of all, for knowing that that is a concern a lot of times for the headliner DJ. There's places where I've been, where DJs have played my records right before I go on, and I'm just like, "Why would you play my records?" I still have to go around it, and there's a million records in the world, so I can still figure out something to play that's different. But I really don't know until I show up and get the vibe of the room. It's more of a feeling to me than picking the hit records, and I kind of don't do the hit records—I do, what to me is feel good music, feel good songs.

What about your production? A lot of folks know you as a producer. For a lot of records you were the sole producer. Do you sneak in or test tracks out when you're DJing, without telling people?

I won't do it live, I won't do it at a gig. That kind of kills the vibe. If I'm DJing for you for two hours, I'm supposed to take you away from life for two hours. So for two hours you are supposed to be able to say, "You know what, I'm not thinking about my problems, I'm not thinking about nothing. For two hours this man took me away from the realities of life." That's my description of what a DJ is supposed to do. So I probably wouldn’t  try out a new song because for however long you're with me, I want you to escape from life and go into another world—Mannie Fresh world.

Going back to “Vax That Thang Up’, Wayne was on the original “Back That Azz Up,” and he has some ties to Tampa thanks to skateboarding—without having to talk too much for someone else, how is he?

Man, Wayne is good. We talk all the time. Wayne is good. I think Wayne is just one of those kids who didn't have a childhood. There are a lot of things that he really didn't get to experience—there's ups and downs, but some people don't look at it like that. Wayne's been making records and things since he was like 14 or 15 years old—that's the only job and profession he's ever had. He's just a kid at heart on a lot of things, but the world doesn't look at it like that—they want what they can get out. Overall, when we talk, he's good.

Good to hear. You can see that childlike joy in his face when he’s at the skate competitions down here.

I wanted to ask you about Verzuz. I know you kind of felt bad for Scott Storch pretty much getting set up in that Versuz last year—and I can blame that on Swizz Beatz—but have you signed on for a new battle? I mean I’m not sure who would be a fair matchup for you and Cash Money because that was such a singular time when you and the team were changing the Southern sound…

No. I wouldn't do it again. I'm too competitive, everybody's skin is soft. What I came from... put it like this: Scott and I are good friends, but if we're battling, I came to battle—we can talk after. We can't do this if somebody else decides that they want to turn this into something else. The rules are already written—this is a battle, so I came to compete. After we're done, I'll still have great respect for you, you're gonna have respect for me, but right now, this is competition.

I know that Cash Money was busy doing its thing and cultivating a certain sound at that time but do you have any recollections of the sound that was coming out of Tampa Bay at the time? Jook music in particular, anything like that?

No, I mean Tampa is connected to Miami in some ways, there's that Florida sound, Miami bass. In my early career, my songs had Miami bass. Early-'80s Mannie Fresh was based on Miami bass—that Florida sound , I know they say, "Miami," but I would call it Florida bass.

Jam Pony Express, did you listen to stuff like that?

Yeah! Even all the freestyle stuff, Debbie Deb and all those kinds of songs were big and coming out of Tampa.

What about Digital Underground and Shock G, G-Funk, did y'all realize he was from Tampa at the time or was he more West Coast in your mind?

We always thought he was from the West Coast.

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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