RI Exclusive: MANN Interview with RAP IRELAND

Interviewing is a strange game. It’s rare that you come across an artist who will truly open up and be a genuinely interesting person to engage with, an independent thinker who won’t just toe the party line. Mann is one of those. I will admit, from first appearances, it came as a surprise. Speaking with a wisdom beyond his years, Mann gave an insight into the music business that many industry veterens don’t give, or won’t give. Fresh from a “paid vacation” in Dubai, where the 20 year old rapper was refused access to his own concert (Over 21s.. Sorry), Mann sat down with me in Dublin, accompanied by the son of the legendary Jam Master Jay, to talk about how the music industry had changed and how labels are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Words: Kev Storrs Photos: Philip Bourke

RAP IRELAND: It’s rare to see a West-Coast artist in the mainstream who still has that authentic West-Coast feel… Is it a sign that the once great West Coast Hip-Hop scene is making a return to the top table?

MANN: Yeah, honestly I think right now is the perfect time to come in, because focus has been away from the West Coast for a long time. Us new artists coming up, we have different ideas and different ways of going about things. There’s a new resurgence of West Coast artists coming out and that’s important, because it’s been a long time that the West Coast has had no voice. The kids who grew up under all these other West Coast artists are now becoming dope, now have something to say.

RAP IRELAND: Are people in L.A still supporting the West Coast artists?

MANN: Oh, yeah yeah, they’re really giving a lot of love, like everywhere I’m going, even other states all across America, they’re all talking about the West Coast, about the new artists coming up. Like Dr Dre has a new artist Kendrick Lemar, Odd Future.. These are all the kids that grew up under the West and are now coming up with different styles.

RAP IRELAND: From speaking to other West Coast artists, they have spoken about a prejudice against West Coast music. Have you found that? 

MANN: Yeah, Yeah, Totally. I was one of the first young artists on the West Coast to get signed to a label when I had the “Jerkin” song. They did not want anything to do with California; every label wanted me to stay away from reppin’ L.A. It wasn’t until “Buzzin” that I was able to start reppin’ L.A, and I did “Buzzin” outside of the label. And you know what’s funny; All they wanted me to do was stay away from reppin’ L.A, and now that’s one of the reasons that I’m winning.

RAP IRELAND: Will you hold onto the West Coast sound and avoid going Dance/Electro like many rappers are doing? We’re going to hold you to this answer!

MANN: I’m from L.A. I’m from West L.A and I’m gonna rep my city. I’m gonna keep being “Mann” from West L.A. I think that’s what got me on this level and that’s what I’m going to represent. I represent living every day like it’s your birthday. I represent nothing but positivity, because I feel that’s what’s going to be given back.

RAP IRELAND: You were signed to your label at 16. How did you get to the point of being signed at such an early age?

MANN: It was just luck. I was just performing at the right place at the right time. My manager Jamie Adler saw me and just loved my energy, he had me record “Jerkin” and took me to Steve Lobel, who is Sean Kingston’s manager, and he brought me to JR (Rotem) who was the producer and he loved it. JR’s from Cali as well so he really loved it. He wanted a rapper and he didn’t have one – I’m the only rapper that’s signed to Beluga Heights.

RAP IRELAND: So would JR be the main influence behind your music right now?

MANN: Yeah, JR taught me how to make music, you know? Before him I was just a rapper that just rapped; I didn’t know how to write a hook, I didn’t know bars, I was a “teenager rapper”. He taught me the song structure, how to make radio friendly tracks..

RAP IRELAND: It’s amazing how many upcoming rappers don’t get that concept..

MANN: Yeah, I basically went to school there, learning for a year. Things have been poppin’ over the last year but I’ve now been making music with JR since I was 16!

RAP IRELAND: You mention in “Buzzin” that you’re a “new school rapper with an old school deal”. I’m assuming that you’re talking about artist development rather than money?

MANN: Exactly! No-one seems to get that. A lot of people think I’m talking about like I got a million dollar deal or something. What I’m actually talking about is artist development, where I got to put time and practice and create the “Mann” brand, like that’s how they used to do it back in the day.

RAP IRELAND: How did you land a deal like that? Most labels nowadays want a ready-made package, not someone to develop?

MANN: Honestly man, and this is not dissing my label, but it’s my management. To have Steve Lobel, someone who came in with Run DMC, who was there with the real, real Hip-Hop, he took control of the situation where we went by his rules. So I kind of came up more under him than by the label. That’s basically how my career was constructed.

RAP IRELAND: How did 50 Cent come into the picture? Via JR?

MANN: Nah man, that was luck as well. I put out “Buzzin” and it was on L.A radio, and 50 happened to be in L.A. He was just hopping on remixes. And now “Buzzin” was starting to really get popping in L.A; we had leaked it to radio. So 50 heard it, did a remix to it, and put it on his website. That’s what really took that song to another level. We didn’t even know. We were like what the hell just happened here!?

RAP IRELAND: So things were moving…

MANN: Yeah man, so we wanted to meet up with 50 and when we met him he was asking had we shot a video. We said no. And he was like let’s make one. So 50 like came in and gave us a whole helping hand.

RAP IRELAND: After recording the track with you is he still around, is he still helping out?

MANN: Yeah, I’ve got a lot of time for 50. 50’s a really good person, he kinda like just wants to see me win. So he’s always helping me out. I’m performing with 50 Cent in October, actually performed in Atlantic City not too long ago, which was the first time we shared the stage together. So 50’s always helping me out, he’s always been there, and if I ever need him he’s there.

RAP IRELAND: Right, granted you have been in the industry since 16. But if we’re to be honest it’s only in the last year that you have reached the upper tier. What is it like to go from grafting locally to all of a sudden performing with guys like Snoop who you grew up listening to?

MANN: It’s surreal. It’s something I’ve wanted for so long. And because I’ve been trying for so long it’s like now that I have it I’m super-appreciative. Like all my fans; I talk to every fan, I talk to everybody. I treat everybody with kindness because I’m where I’ve been trying to be for so long, and it’s to the people that I need to be appreciative.

RAP IRELAND: It must be hard to stay on top of it all though…

MANN: Oh yeah, like it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. It’s definitely doable. You just gotta put your mind to it. That’s how you have to do it, just stay focused.

RAP IRELAND: Give us an idea of a typical day in your life, not what we see on reality tv, but the real life of a working artist in 2011…

MANN: Honestly bro, it’s communicating with my manager. Emails; checking those. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. Then usually I’m on a flight going somewhere, or I’m getting ready for a show. Or I’m on the computer on Twitter or on Facebook, or my website, making sure my fans are getting to know me more. Editing videos that we shoot ourselves. What else do I do? Oh yeah.. I’m in the studio, that takes up a whole huge chunk. The difference to before, is that back then I’d be wanting to get in the studio, talking to the homies about what I want to do, to now being in the studio able to do everything I wanted.

RAP IRELAND: I was with LMFAO not so long ago and they talked a lot about how they retained control over things, the marketing, the Facebook, the Twitter; that they dictated things to the label and not vice-versa. Do you find you still have that kind of control?

MANN: Definitely. Like the relationship between artists and labels now is different. Like back in the day the artist and the label coincided, whereas now it’s always like the artist versus the label. Like I have nothing against the label, there job is to make money, but that’s not my job. My job is to make music and do what I love doing. So we’re always going to butt heads. But I feel that what I’m doing, eventually, is going to make a lot of money. The thing is, I need to prove it! And the way I do that is communicating with my fans and showing them what I can do.

RAP IRELAND: The labels these days are almost too big and too slow to keep up with fans…

MANN: Yes! They’re slow, and that’s one thing we have in our favour; that internet is so fast. I can get something out to my fans way quicker than a label can get together a CD and a plan. It takes them months to put together something, when all I have to do is jump on Twitter and say something.

RAP IRELAND: They’re behind the curve releasing the music…

MANN: Yeah they don’t get it. For whatever reason they don’t get it, they just don’t. It’s because the guys behind it, the heads of labels, they’re like 50 year old guys who just know how to make money. They don’t know about the internet. That’s all I do; is study the internet. Study new artists; how they break. I’ve studied Tyler, The Creator’s whole way of  breaking. I’m not Tyler, I don’t represent what he represents, but the way he did it was deep. I think that’s the new way.

RAP IRELAND: For these new artists the management are the real players. Tyler has Christian Clancy. You have Steve Lobel. Are they the real force behind things rather than the label machine?

MANN: Yes. It’s the core team rather than the machine. Because right now you don’t need the machine; the machine is the internet. As long as the core team is strong you’re good. Like the manager who knows what to do and how to manage your situation and you doing what you have to do; you really don’t need the label. That’s how it is now.

RAP IRELAND: The way it should be really…

MANN: Yeah, the way it should be. That’s how it was before. It’s kind of like a full circle. Like in the 80’s independent artists were winning. They were the ones doing it. It’s just gone full circle.

RAP IRELAND: But let’s be honest, selling records isn’t where the money is anymore… Do you find you need to be constantly doing shows night after night to capitalise?

MANN: Yeah, totally. But at the same time you also have to be making music. That’s why I’ve got my own studio that I got to bring with me, so if I have ideas I can throw them down. See you got to do both. You can’t just do shows and not have music to put out. I guess you’ve got to do it all. But you can do it all. It’s not impossible to do it all.


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