The legendary DJ and producer performs as part of Orange Soda Fest on Saturday, Aug. 3
When Mannie Fresh crafted his 1989 single “Buck Jump Time,” he did so with an awareness that he was creating a new musical movement.
“There are elements of that song that come from New Orleans, with that brass band feel, but then there’s the 808s,” Fresh said of the electronic drums, which pull the music into the modern era. “We put a twist on New Orleans to make it more appealing to a younger generation.”
The song, which fuses the horns of New Orleans’ trademark second line parades with urgent drums that nod to Miami bass music, is often credited as one of the firsts bounce tracks — a ferociously simple strain of New Orleans party music Fresh helped define in his role as rapper and producer for Cash Money Records in the 1990s and early ’00s.
Fresh’s Cash Money years are unsurprisingly filled with surreal tales. In one aside, Fresh mentioned a barely teenage Troy Andrews (now best known as Trombone Shorty) turning up to play trombone on Cash Money tracks at a bargain-basement rate. “Troy was a big fan of wrasslin’ matches, so if you got him tickets he would play on your song,” Fresh said, and laughed.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
The brass music that helped define Fresh’s sound as a producer was part of the New Orleans native’s life from birth. He recalled attending high school with members of the Rebirth Brass Band; and during his freshman year at Joseph S. Clark High School, Fresh stood in awe of the musical talents of then-senior Kermit Ruffins, a celebrated trumpeter, singer and composer.
“To grow up with guys like that and see what they do, that influences you. It’s there. It’s crazy,” said Fresh, who will headline the inaugural Orange Soda Fest alongside DJ Unk, DJ Clue and others at 11athletics on the East Side on Saturday, Aug. 3. “My first encounter with music was on my block. You step outside and someone is starting a jazz band, or some kid is learning the trumpet, or someone has a drum set, or a tuba. … Music is our bread and butter. It’s our first love, and everything else goes behind that.”
While other high school classmates played in brass bands, though, Fresh found himself more enamored with the turntables, owing in large part to his DJ father. Fresh started mixing records at age 12 on a pair of Toshiba turntables, teaching himself rather than learning at his dad’s side. As he progressed, the youngster worked to match BPMs, seamlessly blending tracks as he moved from one song to the next. Later, after being exposed to Grandmaster Flash, Fresh toyed with scratching, though his approach to DJing has remained largely unchanged through the years, with the musician reading the crowd and then crafting a high-energy set designed to pack dance floors (or, in Orange Soda’s case, dance fields).
Though Fresh embraces different tools, he rightly views himself as part of New Orleans’ rich, unique musical legacy, which he said is strengthened by the way the city continues to embrace its own even long after they’re gone.
“If you’re a musician in New Orleans, your city will ride with you. Allen Toussaint, rest in peace, the late, great Dr. John, those guys did gigs in New Orleans year-round, because New Orleans loves their heroes,” Fresh said. “Anywhere else, it doesn’t happen that way. When you’re done, you’re done. In New Orleans, if they love you, oh yeah, you’ll be around forever.”