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Mannie Fresh

Byron O. Thomas, known professionally by his stage name Mannie Fresh, is a Grammy-nominated producer and rapper from New Orleans.

Mannie Fresh

Courtesy of Gary LoVerde

Mannie Fresh. LoVerde, Gary (Photographer)

Byron O. Thomas, known professionally by his stage name Mannie Fresh, is a Grammy-nominated producer and rapper from New Orleans. Best known as in-house producer for the internationally successful Cash Money Records label from 1993 until 2005, Thomas is widely considered one of the most influential hip-hop producers of all time.

Thomas was born in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans on March 20, 1969. His mother, a teacher, and his father, a popular local radio disc jockey who went by the name Sabu, encouraged their son’s musical aspirations. Thomas quickly leaped from entertaining friends to deejaying school dances to packing small New Orleans venues and house parties with his own combination of spinning records and live performance with an 808 drum machine and an analog keyboard.

While still in his teens, Thomas became known as Mannie Fresh and formed New York Incorporated, a seminal New Orleans rap group that included Seventh Ward native and friend Mia Young (better known as Mia X), New York transplant Denny D, and Denny D’s New Orleans cousin, DJ Wop. Thomas’s collaboration with local rapper Gregory D soon followed, resulting in the 1987 classic album Throw Down. Thomas moved to California with Gregory D after initial interest from major labels. While there, he spent time as an understudy to legendary Chicago house DJ-producer Steve “Silk” Hurley and toured as a DJ, backing West Coast rappers Spice-1 and Too $hort.

After major-label disappointments, Thomas returned to New Orleans, where he was sought out by brothers Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams as a producer for their new label, Cash Money Records. For over a decade Thomas served as the in-house producer for Cash Money, overseeing nearly all the label’s tracks. Thomas helped skyrocket Cash Money to international fame as a producer for the Hot Boys, a group composed of Juvenile, B.G., Turk, and Lil Wayne. In 2002 Thomas’s rap duo with Birdman, the Big Tymers, earned two Grammy nominations for “Still Fly.” Thomas’s most enduring legacies are the enduring records he produced for lesser-known local artists, such as U.N.L.V. and Magnolia Shorty, as well as his defining role in bringing bounce, New Orleans’s own indigenous rap genre, to increasingly wider circles of listeners.

Breaking with Cash Money in 2005 after monetary disputes, Thomas continued the process of reinventing himself as a solo artist, which began the year before when he released The Mind of Mannie Fresh, featuring the charting single “Real Big.” Soon he signed with Def Jam South, formed his own subsidiary label, Chubby Boy Records, and released scores of new hits. Success, however, was tempered by personal difficulties that included not only the devastation of Hurricane Katrina but also the tragic murder of his sister, Angela Bryant, in 2007.

Throughout the 2000s Thomas’s visionary production and unique sound has been sought out by everyone from T.I. and UGK to Toni Braxton, and more recent years have seen pairings with Kanye West (for Cruel Summer in 2012), rapper and actor Mos Def, and the creatively invigorated Mystikal after his release from a six-year prison sentence for sexual battery and extortion.

A much-beloved figure in New Orleans, Thomas continues to thrive as an artist, singing or rapping with live bands, touring as a celebrity DJ, and producing. He currently resides in Houston, Texas.