PHOTOGRAPHY BY: SAM KFARE
The often misunderstood and outspoken Grammy Award winning Starboy-producer, MANO, (fka Million $ Mano) speaks on his beginning affinity for producing/DJing, working with The Weeknd, clothing apparel collaborations, his relationship with Kanye West & JAY-Z and proving critics wrong in Vol. 003, our 2017 Spring/Summer print issue.
I met Mano on an April afternoon in the South Loop area in Chicago. Mano is with his girlfriend Cherish accompanying him. Mano pulls up in a black-matte wrapped Porsche Panamera with a pair of shades on.
We meet in Sam Kfare’s studio where he’s preparing the backdrops to capture Mano. Mano’s girlfriend, Cherish, assists him with the unboxing of his jewel accessories as he casually speaks on what’s currently happening in culture and Chicago.
The interview didn’t take place until nightfall while sit in the back seat of Mano’s Panermera while I enter my line of questioning regarding his first discovery of his passion for hip-hop.
When did you first fall in love with DJing?
I think the first time myself seeing Hip-Hop it had to be late 80s. I was born in ’84. I had this Fisher Price turntable. It played an xylophone, it played these discs that were lullabies. I saw on TV, Run DMC scratching records so I thought I could do the same thing with this Fisher Price turntable and then I couldn’t because it was so slow and you would have to wind it up — it was so slow but my mom had a daycare center that had another Fisher Price turntable that actually played vinyl. My mom also had her old “45s from when she was a teenager at the school where all of the old storage was. I remember being there on a Friday and hearing a records play on vinyl. Those times, I remember it gave me that warm feeling you get when you’re happy. I was intrigued to know how DJs would scratch and it not skip. That was my childhood experience of what Hip-Hop was and learning about it’s different forms — not just Deejaying but B-boying, graffiti, rapping — all that shit.
When did you start DJing?
I started DJing at 14. I believe I could do it and it wasn’t accessible to me. As a hobby, it was very expensive back then but to me as a young person and a futurist I most definitely thought it would last in culture.
Being inspired at such a young age, how has being from Chicago in particular inspire your production?
Being from Chicago and it being a House music city, I transpose a lot of music into dance music as well. It’s really cool because a lot of people can’t familiarize what meant something to them — I’m a detailed person. The fact that I was able to hear this legendary Chicago DJ named Pink House, he was on a radio station called 950 Rap Radio and it was really cool I was introduced to House music before it was Ghetto House which overall became Juke music — those aspects of Chicago and Hip-Hop in it’s purest forms are second city to New York. Like New York is a House city as well but it’s really cool. Chicago is definitely it’s own place but it has bits and pieces of everywhere else. Like Paris being super influenced by our music here with the House music they make there. Hearing people like Pink House, DJ Pharris — who was super early in his career, my late great brother DJ Timbuck II as well. Those guys are real DJs and legends in Chicago. Being able to hear them on the radio, just as a fan of music, really got me into blending — when I say blending like remixing an entire record live and take the lows out and put in the chorus for it to loop — those are magical moments to me. Anytime I hear a DJ making something particular to that taste, it would inspire me.
That aspect of Chicago House music before slamming records became a thing, Chicago DJs were still blending records. A lot of New York DJ as well as Timbuck 2 made slamming records really popular out here in Chicago. Tim would play a verse from one song and then go into a chorus of another so seamlessly as if it was an original song. You would only be able to experience that from hearing him play a set because that was his flavor.
Let’s discuss your most recent accolade which is winning a GRAMMY with The Weekend — how does that feel?
It’s surreal. It’s almost unbelievable that it happened but at the same a lot of things are unbelievable in my life. It’s not like I don’t work towards them but I pray for them everyday. I forget that I am working towards these accomplishments because all this stuff is fun to me. So, I never really look at as work. I enjoying waking up knowing I have to create deadlines for myself or I’m receiving deadlines to make money the way I want to.
Talk about that mindset. The recording industry is so different from any facet of professional crafts; how do you structure your mind to create along those deadlines?
As established or successful as I am, I’m always working like I have none of those things. Having that mindset always pushes me forward. If I took my reality at face value, it would feed into my ego and it wouldn’t make me work as hard as I know I should be. I don’t think [creating] is ever over. Not only am I helping myself, I’m helping so many other people that need this chance as well. I need to maintain this life. People believe that once you get the success you’re good forever. No, you have to maintain it. That’s true wealth is maintaining your fortune.
That’s why I tell people, they really have to do their homework with me. In my most humbled times, I always made sure I was straight. I have expensive taste. I feel like a royal, so, therefore I am a royal.
With this GRAMMY win, do you feel like the GRAMMYs still validate your craft?
Absolutely. I’m gonna keep it super 100. I didn’t expect to win a GRAMMY one day. I can’t front like I wasn’t hoping to have produced a hit record for someone but I didn’t know it would come in this fashion.
GRAMMYs are like PhDs and doctorates in music and it puts you in the realm of people that legitimize themselves amongst their sells but almost amongst their peers. I’m incredibly appreciative that I have awards that validate what I do for a living. As many Grammys as I want to get, one is enough to validate myself as a musician. If I didn’t have that Grammy, I would be valid in my mind but I have it substantiated on a piece of paper and no one can take that away from me.
I don’t have any degrees. That shit is my degree.
Talk to us about the meeting with The Weeknd, how did the collaboration transpire?
It was really cool. We’ve always been homies. I met Abel when he was about 18 or 19 when he was first starting and he was working with a mutual homie named Doc Mckinney — he’s a mentor and big brother to both of us.
Doc always took a liking to my work and what I was doing on the producer side. I was just appreciative and in awe for considering me to work with someone like The Weeknd. I knew who he was because I heard “Loft Music” and thought it was cool but then I heard “What You Need” and was like “Woah, that shit is hot…” I said in my mind, “I need to work with dude…” then Doc started working with him and it made sense. At the time, I was DJing on tour with Jay-Z and Kanye West for the Watch The Throne Tour at the time which was dope because I introuced him to Ye at the tour in Toronto. It was even crazy at that time too because, I brought the XO crew Abel, Lamar, Hawk to the venue and walking them to the side stage and people knew him at that time too and they were going crazy from the sheer fact he was in the audience — so I seen at of it from the beginning. It’s just so wild to see his transition from then to now — he’s a megastar.
Myself and Abel have a shared interest in film and we have a lot of weird film interest. Our odd interests in film translates through our sounds. I like a lot of dark shit. I like horror movies. It’s my favorite genre. I love movies period but I love horror films. I think with him he likes awkward thrillers like Korean film ‘O Boy’ or ‘Donny Darko’ it’s really cool because those things brought us close as well as the music we wanted to make.
I think one great thing about yourself and The Weeknd you guys have a great way of making something dark aesthetically and sonically beautiful. Like my all time favorite Weeknd song is “The Party & The Afterparty” is so good but it’s literally about almost overdosing on drugs. It was very dark but so sonically intoxicating.
Absolutely. When I made “The Hills” it sounded like him so he was like this joint is crazy — I’m like, “What the reference I just sent you?” Abel said, “Nah, the beat!!! Oh my god, this is crazy! I’m gonna make a hit to this.” I didn’t know it was going to happen but even in that moment it gave me a different level of confidence to associate sounds with people and who they are and how they want to be presented to the world.
That’s important as a producer. The Hills is 7x Platinum right now.
I think it’s a 9. They need to update it to RIAA. It’s kinda ridiculous. Beyond the platinum status. We created history. Abel was I believe the first artist since Rihanna to eclipse their own single from #1. So much was still happening around that time, I had “3500 (Travis Scott),” records on Pusha T album, 2 records on Detroit, Hall of Fame, Dark Sky Paradise for Big Sean, Trey Songz, Gangsta Grillz with Drama last year and even False Alarm and Reminder on Starboy.
It’s dope even those records being big placements for me but it’s not giving me a place to settle like I can’t work with people who haven’t accomplished as much as I have. I really do need to have that personal want with their art as well. I might not be able to do that without establishing some trust. People have to understand that people have to want to involve themselves in their success and you can’t take that personal. That’s one thing you learn with growing pains. I definitely matured and learned that myself. You learn the best way, not just for yourself, but for everyone.
You can’t take anything personal you just have to make the best art possible.
Who’s on the dream list you want to produce for; who do you think your sounds would compliment?
There are a lot of artist that I want to work with that are still alive but most of the artists that I wanted to work with are deceased. It’s unfortunate because there are definitive people that I wanted to meet in my life. Those people were them so it made me comfortable to be me.
DJing for Ye and Jay was one of those definitive thing. Seeing the amount of success Kanye has had in his incredible career. Jay as well. I was able to tell Jay Z and Kanye a lot of personal things that are apart of the fan side, respectfully, that I admired about them. I know that they were truly appreciative of that beyond the success. It’s just certain things that people tell you are geniune. I was able to tell Jay that me and my friend in grade school went half on Reasonable Doubt and did our homework to it and I’m on stage with this guy while he’s performing… Shit is weird to me [laughs].
Even with Kanye, me desiring to be his DJ at an early age in my life to Kanye asking me to be his DJ later on. I wielded that. It was awesome, that opportunity. Everything I learned and experienced at that time was extremely incredible and I’m truly grateful.
As far as your style, Treated Crew, you’ve had a few collaborations with brands here in Chicago and a few in New York: Stüssy, Black Scale, Jugrnaut. Can we expect more in the future?
We also done some stuff with Japanese label Phenomenon; we did the MA Bomber Jacket. They did a similar one with Mastermind that was really dope too. My friend Big O is a head designer for Phenomenon. I actually just wanted the jacket and he told me that we can design one and so we made that jacket together that was $1700.
I’m not just thinking the thought of me selling a jacket for $1700 — I’m thinking of the fact that we can make a jacket that’s worth buying as far as material, hardware, durability, quality. All those things mean something to me as a consumer I just try to make sure that I do the same thing when I produce merchandise as well.
You can absolutely expect more collaborative apparel in the future. My goal is to have so many collaborations that I can only sell our brand in the store and it won’t be regulated by only our brand, it’ll be that on top of collaboration pieces.
How important do you feel it is to prove critics wrong or people who has doubted you?
It’s not an obligation to prove anyone wrong. As long as you have things in your mind that make you comfortable with knowing whether you give a shit about people caring or not. If you do, you need to do whatever you need to to get over the fact that — if you’re crackin’ or if you fucked up, if people don’t like you they’re gonna shit on you. Doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, I feel need to pay attention to the positive attention because if you try to delegate the negative you put yourself in a position where it lowers the outlook on you because your giving the negative power. People don’t expect you to look at the negative. I’ve taken certain things from critics personal because I knew that their reviews were personal and they weren’t at a fair standard. At the end of the day, a lot of people get to joke, laugh and see things on the internet but when you see them in person — the reality of what you have and what they don’t is extremely definitive. You can choose to ignore it on the internet but what are you gonna say to the guy you talked shit about and you’re getting off the bus — it’s cool I ride public transportation too but — you see him pull up in an Aston Martin? You think twice, “Damn, I didn’t know that guy drove an Aston Martin…” or “I didn’t know this guy lives on this expensive street…” or maybe the shit people talk and say about you is because m’fuckers be mad. You have to think about it and see what is legitimized.
The reason I created that scenario is because I empathized with those people because I look to myself and say they have to see that reality and their reality is aggravated because they feel like these things that you have that they feel you’re not deserving of… if that makes you upset about a person you have to check yourself.
I go back to that because that confirms that I don’t have anything to prove to anyone because at the end of the day I’m a professional musician that has a co-publishing deal with Warner/Chappell. Shout-out to Big John.
What made you want to sign?
I was offered a publishing deal early in my career and a good friend of mine told me not to sign a publishing deal now because you’ll get a bigger one when you do bigger records later on. I listening him and took his advice and he was right.
That’s why I say the opinions of people matter when you make them matter. Those opinions don’t change the digits in the bank account. I don’t think about other people’s business because I have too much business of my own.
I think sometimes people are upset that they aren’t inspired enough to act on their own dreams.
That’s my point. I get profiled with this car all the time. I wear fashionable clothes and shit and people automatically think because I’m black I’m possibly doing something illegal which is aggravating because people give off judgmental vibes for those who they feel don’t deserve certain things. The same person who will say, “What is that beat you made in your mom’s basement gonna do for you?” will be mad once that same beat turns into a million dollar investment. Adults have to put stigmas in young people so they can believe not to do the impossible because the impossible factor is in you. When you believe adults, you kill your future. I don’t have anything to prove to critics. I have things to prove to the people that told me not to follow my dreams. The adults throughout my life that wanted to inspire other options for me. I have things to prove to the people that depend on me physically and financially. Those are the things that matter to me.
Treated Crew. Explain that collective for those who don’t know.
Treated Crew has many members. A lot of us profile at a heightened factor sometimes due to relationships and resources. Like, HXLT, he’s signed to G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam who put out his album last year. I produced a song on there called “Guitar”. One of the most beautiful tracks I’ve made. We have a lot of artists from all walks of art. We’re basically a creative collective design firm. My homie Brandon Breaux — he illustrated all of Chance’s artworks for his projects. My homie Edo — an incredible young artist from the Southside of Chicago who also has a design collective. OG Webbie — producer/DJ who responsible for Big Sean’s “All Your Fault” feat. Kanye West. Saint Millie — incredible rapper from the Westside. Jon James, Cardo, AU, Nick Junior, Boi Genius so many talents. We try to diversify the collective as much as possible and not stagnant on one form of art.
There’s a debate on what the term ‘Treated’ means; clarify that for us. Being from Chicago I know it to be used comparatively to the word ‘Joning’ if you will.
Exactly. That’s the origin of it. HXLT has a song called ‘Caked Up’ and on the second verse he says “Treat niggas is what I do / I’m treating niggas in my Treated Crew” and I was like ‘Oh shit! That’s us.’ And we used to go outside the clubs and roast bouncers and shit and amongst friends. We used to roast niggas so bad they used to wanna fight.
Chicago breeds some of the craziest mouthpieces.
We definitely have the gift of gab out here. [laughs] It’s the city of pimps. Y’feel me? [laughs]
What do you say the young Mano who’s trying to breakout as a producer?
I can say be more patient and don’t take shit personal. Be there for your true peers and brothers. Comradely also prevails. Don’t compromise your art for bullshit. Only compromise art to make it better.
Pre-order your copy of Vol. 003 here in the online shop.
Terrell Johnson is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of SWGRUS.