Dijon Shariff Thames (born July 17, 1991), better known by his stage name MANN, is an American hip-hop recording artist from West Los Angeles, California discovered by J.R. Rotem. He’s perhaps best known for his singles “Buzzin” with 50 Cent and “The Mack” with Snoop Dogg and Iyaz. Mann was formerly signed to Mercury Records, a division of The Island Def Jam Music Group. He founded, owns and operates the independent imprint Peace Life Quality Recordings, which is currently home to artists Tone Oliver and LanaaMak a.k.a. Goldie Locs. Since 2008, MANN has released four albums and six mixtapes, having collaborated with the likes of 50 Cent, Ty Dolla $ign, Skeme, Shawn Chrystopher, Jason Derulo, Audio Push, Kid Ink, Kram D, Jermaine Dupri, T-Pain, Travis Porter, Trev Case, Clyde Carson, Dizzy Wright, Matik, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Quik, Frank Ocean, Kevo Da Kid, A2TheK, Ymtk, Buddy, Bobby Brackins, Problem, Casey Veggies, Jetpack Jones, Raymancfc and more.
What’s the background behind your current international breakthrough Top 10 hit a Buzzin? – which samples prominently the 1986 Nu Shooz pop/soul smash I Can’t Wait?
One day, around two years ago, I was walking through a store with my mom when the original Nu Shooz song came on the radio. And, because I really loved it, I was like What is this SONG?! And when she told me it was an old song from the Eighties, straightaway I hit-up J.R. (Rotem) and asked him if he wanted to flip it. So he was like Yeah, for sure – and made the track… But then, once I got it, I didn’t really know how to ATTACK it!… Until one day I just kinda went in the studio and said I’m not gonna even THINK about making radio record! I’m just gonna go in, be me, and write song about how I FEEL! And, because I felt good that day, I wrote a song about feeling like MONEY – which turned out to be Buzzin!
So how did rap megastar 50 Cent end up coming on board for both the remix and video?
50 came on board after head heard the record on the radio. He basically added a verse to it, dropped it on-line – and, because his on-line presence is so big, people started treating his version as an official REMIX. So I reached out to him; he said he wanted to shoot a video; we shot the video… And since then he’s kinda become like this big mentor figure who’s given me a lot of advice, which I’ve definitely LISTENED to! Because, you know, 50 is a cool guy – a lot cooler than people CREDIT him with being! He’s really truthful, he’s honest, he has a big heart. Plus he really wants to see people – especially young, up-and-coming cats – SUCCEED!
So what can we expect from your forthcoming debut album Mann’s World, which has been described as hip hop that’s still pop enough for the masses – a soundtrack for celebration?
Because it’s my first album, I’m taking it really serious. You know, J.R. is producing it, and we’re actually re-sampling a lot of records because we want to have a consistent SOUND. And I’d say the sound that we have right now is kinda comparable to what Snoop Dogg did on (his 1993 debut album) Doggystyle. Where he was like flipping old, feel-good records and re-introducing them to a new audience by adding his own twist and his own flavour to it.
And how would you break it down lyrically and musically?
Lyrically all the songs are basically about loving life and having fun and enjoying yourself, while at the same still keeping it true to real-life. While musically the flavour is definitely R&B – where we’re taking it back to like the Eighties/early-Nineties, when music wasn’t so fast-paced and you could just bob your head and ride to it… So yeah, it’s definitely sounding pretty classic right now.
You’re quoted as wanting to craft a new sound that’s consistent with your own Birthday Philosophy. So what do you feel you’re bringing as an artist, that’s different for today?
I’m definitely bringing a positive energy. I know that I have a really good heart, and so I wanna spread the way I think and the way I am to other PEOPLE – whether it be through music, or through my shows, or through just being me and meeting my fans. You know, I want people to know that you don’t have to be conceited or cocky to be a star, and that you can be as humble and down-to-earth as anybody else and still make great MUSIC!… So in that way, I think the thing that most sets me apart from a lot of OTHER artists today is that I’m approachable and I’m not AFRAID of that. You know, I love talking to my fans, whether it be on Twitter or whatever – and the Birthday Philosophy is PART of all that, because that’s the way I THINK! I believe that every day is your birthday, and that you’re constantly reborn. So that’s what my music represents and why it’s always UPLIFTING!
So let’s talk about your early musical influences
Musically as a kid I was always listening to a lot of old skool West Coast artists such as Snoop, DJ Quik, Dr. Dre – you know, all the greats. So I guess that’s what inspired me to rap the way I DO with the feeling that I like to give OFF. Because I always loved those guys when they weren’t on that gang-banging tip and they were just talking about having fun – like Quik in particular used to talk about just kicking it with his friends a LOT!
And what was the West LA neighbourhood like that you grew up in?
Well, the neighbourhood I grew up in was definitely part of the urban community, but at the same time we were the hood closest to HOLLYWOOD! Like we could see the Hollywood sign, we could see everybody down on Sunset (Boulevard)… You know, we could see SUCCESS! And so, because of that, it’s kinda like we were always inspired to DO more and to MAKE it! Which I think is the most beautiful part about growing up in West LA.
So how did you first get into rapping professionally?
In the beginning, for me it actually all started off with acting, then it went into dancing… But then, because I was the youngest person in my dancing group – they were all like 20 and I was 12 – and I wanted to be like the older people, I started WRITING. And, though at first they were all kinda knocking me and saying No, you can’t do it man, I still kept at it until I started getting really GOOD – to where it basically started becoming my LIFE! Which is when I started performing in different places. And though – because I was still in High School – I wasn’t able to do TOO much of it, whatever free time I DID have was always spent doing MUSIC! Which I guess was what kept me out of TROUBLE!
You were born in 1991 – arguably the year when West Coast rap was beginning its five-year take-over of the hip hop scene worldwide (through artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac). What was it like growing up in LA amidst that environment?
Well, that’s why I have so much West Coast pride TODAY! Because, as a little kid, that was the first thing I HEARD – West Coast MUSIC! Which is why it’s always had a special place in my HEART!… But having said that, by the time I’d got to my teens it had already kinda faded away because the sound had got repetitive… So yeah, for a long time I MISSED that sound – which is why I’m now so hungry to bring it BACK! Because to me it’s kinda like the game has gone full-circle – and the person to bring it back had to be someone who KNEW the sound but was too young to have grown up IN it.
So how does the West Coast rap scene today differ from its Nineties heyday?
Well, like I said, back then it kinda faded quite quickly because it got so repetitive, to where the message was always the same old thing – I gang-bang and I’m HARD! Whereas today it’s like the West coast has something ELSE to talk about. We talk about fashion, we talk about having fun… It’s like nobody wants to do the old West Coast gangsta-rap thing any more because it’s kinda played-out, plus we don’t wanna PIGEONHOLE ourselves. Instead today we just wanna be able to perform and get love EVERYWHERE! So what you find is that West Coast rap these days is basically about people being THEMSELVES! You know, while I may be Mann – an artist from West LA who’s happy to represent his city – that doesn’t mean I’m stuck in a BOX! And there’s a lotta OTHER young West Coast artists coming up too, who feel the same WAY! The single Buzzin Featuring 50 Cent is out now through Def Jam.