YungManny’s Infinite Blessings

Brandon Callender speaks to the rising PG County star about once not cursing in his raps, his Nigerian heritage, and his Naruto fandom.
By    July 10, 2020

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YungManny doesn’t know how to stop counting his blessings. A non-exhaustive list of things he’s grateful for right now: his fans, graduating high school early, being one of the biggest artists in the DMV, linking up with the artists that he was listening to growing up. Manny sounds like he can hardly believe the words coming out of his mouth himself. There was no 5-year-plan for any of this. He lets life take him wherever it wants. At 16 years old, Manny’s already found his name included in conversations about the rise of a new wave of DMV rap. 

In 2018, Manny burst onto the scene with the TV-14 rated “Moana” and “Bonfire Pt.2.” Those singles had the same formula as other big songs coming from the region: ominous piano loops, minimal drums, and flows with more care for punchlines than metronomes. What could a 14-year-old do to get people to play his music? If “Recommended If You Like…” Spotify playlists have a monopoly on music discovery and all the artists not on those playlists are vying for even 30 seconds of your day, how could a 14-year-old get an edge? For Manny, it was simple. Don’t even try to be edgy. If someone older than him tried to bite his Disney Channel-inspired punchlines and refusal to curse it wouldn’t make any sense. 

In his first music videos, he swapped out guns for power tools and Lambo trucks for golf carts. With even bigger budgets, you can see his storyboarded fantasies become reality.  Take a quick look at “All My Guys Are Ballers,” It starts with Manny at a mock record label pitch meeting demoing his music, begging for the execs to greenlight something. (They aren’t really feeling it). Manny believes music videos are just as important as the music itself. Manny wants every part of his music to live a life of its own. 

Manny’s open to anything that catches his ear and he makes that clear on Confused. DMV crank music will always be his foundation. In the past, Manny looked up to rappers like Foolio and Big Flock. Manny and Flock’s convergence on “TPA” is a torch-passing ceremony. Their chaotic personalities match up perfectly. At times, it feels like they get into a shouting match to see who can make the most obscure rapper-related reference. When Manny says “Call up MoneyMarr, tryna see what them Runtz do / I got twin Glocks like its Ocean and Kung Fu,” Flock fires back with “Hit a lick, took a trip to Kalamazoo / Had to tuck the Drake in my Canada Goose.” 

If he’s not doing that, he’s probably making a rosy love song like “Imani” or “slime world (isnt she lovely)” to show he’s rap’s answer to the undeniable (and fictional) teenage heartthrob Chip Skylark. The best moments on the album come when Manny does Kid Cudi hums into the vocoder, like when he flips YNW Melly’s “Murder on My Mind” on “Margiela.” It’s not possible to plan for success in the music industry. Manny hasn’t questioned any part of this journey so far. It wouldn’t do him any good to worry about all that. While Manny wants more than just one day having his name on the Wikipedia page for “Notable Maryland artists,” right now he’s more worried about registering for the SAT. — Brandon Callender

How you been holding up lately?

YungManny: I’d say I’m good, you know. My mental’s straight. I’m blessed for that. Just dropped an album, everything’s good, just trying to keep working. I know there’s real big issues at hand around the world. I’m definitely tapped into that and I know that’s the main focus right now. But I’m blessed to say the least.

Around this time last year, you and Xanman had a concert at the Fillmore. How did it feel to sell out that venue?

YungManny: That was my second one there. The first one I did was with DaBaby a couple months before in April and we sold that one out. That one specifically, it was a tremendous achievement. It was a great feeling because, you know, I did that. Not only did I sell it out but I sold it out with my best friend at the time. When we were in there, we were going on and we were really putting on.

There was this period of time in your music where you refused to curse. What was up with that?

YungManny: That’s just my upbringing. You know, I’m Nigerian. I got big respect for my parents and whatnot. It was a new area for them. I tried to introduce it to them nicely because I know that if I was going all out, doing all that wild stuff, you know, they probably would’ve never supported it and that ain’t really what I represent, what I stand for. I was just trying to take a different route, a different approach from everybody and I was blessed for it to have worked.

In a past interview you were talking about how in the DMV, African kids got joked on a lot. How has that affected how you feel about being Nigerian?

YungManny: I mean, I’m not gonna lie to you. It wasn’t necessarily the cool thing at a specific point in time. I used to get made fun of, the butt of the joke everywhere. I’m glad that I could take the approach I did and shine a light on the community. It’s some real talent, some real, I don’t even know how to explain it. Nigerian people, African people, are some of the best people in the world. I feel like it’s the best continent in the world for real. I’m glad people have had more of an ear, I guess, to listen out and not necessarily just try to joke about it. Now they’re actually starting to like it themselves. I’m glad that I could help out with that in whatever way I could.

How do you balance going to school and still doing music?

YungManny: It was a hard process not gonna lie. That’s where I feel like other people may not have seen it that way, but I feel like a lot of other artists had the upper hand against me. I feel like they didn’t have to necessarily focus on school and getting good grades to graduate. They had more time to devote to music whereas I had to devote 20% or 30% of my time to music. Education is one of my top priorities, so I ain’t mad at it. I ain’t mad at the route that I took. I just graduated high school now and I’m blessed to have done that. I’m 16 and now I got a little more time to focus on music before I go to college.

How’d you manage to stay creative while still focusing on school?

YungManny: I just tried to fit both of my worlds into one. I’d rap about stuff I’d seen at school. I just tried to mesh my worlds into one. I rapped about what I seen at school, I had people at my school listening to my music. They helped me. I would sometimes be in class listening to beats or whatnot. It wasn’t really too hard of a process. I was just really doing me. I was playing sports as well. I guess the hardest thing was balancing the time because I had piano lessons on the side, Church and God. All of the above. It’s just a blessing from God at the end of the day. I don’t really know how to describe it. I was just able to have a mindset that was focused enough to try to make good music and to some people I did. That’s all that matters.

One of my favorite things about you is how creative and funny your music videos are. Who are some of your inspirations for music videos?

YungManny: I’d say Michael Jackson. I liked him. I feel like he’s the greatest of all time and I don’t really put anyone near him or close to taking his spot. Everything he did was like a movie. I really loved that aspect of him. I can’t say there’s too many… I listen to everybody, I watch everybody videos, but I wanna say it’s just being how I am. I just really wanna express myself. Music is my passion, it’s really what I like to do. When I’m talking about something I want to make it as good as possible. Audibly, through the sound of the music and visibly, through the video. I want you to really connect with what I’m saying while I’m saying it, while I’m watching it. That’s why I put so much effort into my videos.

What was on your mind when you filmed the video for “Blessings in Disguise”?

YungManny: I got a lot of music, I got a variety of music. I got the music that’s upbeat, the trap music, and I got the sing-songy, melodic ones, the more emotional ones. I’d say that’s more of what “Blessings in Disguise” is more of. It had a backstory where I was like their guardian angel or just a ghost in the background. You can see me on the screen, but I wasn’t really in anybody’s scene. I was just there. I saw them at the focus group, I guess that’s what they call it. Where everybody comes back and talks about their problems. I don’t know what that’s called, I forgot. But like a therapy session. Then it shows the people and their individual stories. Like there was one who dealt with physical abuse and watched his mother get abused. There was one who wanted to commit suicide and saw pills as an option and a way out. There was one who coincidentally was a victim of police brutality. He was unarmed, he didn’t do anything that was wrong. Wrongfully accused. That was really the plot behind that one. But as far as the music, that was a real emotional song. The phrase “blessings in disguise” means something that doesn’t really seem too good at first ending up being good in a way you didn’t initially see happening.

What did you want to tighten up on this project?

YungManny: I wouldn’t even say I was aiming to do nothing different. Music is really art, you can’t put any limitations on it. It’s just my music, how I feel. Everyday, how I wake up, I go in the studio with that attitude and try to create something beautiful out of it. “Hey Manny 2,” that was a long, long time ago. I ain’t dropped in a year and a half. I didn’t wanna do it like that, but for whatever reason it happened like that. End of the day, I’m still grateful. I got like over 200 songs in the vault. That may not seem like a lot, but when you look at it, that’s a lot of studio sessions to be balancing with school and having to do two years in one and all that. I got way more songs than that. Songs that I like way more. Songs that are newer, better. Whatever the case may be. These are the songs I felt like should’ve made the tape at the time. I definitely know I have better songs now but I liked the way they sounded. I’m just the type of guy that when I drop it I’m over and on to the next.

I feel like a lot of people now are like that. They just wanna drop a project and get onto the next thing. They don’t have time to sit down and think about what went wrong or what they could do better.

YungManny: It’s just the world we live in. There’s literally a million kids trying to be a rapper. With that many people trying to be rappers I don’t got time to be dwelling on something of the past. Can’t live off that one project forever. I’m trying to write my name in history and be known as one of the greats. It’s hard to be known as one of the greats from one body of work. As much as I may like it and they think it’s great, that doesn’t mean everybody else does. My work ain’t done for real so there ain’t no reason to be stopping.

Don’t you think you’re already on that path right now? You’re one of the people putting the DMV on the map.

YungManny: I’m very grateful, don’t get me wrong. But the way life is, when you got one you want 10 and when you get that 10 you want 100. Even at 100, you want 1000. That’s just the way I look at it. I’m grateful to be known here and be brought up every time that DMV conversation comes up. But that’s not really enough for me. I’m trying to be in the conversation with the world. But I love my home, this is what I do it for. This where I started, so I’m never gonna forget that. That’s just really my opinion.

What inspired the cover art for this album? You got the Akatsuki robe on and the Murakami flower.

YungManny: As far as the character, you know, you look at it. You got the little braids, the hair. That’s me. Naruto is something I really fell in love with this year. I really enjoy the character development and the lessons I get from that show. Obviously you watch it, and it’s a TV show, a cartoon, but I try to look at everything deeper than what it is necessarily. I really gravitated towards that and what not. That was the reason for the clothing I was wearing. As far as the flower, there was nothing really behind that. The cover art guy did that and I liked it. The chain in my hand that I had previously. But I’m onto newer and better things, so I’m not really wearing that. I leave a lot of things in the past.

You said you were looking deeper into Naruto, so what’s one thing you’ve taken away from the show?

YungManny: I haven’t finished it yet. I just got to the end [of Naruto]. You know there’s Naruto and then there’s Naruto: Shippuden. I just finished Naruto so now I’m on Shippuden. I know off the bat, I really gravitated towards Naruto because people didn’t really like him at first. He was hard-headed, he learned slower than everybody else. The girls didn’t necessarily like him, but he liked the girls. I felt connected to that with how I grew up. I wasn’t always the popular, cool kid. I’m grateful for what I got now but it wasn’t always like this. Like I said, people used to make fun of me growing up and whatnot. Then you look at the name of the show and it’s “Naruto,” and obviously you know he’s somebody important or somebody great, obviously. That’s how I feel about my life right now. I ain’t obviously where I want to be yet but I feel like when it’s all said and done it’s gonna be something monumental.

My favorite song on the project is “Imani,” it feels like a spirital successor to “Billy & Mandy.” What was the writing process like for that?

YungManny: That song, I didn’t even really write it, I ain’t gonna lie. I won’t get too deep into it. But hopefully you can infer and guess where I’m going with that song. I was in the studio, I was just pouring my heart out. Letting the microphone know how I really felt. That’s really how that came out. You can tell it was a love song. That’s really how that one went. I really enjoy that song too even though I sound lackadaisical and nonchalant about it right now. That was one of my favorite songs, I listen to it like everyday to this day. But that was the inspiration behind it.

How did it feel when you did “TPA” with Big Flock back in December? That’s a generational linking type of collaboration.

YungManny: Facts. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment and you don’t necessarily look at it from different perspectives. When I was growing up, I was listening to him. That was one of the people everybody listened to. It was cool that fast forward, I got a song with him. That’s who I was listening to in middle school before he was incarcerated and whatnot. It was a cool opportunity, it was a real genuine link up. I mess with Flock hard and all of that. And he messes with me. That’s how that went about. I felt like it was only right. He heard about me during his time there and obviously I knew his stuff. When that conversation was to be had, or whatever the correct grammar is, when we had that conversation we felt like it was a great move and it was the right thing to do. We felt like something great would come out of it. The song went dumb, it went stupid. We built a genuine relationship from right there. I love what happened with that.

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