“When I got the call, I was thrilled,” Melissa Weber—DJ Soul Sister—says of a recent chat she had with Mannie Fresh.
For many across the globe, Mannie Fresh (born Byron Otto Thomas) is the face of New Orleans hip-hop, due to his early success as part of the Big Tymers duo (with Birdman) before laying down the sound of countless Cash Money hits and his role today as acclaimed producer. But first, Mannie Fresh was a DJ rocking house parties and clubs, and it’s in that mold that he twice shared the stage at the Hi-Ho Lounge during the (now discontinued) legendary Saturday night series hosted by DJ Soul Sister—Hustle, the “right-on party situation” fueled by her expert curating of “rare groove” found on vinyl from the ’70s and ’80s.
“I feel like a lot of people only associate him with his success with Cash Money and all his productions,” Soul Sister explains. “They don’t associate him with old-school. But that’s where he comes from. That’s where all of us come from. Cutting, mixing and scratching—he comes from that tradition. He grew up on that, as did I.”
The two DJs’ shared love of that old-school sound is the reason Mannie Fresh made that phone call, with the conversation leading to the first of many planned shared showcases, dubbed Body Rock. “The name comes from the old Treacherous Three song,” Soul Sister explains. “In the early–mid ’80s, the term was slang for dancing.”
“Soul Sister is a real crate digger—her education in music is what drew me to her,” says Mannie Fresh, who lists Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Midnight Star among his favorite old-school artists. “She plays songs I’ve never even heard of. She finds jamming songs that nobody’s ever heard of and she knows exactly when to play them—she reads the crowd and knows exactly what to hit them with. If you’ve been to one of her parties, then you already know.”
The chance to spin for a live audience at Body Rock inspires Mannie Fresh. “Artists get to a certain level of fame, or whatever you want to call it, and they have no idea what’s going on in the world,” he explains. “This gets me back to my roots. Getting people out on the dance floor and escaping from life—that’s what a good DJ does—get people to party like there’s no tomorrow.”
With the two planning to alternate in a series of four sets, Body Rock also allows Soul Sister to do what she enjoys most. “I started out throwing parties because I wanted the DJ to play the way I want to play, mixing music the way I want to hear it” she says. “It’s a control thing, and a fun thing. It’s fun to rock the party.”
Mannie Fresh & DJ Soul Sister’s Body Rock, Vol. I throws down at the House of Blues 10 p.m. Sunday, September 3. Tickets $10.