by Minister of Information JR Valrey, SF Bay View Oakland Bureau
Mani Draper is one of the hidden gems of the Bay Area music scene right now; he is a solo artist, a producer and a lyricist in two popular Hip Hop groups: Eastshore Highway and the super group, Grand Nationxl. His production is very Mobb Music influenced, borrowing from greats like Ant Banks and the Mekanix, but you can also hear some Shock G, Dazz, Quik, Curtis Mayfield and the Neptunes in his sound and pattern selections, resulting in a new production genre being birthed called “Neo-Mobb Music.” He recently dropped “Communion: Book 1,” which is wildly popular with Hip Hop and music aficionados.
JR Valrey: How did you first get into music?
Mani Draper: Music is the first thing I remember obsessing over. My father’s best friend is DJ GMS. DJ GMS was part of early No Limit, as a DJ and producer. Some of my clearest memories are going to his house and sitting and going through every record he had. The keyboards, turntables, microphones, drum machines looked like Star Trek to me. Born in ‘89, that next five to six years at the time felt amazing. In retrospect, it would become recognized as the golden era.
JR Valrey: When did you start wanting to do music on a professional level?
Mani Draper: As soon as my senior season of college hoop was done, the first thing I did was go to the studio. I felt like that when it started, but I wouldn’t be serious until moving back to the Bay, where it would feel like a real possibility. Watching HBK build and become what they all became was so inspiring from a fan perspective. They were the first real representatives in music for me.
JR Valrey: How did Cleveland influence your sound as a producer and as a rapper?
Mani Draper: Honestly, I had no idea how much the city of Cleveland specifically was shaping me. Bone Thugs n Harmony were very influential to me, especially Krazy Bone. Learning more history and reverse engineering West Coast mobb music, the influence and roots of Parliament, not realizing my affinity for funk music wasn’t by accident. A lot of that is attributed to the great migration and those that settled in the Midwest – specifically Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Gary. Kid Cudi would show up later and be a major influence for me as well.
“License to Ill” was the first album I learned frontward and backwards, but it was the production that kept me engaged.
JR Valrey: How would you describe the flow that you have as well as the sound of the beats you produce?
Mani Draper: My style is directly a derivative of my parents’ favorite artists at the time. My pops was 23 when I was born and my mom was 21. Hip Hop was a baby then, but much of your identity was as tethered to who your favorites were. For my dad, his was EPMD, Ice Cube, DJ Quik and Scarface. My mom’s favorite was The Beastie Boys.
“License to Ill” was the first album I learned frontward and backwards, but it was the production that kept me engaged mostly – Rick Rubin, Bombsquad and Quik. Once Erk, Jay Ant, Su, Kuya, P-Lo and AkaFrank sounds started to become more prominent, it really opened my world, because they figured out how to blend the Bay mobb sound with the futurism of a Neptunes.
JR Valrey: How do you maintain being a solo artist, a member of the trio Eastshore Highway and a member of Grand Nationxl?
Mani Draper: Maintaining as a solo artist is extremely dependent on my ability to be part of such impactful collectives and subgroups. Eastshore Highway was special because DJ D Sharp was already a legend in my eyes because of what I knew of him as a DJ. Learning more about his career and watching his process solidified him as an absolute GOAT in my eyes. His sound is unmatched.
Rapping alongside Duece was an honor, and I believe he’s in a class all on his own as a MC and contributor. Grand Nationxl changed my life so much and brought the team element to music for me. Dungeon Family, Odd Future, Rawkus … the list goes on in regards to successful groups of people coming together to sustain, grow and unlock new spaces of creativity and not always being dependent on being hot. All that to say, my solo career is nothing without being part of these crews.
JR Valrey: What is your creative process like?
Mani Draper: My creative process is sacred in the fact that I don’t like to force anything. I really don’t feel ownership of ideas whether it be spiritual or physically in the lab. I’m usually collabing with someone that I respect, that I lean on heavy for inspiration. Spiritually I feel a responsibility to be original. You have to surrender to the process to unlock said originality. Even if it’s something you don’t understand, keep following the sound.
JR Valrey: Who inspired you musically and why?
Mani Draper: Musically, my aunties – my dad’s sisters Jasette and Morrisa – along with my God Brother Britton inspired me the most. They just had great taste and exposed me to a lot at a young age, everything from the Tonis and Jodeci to Cash Money, Sublime and Sade. They were die hard fans before anything. I’m fighting to sustain identifying as a fan before anything.
JR Valrey: What does your new album sound like? How would you describe the sound of it?
Mani Draper: “Communion: Book 1” is the first installment EP that will eventually lead to a full concept LP. “Book 1” sounds like another layer in the foundation of Neo-Mobb music, a term coined by JR himself! I’m really grateful for that actually. I feel like it really confirmed the direction we were aiming to unlock.
All songs produced by Kevin Allen formerly Erk Tha Jerk, with the exception of “Favor Weighs a Ton,” which was produced by Rexx Life Raj. We all share an affinity for the mobb sound that raised us, but that was funk-inspired. Ours is driven by Soul. “Communion Book 1” is Neo-Mobb music – danceable, palatable and futuristic.
JR Valrey: Who is featured on it?
Mani Draper: My Grand Nationxl family is all over the record. Brookfield Duece is on two songs. Kevin Allen is on two songs. PassWurdz, SOL Lauren Adams – all are some of my favorite artists in the world.
JR Valrey: How could people purchase it?