The first thing you notice about Manny Monday is his voice. The thing that separates a good emcee from an average one is a distinct voice—when you hear Ghostface Killah, or Nas, or even Portland’s own Tope guest on a feature, you immediately recognize them. Manny’s forceful flow and underlying grit give his voice that same indelible quality. There’s also his phrasing: Manny knows when to shift from vocal acrobatics that show his skills to a more deliberate delivery that proves his point.
Beyond Manny Monday himself, though, is his work. His 2014 mixtape Workaholix was a singular work in Portland hip-hop last year, a work that went relatively unnoticed by the local press. It’s a shame because Workaholix is exactly the kind of project that could resonate with a larger Portland audience.
While so many hip-hop projects get mired in skits, topical content, and simply too many tracks, Workaholix shines as a focused piece of work with a great deal of thematic unity. At the heart of Workaholix is struggle.
“I think the best music can come from struggle or life experience, so whenever I’m going through something, I hit the inbox and look for a beat,” Manny explains. It’s the fact that Workaholix is based in universal, everyday struggles that makes it feel like such a timeless work. The first track on the album is about how terrible Mondays are—it’s hard to get more relatable than that. Beyond everything else though, Workaholix is a document of an artist at a crossroads.
“I had a full-ride scholarship for four years to Morehouse College in Atlanta. I needed a fifth year to finish and unfortunately I wasn’t able to secure the funds,” Manny says. “And when I came back, it was like square one for me.” Manny’s experience as a college dropout is referenced throughout Workaholix (as well as during his feature on the Dre C track “Top Of The World”—listen below) and was obviously a formative experience for the young emcee. “And so seeing people graduate and move on, sometimes I’d get in this weird, dark place—when I wrote ‘Wimbledon Arena’ I was in one of those moments.”
“I got to get my shit together: Only two things I fear and that’s God and being a failure” —“Wimbledon Arena”
In a city filled with people working multiple jobs while balancing life, work, school and art, “Wimbledon Arena” should be a widely accepted Portland anthem. After all, Manny was trying to find that same balance himself when he wrote that track and the one that follows it: “Caterpiller.”
“I was just trying to weigh whether or not I should try again with school or really push the music,” Manny pauses. “I’m constantly in a battle between that all the time.” Not long after our interview, I spotted Manny on the campus of Portland State University carrying art supplies. Apparently that battle is still playing itself out.
While it’s ultimately up to Manny to determine his future, Workaholix is proof positive that Manny can hang with the best of them and should have a bright future ahead of him in the Portland music scene. He’s not in this battle alone, though.
It’s impossible to write about Manny without mentioning the Soar Losers. For those unaware, the Soar Losers are a Portland hip-hop collective whose members include Manny Monday, Stewart Villain, Myke Bogan, Vinnie Dewayne, Tre Redeau and T Spoon. They haven’t made a formal project together—yet—but they routinely guest on each other’s features and regularly perform together at gigs, announced or unannounced. (See last year’s PDX Pop Now! when Vinnie Dewayne stole the weekend by guesting on fellow Losers Tre Redeau and Stewart Villain’s festival performances.) It’s safe to say that the Portland hip-hop scene has never witnessed a collective encompassing this many of the city’s most popular and critically acclaimed hip-hop artists.
While Myke Bogan continues to build an audience outside of Portland and Vinnie Dewayne’s contemplative lyrics have gained him recent converts in the Portland music media, the 2014 releases by Manny Monday and T Spoon (whose The Cost Of Living is another criminally underrated release) have gone relatively unnoticed. Then, there’s Stewart Villain, who completes the collective both as an emcee (his project No Manners features a host of different producers including Portland R&B act Magic Fades) and as a producer (producing joints for each of the Losers and members of the wider Portland hip-hop community from Tope to Load B).
“Last time I checked my clique was good, we don’t need any more new homies” —“Hockey Sticks”
Manny seems to be aware of just how special his crew is. Oft referencing the collective on Workaholix, “Everybody wants to be the best in the clique,” Manny says. “And it does get competitive but I like the competitive spirit—it makes us all want to go hard.”
Stewart Villain definitely holds a special place in the geography of Manny Monday, though. Much of Workaholix is produced by Stew, and in many cases, the titles of beats that he sent Manny were left unchanged. “A lot of people ask me, ‘Yo, why do you have these weird names on your tracks?’ Stew sends me beats with these names and they’re dope so I don’t really change them,” Manny explains.
Occasionally, the original Villain titles find themselves referenced in the lyrics, such as on “Hockey Sticks” where Manny compares himself to “Gretzky in his prime,” but on a track like “Caterpiller,” the connections are more nebulous.
“Caterpiller” is one of the central tracks on Workaholix. Over a beat that shifts between atmospheric jazz and frenzied Atlanta-style trap (which incidentally perfectly illustrates the versatility of Stewart Villain as a producer), Manny again finds himself waxing poetic about his past and how to move forward, distorted. “As I sit and reflect, I got bills to pay... I won’t stop till I see it progress, my reality is struggle but I dream of success,” Manny raps.
Interestingly enough, “Caterpiller” is one of those rare hip-hop tracks without explicit language. “Trying to play edited versions of songs is just weird,” Manny explains. “I don’t like edited nothing, I like the raw. So if you listen to ‘Caterpiller,’ there’s no profanity but there’s still substance—I still get my point across.” The track comes to a stunning climax with the distorted voice of Manny Monday reciting the Serenity Prayer.
Manny definitely has an ear for production though, and whether it’s the numerous joints produced by Stewart Villain or the other producers he chooses to work with, each track manages to feel distinctly his own.
There’s a lot to expect from Manny over the next year. He’s currently working on a new mixtape that will drop this summer. Manny also has a lot of features that are coming soon, from an appearance on Stewart Villain’s producer-centric release to another guest track with Dre C.
I’ve only seen Manny headline a show once—last September at Kelly’s Olympian—and like the first time I listened to Workaholix, it was an experience I won’t soon forget. After guesting during the aforementioned Dre C’s set, Manny took the stage and led the crowd through a blistering hour-long set, spending much of the night off the stage, rapping in a crowd that was spitting his lyrics back at him. A similar gesture made by another artist could feel contrived or awkward, but on that night, Manny just felt like one of us.
And in many ways, he is.