Meet Mani Draper, a rising emcee from the Bay Area


Richmond, CA is home to some of the most influential hip hop artists in the Bay Area, such as E-40, Mac Dre, Calvin T, Kevin Allen (formerly known as Erk the Jerk), Cool-E, and several others. Upcoming artist Mani Draper is proving he’s cut from the same cloth. Make no mistake, it’s Draper's writing that sets him apart, and it’s his writing and producing for others that are elevating him as one of the most respected emcees the Bay Area has ever raised. Growing up Draper was inspired by other Bay Area artists such as Sly Stone, Tony Toni Tone, and E-40. He dreamt of being a part of something that represented unity but also showcased freedom of expression and individuality. Upon returning from college, Draper joined forces with several dynamic Bay Area musicians, singers, producers, and all-around influencers to form a group called Brave Area: a collective that explores traditional sampling and live instrumentation, while taking full advantage of technology’s advancements, resulting in a sound that's new and familiar at the same time. In the summer of 2019, Draper released his album TV Babies.


Keep reading to learn more about Mani Draper and his journey in music.

Tell us your story, What made you decide to become an Emcee? I was born to be an emcee. My dad's best friend is DJ GMS (who was Master P’s DJ in the early days of No Limit). What was clear was my Dad's passion for making music, so growing up I can remember hip hop music and the culture influenced everything in my dad's world: jewelry, clothes, trucks with sound systems in them (I can even remember the weed smoke).


I associated all of that with hip hop because of the soundtracks to some of those settings. There was always music around. When my parents eventually split up, one of the ways my mom would make sure she kept close was music. Every Tuesday I could get a new album from Jones and Harris (local mom & pop record shop) and she always allowed me to have a semblance of a setup to make music. So I knew early I wanted to make music, but my creative partner and one of my best friends reminds me of signing his cast when we were younger and telling him I’d be a rap star one day.


When you were younger, what was the energy like around your house? What music did your parent(s) expose you to? I like to tell people that even though my parents were in their 20's most of their influences were within the “golden era” of rap. I can remember being dropped off at school in kindergarten listening to Geto Boys, Mary J Blige, Toni Tony Tone, DJ Quik, and Jodeci in the car. At home I heard everything from Country music artist Patsy Cline to R&B/Soul singer Curtis Mayfield.

Who have been your biggest influences, both as an emcee and a producer? My biggest influences as a producer have been Prince, Ant Banks, Mannie Fresh, Devante Swing (from Jodeci, DJ Quik, and Kevin Allen.


As an emcee, I've been influenced by artists such as Jay-Z, Outkast, Erykah Badu,

Black Thought (from the Roots), Rick Ross, Iamsu! (who is also my cousin) and Kevin Allen. What were some of the first hip hop instrumentals that resonated with you and made you consider producing? The first thing I resonated with was the beat but never thought about beat making or even knew the difference between beat making and producing until I read the credits inside the Bad Boy albums or Tribe albums. Puff would get production credit but it would say the Hitmen or the Tribe albums had co-produced by Bob Power. That always fascinated me but it wouldn't be until much later when I met the singer, Kate Lamont. She’s the one who told me I was a producer. I was already digging and collecting records, saving loops for rappers or other producers, recording myself and engineering sessions but that was all out of necessity.

Black Thought (from The Roots), Rick Ross, Iamsu! (who is also my cousin) and Kevin Allen. I like to tell people that even though my parents were in their 20's most of their influences were within the “golden era” of rap. I can remember being dropped off at school in kindergarten listening to Geto Boys, Mary J Blige, Toni Tony Tone, DJ Quik, and Jodeci in the car. At home, I heard everything from Country music artist Patsy Cline to R&B/Soul singer Curtis Mayfield.

You released your album TV Babies in 2019. What was the creative process like

with producers Sndtrack and Zenan? Walk me through the inception of TV Babies? Zenan and Sndtrak are the cheat code. The way they both hear music and their influences alone make them exceptional. Sort of like hearing Mannie’s beats for the first time, I can remember hearing them and having a similar experience in wanting to understand their respective languages more than anything. Just being fascinated by the idea that people like that exist.

The idea for TV Babies began on a tour that winter. Driving in the snow, performing in front of strangers and in empty rooms some nights. Just for the doorman some nights and they would buy an album or something and share with their entire crew of friends that night. It was humbling and validating at the same time. We listened to so much music I was reminded of why we do it and I wanted to make a concept album that told a story. What do you hope people understand about Mani Draper, after listening to this album? I’m uncertain about what I hope for people to understand about me, the artist. I think what I hope that they pick up on first is how many people were involved in the creative process while making the album. There were close to 25 people involved in some way if not more.

What pushes you to be such a personal and introspective artist? It’s the only way I personally know how to approach creating, which is to personalize the stories. It’s part of the processing, healing, and grieving for me I think. Or at best how I have come to understand life as a whole. I arrive at accountability in the process of writing songs.


Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process? The inspiration comes from everywhere. The one consistent component is listening though. Listening and not pretending to be in control. The songwriting process is never the same, so I surrender to the space and the song usually writes itself.

You have some of Richmond's best Emcees on your album TV Babies (Cheese, Iamsu!, Kevin Allen, RBC Bugzy, and WantmoreN8) why were they so important to the project? All of those guys' skill sets, approach to music, and style are important to me. None of them sound like anyone else. All distinct sounds. This may not seem like a lot but we’re in an era where referencing the popular sound is smart for business. They all choose to create and present something fresh. You have contributions from your family members throughout your project (parents, grandmother and sister) what do they mean to you? I believe I have something from a family member on every album. I’m just so proud to be one of them. I feel blessed to have access to so much game, love, and support.


I believe this album is a message from my dad who was one of my favorite people in the world. I use music as a way to heal. Adding that part was my way of letting him know life has afforded me the chance to understand his side of the story now. I hope he hears how much I understand now in ways that no explanation would allow for. Life took care of that.

Black Thought (from The Roots), Rick Ross, Iamsu! (who is also my cousin) and Kevin Allen. I like to tell people that even though my parents were in their 20's most of their influences were within the “golden era” of rap. I can remember being dropped off at school in kindergarten listening to Geto Boys, Mary J Blige, Toni Tony Tone, DJ Quik, and Jodeci in the car. At home, I heard everything from Country music artist Patsy Cline to R&B/Soul singer Curtis Mayfield.