The Club Beat with DJ Manny
| Image by Courtesy of the artist
I first got in touch with DJ Manny through another Baltimore club producer, DJ B-Eazy. When I interviewed the latter, I found out that the two are cousins. And to hear DJ Manny—aka Emmanual Wheele, 24—tell it, turntables run in the family: he was first inspired to take up music in high school, by an uncle and another cousin who were both DJs. “Seein’ them DJ, it looked like fun, it looked like something I wanted to do,” he says.
Though he learned the ropes on vinyl, Wheele has always been quick to jump on new technology, and took knocks from some of his peers for using CDJs early on. “They just kinda criticized me on me usin’ CDs,” he remembers. “But I’m still mixin’ live just like anybody else. But at the same time when Serato came out, everybody was so scared and skeptical of using Serato. They turn around and now everybody’s got Serato now.”
In 2001, Wheele started producing Baltimore club as well as spinning it, and soon found that making beats led to more and more bookings. “My name started to ring as far as the club tracks,” he says. “And once your name starts ringing, your phone starts ringing.” Soon, tracks such as “We Represent,” the Elephant Man-sampling “Back It Up,” and “Champ” were all over mix CDs by K-Swift, DJ Lil Jay, DJ Chris J., and K.W. Griff.
Still, there’s one song in particular that blew up DJ Manny’s name the most, and remains his calling card as a producer, “Down The Hill.” The track helped put a phrase to describe some local neighborhoods in the pantheon of Baltimore slang, and spun off into countless remixes, including Manny’s collaboration with DJ Frie for “Up The Hill.” But Wheele is quick to point out that the title line came from a track by one of his peers, Blaqstarr. “He had the song first,” Wheele says. “But I took the hook, ‘Hey down the hill,’ which was his sister’s voice, and I kinda revamped the whole thing and just put all my own samples and mixed it up with a few other samples, and came up with the track. So I always tell everybody, he was the first one to do it, I give him that credit.”
As for the frequently debated definition of exactly what part of Baltimore is described by the phrase, Wheele offers his own definition. “Anything below North Avenue is considered down the hill,” he says, but then adds, shrugging, “some people say they down the hill, and they might be on 20th street. It’s so many hills [in Baltimore]; Greenmount is nothing but a hill.”
For all his success with “Down The Hill” and other remixes of tracks by his peers, Wheele eventually eased up on sampling other club producers after getting some advice from one of the biggest DJs in the scene. “Rod Lee, he was like, ‘Don’t use samples with my voice in it, use your voice, that’s what gonna make you stand out,’” he says. And in recent years, Wheele has fallen back from producing to focus more on releasing hip-hop mix CDs and DJing events. His current residencies include Wednesdays at Club One, every second and fourth Sunday at Eden’s Lounge, and he already has private parties lined up for every weekend this summer. “I’m booked up playing consistently, all around the board,” he says.
When Wheele spins these days, though, Baltimore club takes a backseat to hip-hop and R&B. And with the 25-and-over crowd, it’s usually the ’90s classics. “When I work the club in, it’s more so the club music I was brought up on, so it’s more like the Odell’s era, stuff like that,” he says. “Club music is gonna always live, because club music is gettin’ bigger and bigger and bigger, but for the crowds that I play for now, the old club music is what they feel they can still vibe to, dance to.”