Mannie Fresh

The Mind of Mannie Fresh (Cash Money/Universal)

Skits have been endemic on hip-hop CDs since the days when flattops were a fashion statement, yet they're almost always lame -- which explains why the between-songs material that peppers the debut by Cash Money co-founder Fresh is so surprising. Astonishingly enough, several of the routines stand as highlights of the disc.

Not that Mind is a terrible waste. Fresh's average-guy voice isn't incredibly dynamic, but he's able to convey the fun he's having in songs such as "Conversation," a sassy point-counterpoint with Tateeze. As a bonus, the likes of "How We Ride," with David Banner, sport lighter-than-crunk Southern grooves that keep the party going even when the verbiage gets predictable -- and the skits fulfill the same function. The foul-mouthed "Pussy Power" wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if it weren't preceded by a snippet in which a peeved-sounding Fresh orders his nasty cohorts to "play somethin' beautiful for the ladies -- somethin' they're gonna understand." Likewise, "Shake That Ass" gets an important boost from its introduction by a bland-voiced announcer, who confesses, "We couldn't afford Keith Sweat, but we've got Sweaty Keith..."

That's keeping things Fresh.

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