Unlike most record companies, Manny Strong Records stresses the importance of family and community and cares about providing the highest quality product for the cheapest price.
Promoting fresh hip-hop with a positive message is the goal behind the North Philadelphia-based label that was founded by aspiring artist John “Black Cease” McCay.
Cease, 23, of Erie Avenue, is trying to make a name for himself with his label’s new promotional mix, Jay-Z: American Wankster / I’m Looking 4 Curtis Jackson. While the title of his mix tape is a call-out to Jay-Z, who Cease claims stomps on up-and-coming rappers (especially those from Philadelphia), it is more about demonstrating Black Cease’s talent and readiness to collaborate with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
“I got the talent, I got the brains, I got the confidence and I’m here to make a difference,” Cease said. “I don’t understand why artists make songs, but they don’t say anything, like ‘This is why I’m hot.’ They don’t have any message behind it; they’re either sampling people’s beats or hits that sold millions of records.”
Songs like “I Got Da Charm in Me,” “Get To Know Me” and “Peace in Da Streets” have honest and positive lyrics, which Cease believes most rap music today lacks. Hip-hop has received a lot of negative attention in recent years because rappers are obsessed with maintaining a fake thug image to make money, Cease said.
But he argued that artists like himself could be honest about drugs, violence and hustling in their music and be good role models at the same time.
“You can’t avoid hustling. There’s no way you can get to the top without hustling,” Cease said. “Drugs are one good hustle, but that’s not all hustling consists of. Hustling consists of hard work by any means necessary, and I’m doing hard work every day so I can keep it real and help people.”
The hip-hop of Manny Strong Records may be hard-hitting, said their vice president who is known as Rell, but they stand out from other rap labels because they ultimately represent life and hope off of the streets.
“All of us are from Philly, which is a rough place to grow up in. My mom was on drugs until I was 16 years old,” Rell said. “The problem with the rap scene is that it glorifies the streets. We may have sold drugs or done wrong in the past, but we’re here to tell the kids that you can learn from other people’s mistakes and not your own.”
Cease and his friends at Manny Strong Records have a non-profit organization called Life Outside The Streets that gives back to the community.
Rell and the other members of Manny Strong are also working closely with a similar multimedia label, “Struggle, Climb, Rise and Survive,” simply known as SCRS, on a project called Gift Homes, which will provide shelter to recovering addicts, ex-convicts and abuse victims in the city.
“All of the people involved in SCRS and Manny Strong are fathers to more kids than their own,” SCRS founder Brandon Eisouer said. “We’re adamant about being there for the kids who don’t have role models.”
Eisouer, 27, is currently working on a documentary to be released under SCRS called Philadelphia: Homicide City/Money, Murder and Politics that will feature Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street, G-Unit member Mike Knox and organizations like Mothers In Charge, among others.
He is also petitioning for the city’s new $56 million budget to be used for community parks and social programs instead of squandered by the corruption that has long plagued Philadelphia. Eisouer said he hopes his upcoming documentary will catapult the petition to a city-wide movement.
“[SCRS] is pronounced ‘scarce’ because this is a scarce time, with a scarce bunch of people working together for good,” Eisouer said. “Whites are moving into black neighborhoods and different media is acceptable, and different norms are demanding change. We are non-negotiable and we are standing up for a cause.”
Until that level of change is reached, Manny Strong Records and SCRS continue to throw parties to showcase their talent.
In spite of a phony hip-hop movement and a crime-ridden city, the people at Manny Strong Records and SCRS are taking the streets back, even if it’s just one party at a time.
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.