The Latin From Manhattan!
DJ Manny Lehman is one of the hottest rising stars in the dance music world. qvMagazine spoke with him at his Los Angeles residency, The Factory, in West Hollywood, and he gave us the 411 on his Boricua upbringing, his discovery of Cece Peniston, and what exactly happened when his remix of Madonna's "What It Feels Like For A Girl" leaked onto Napster!
I hear they call you the "Latin from Manhattan!" That's me, baby. I was born in the middle of Manhattan, and I grew up in the Bronx-where all the Puerto Ricans live.
Did you know J. Lo? No, but she should know me (laughs). I grew up loving music, and I grew up very influenced with rhythms and percussions because of my Latin heritage and culture.
So, you're Puerto Rican? Yes. know I don't look it, but I'm Puerto Rican. "Lehman" comes from my great, great grandfather on my dad's side. He was German. Both my parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico, so my heart, soul, and spirit are Puerto Rican.
Do you speak Spanish? Seguro que si. ¡Yo soy puro Latino!
What were some of your musical influences growing up? There was a club in New York City called Paradise Garage. I walked in when I was 18 years old, and it changed me. I heard this music, and it had the most phenomenal sound I'd ever heard. I saw the deejay as an artist-and that really inspired me. He was the legendary Larry Le Van...a pioneer in the deejay world. So I bought two turntables and a mixer, and I tried to emulate him. I wanted to be his protégé. He was the man. Deejays like Frankie Knuckles, Junior Vasquez, and myself look at him as the head of the old-school deejays.
What were your early days like? I had a job at Vinyl Mania in New York where Le Van would buy his records. It was this closely-knit community, and I knew all the good records-so much so, that other deejays would come in and ask, "Hey, Manny, what's good?" I would hand them some records and they would love it. I got a reputation for having a good ear for music, and this, eventually, led to my first gig.
So, deejaying came from that experience? From there, it became a hobby...a creative outlet. Professionally, I went into the executive side of the music industry. I was an executive at A&M Records. I ultimately became an A&R Vice-President. But when A&M folded, I took some time off and then the deejay thing started to take off! I began doing a club called Hooker in Los Angeles, and then (circuit party promoter) Jeffrey Sanker's events.
One of your success stories was your discovering Cece Peniston and producing her classic house jam "Finally." Can you tell us about that? She was 19 and singing background on a rap record I was working on. She wrote "Finally" in her chemistry class. I heard the demo she did, and I said, "Oh my God, she has an unbelievable voice!" I flew her to LA because I wanted to meet her. I walked into the office, and I saw this cute little homegirl just chillin'. I asked her, "Do you wanna make a single?" and she said, "Uh huh!" I put her in the studio-and out came "Finally." It was a rough little 8-track demo, but I just thought there was magic in there.
Now you're remixing songs from some of the best in the music industry. I hear you did a remix for Madonna's "What It Feels Like For A Girl." How did you get approached to do that? It was through an executive at 4Play records who was speaking with Madonna's manager. (Madonna's manager) mentioned that it was time to work on the next single and that Madonna wanted something fresh. The exec said, "Why don't you have Manny mix it?" The manager said that was a hot idea. I got the acapella vocals, and I did it in two days because of the deadline. I wish I would have had two weeks!
What was your initial reaction when you heard that you were given that opportunity? My reaction was, "Oh my God!" That's ultimate validation. First of all, personally, the way I feel about Madonna, I love her just like everybody else. She's an icon-a living legend. There will not be an artist like her for a very long time. I've known her from way back in her early NY days, and I found it very fulfilling to do a remix for her. It was cathartic.
The remix was leaked onto Napster and to several Madonna-fan websites. What were your feelings about that? Well, the major problem is that at this point, Madonna hasn't approved ANY remixes. I'm standing here with a little bit of egg on my face. I had no idea (the remix would end up on Napster)! It all hit in one day-boom, there it was! I honestly do not know how it got there, and it's driving me crazy trying to figure it out. There were a couple of people who received it that I trust. I don't know how (the leak) could have happened.
You can catch Manny's amazing sounds at The Factory in Los Angeles, Crobar in Miami, & Twilo in NYC!
Next issue: The legendary Junior Vasquez!