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Manasseh Embraces The Light Within On “Monochromatic Dream”

Written by on May 20, 2022

Featured image by Amanda Carlson.

“The goal is, and will always be, to help fellow artists realize their dreams… we all have to start somewhere.”

– Manasseh

Manasseh believes there’s room for everyone in Chicago’s music scene.

South Side Chicago musician Manasseh elevates listeners with a tantalizing blend of R&B, otherworldly soundscapes and ear-hugging production. 

Manasseh’s musical beginnings started with his mother, a vocalist who helped create his artistic foundations as well as his work ethic.  Getting started in the Chicago scene as a session vocalist and songwriter, he began releasing his own music in 2017 and eventually debuted his album Chasing Moonlight in 2021. 

Manasseh by Martin Smith, courtesy of the artist.

Released March 29, Manasseh’s newest album, Monochromatic Dream, is an intensely colorful undertaking despite the name, which reflects a “black-and-white” attitude toward making important life changes. According to Manasseh, the album is a symbol of positive change and reflects his identity as a Black queer artist.

In addition to his solo work, Manasseh has cemented himself as a pillar of the Chicago music community as a vocal coach and helping artists reach their fullest potential through his company Dope Tunes Production. 

We heard from Manasseh about his musical upbringing, uniting Chicago’s music scene and the trippy visuals accompanying Monochromatic Dream.

“Go into the world and love each other… but don’t forget to love yourself!”

– Manasseh

Your mother was also a vocalist. How has she influenced your musical journey? What lessons about being a musician did you learn from her?

My mother is the beginning of everything I’ll ever know about music. Being raised in church, having a strong foundation so early on has led me to where I am now. I’m thankful for learning that “an honest effort can’t be denied.” She always encouraged me to do my best with everything. Also, enunciation was a big thing my mom was adamant about.

You’ve spent years as a vocal coach helping other artists to sharpen their skills. For you, what is the most fulfilling aspect of being a vocal coach? What’s an affirmation or piece of advice you think every musician needs to hear?

The most fulfilling aspect of it all, is watching my fellow artist grow. Moving from point A to B, it’s a beautiful thing! We all have to start somewhere and I’m more than happy to help others realize their potential and push those boundaries. When it’s all said and done, we’ve all grown in the process. I try to remind everyone, and myself, that they’re worth the self-investment. They are worthy of a chance to create and express themselves in their own way — truly embrace the light within that’ll soon bless others.

Elaborate a little bit on how your identity and experiences as a Black queer artist have informed your latest album, Monochromatic Dream. How do you feel your work, as you told the Chicago Tribune, is an extension of yourself?

I’m a Black man before anything else, and that has shaped my life more so than being queer. The color of my skin precedes my preference. At some point, I realized something had to change. I decided to be more courageous and intentional with my actions, the people I surround myself with, the way I treated myself and others. Those realizations are what birthed Monochromatic Dream. I needed to take a chance on myself and really shed and accept some things. My life has been very colorful, but those moments of knowing a shift was needed, were always black and white.

What’s one thing you most hope listeners will take away from your album?

I hope everyone that hears the album feels lifted up from where they were moments before listening. I hope that people can feel and understand, even without knowing every waking detail, where I’m coming from.

Photo by Seed Lynn.

Every song on Monochromatic Dream has beautifully layered production and arrangement. Do you have a method for combining so many different sounds into one cohesive mix? How do you know when a song is finished?

I’m so blessed to have wonderful friends/collaborators. We put our heads together and create sounds. A lot of the music, produced by Aidan Eubanks, were ideas that turned into songs, which turned into the album. I did a lot of “on the spot” kind of writing. Also had a bunch of old lyrics that I hadn’t used. I can tell a song is finished when I feel like I can finally breathe or if I feel like I want to hear it over and over, not to scrutinize, but to enjoy. I typically enjoy making ethereal sounding tunes- creating ear hugs!

Tell us about your collaborations with other Chicago artists, like AMI. What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the city’s music scene?

AMI is my girl! She’s so amazing and one of the sweetest people you’ll ever want to be around. She just “get it”… every single time! Her producing the AMI Mix of “Just,” originally produced by Andrew Bedows, was and still is a dream! I feel like Chicago’s music scene is strong, as there’s so many talented people here. There’s literally something for everyone here. As a whole, Chicago — and the music scene — needs to be more unified. Racism has always been the wedge that drives us further apart from each other. While I’m glad to have such awesome collaborators, we need to keep pushing past this “crabs in a barrel” mindset. There’s room for everyone at the table.

What inspired the dreamlike visuals on your music video for “This Groove,” featuring J-Hop?

I must say that all the credit goes to Brandon Holmes and Josh Jones. They are an amazing team. I remember chatting with them about the different colors that I’d want to see in the video and the rest is history. They nailed it! Fun fact: we filmed at an abandoned church that ultimately turned out to be a bat cave!

Tell us about your production company, Dope Tunes Productions LLC. How did it start? What do you want to accomplish with it, and do you feel you’re on the way to reaching that goal?

The name started out as a folder in my Gmail. I stored session drafts and final mixes there. In 2018, my cousin and I founded Dope Tunes Productions to assist artists with handling the moving parts of starting and completing various projects. In the wonderful world of art, there’s a bunch of passionately flakey individuals. It’s our job to enlist trustworthy and skilled people to assist our clients. The goal is, and will always be, to help fellow artists realize their dreams. Again, we all have to start somewhere.

What plans do you have for the rest of 2022? What do you hope to achieve?

I plan on releasing another project or two. I’m also dreaming up more visuals — I’ve got some really cool ideas! My hope is to reach as many people as possible with the message that it’s ok to be yourself, whether you’re same gender loving or someone that identifies with a plethora of beliefs. Go into the world and love each other… but don’t forget to love yourself!

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Listen to Manasseh on Spotify below and follow him on Instagram.

Interview by George Chiligiris and Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by George Chiligiris

Interview edited for clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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