"In thirty years I want to see Stones Throw records either in the $100 bin or in the 99 cents bin," says Peanut Butter Wolf in the engaging new Jeff Broadway directed documentary about his label Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton (This Is Stones Throw Records). He hopes that he doesn't see releases from the now iconic label of his, that he humbly founded back in 1996, in "the $5 bin." It's got to be the 99 cents or a $100 bin, one or the other. "I want people to really hate it or really love it," he stresses.
Those future decade crate diggers the DJ/producer and label founder born Chris Manak imagines, whatever their music tastes might be, are bound to find lots to love from the totally unique and independent Stone Throw Records label's incredibly diverse and prolific roster boasting hundreds upon hundreds of titles released over the past 18 years - all with that instantly recognizable logo known and respected the world over. Shoot, forget all the music releases; even those ubiquitous Stones Throw logo turntable slip-mats have become synonymous with DJ culture of the past two decades - as has The Turntablist's (aka DJ Babu) highly revered 1996 Stones Throw battle record release Super Duck Breaks.
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton (This Is Stones Throw Records), which played in festivals and select movie theaters over the past few months (to rave reviews), is being released on DVD/Blu-ray and CD soundtrack on May 27th. To fully celebrate the occasion and his love for Amoeba (where he shops regularly and which is featured in the film), on Wednesday May 28th at 6pm Peanut Butter Wolf will do an in-store DJ set and signing at Amoeba Hollywood. At this exclusive Amoeba event the first 20 purchasers of the highly recommended new movie and soundtrack release will receive a special fan pack that will include the new release plus a Stones Throw T-shirt plus high quality stickers.
No doubt during the in-store many longtime PB Wolf fans will also be picking up at Amoeba that same day the brand new 4 LP Peanut Butter Wolf and Charizma box set Circa 1990-1993 that is being released exclusively on vinyl also on May 27th. Meanwhile the 26 track various artists movie soundtrack CD contains a grip of Stones Throw faves all heard in the film including previously released and new tracks that include an uplifting live version of Aloe Blacc's "I Need A Dollar" and some sick new Madlib beats. The full Madlib soundtrack will be released on vinyl in July. You can pre-order the DVD/CD set, that comes with a cool booklet in its three panel digipak, from Amoeba now for the bargain price of $19.98.
The in-depth 90 minute film, that never lags or loses your attention, should be of interest to anyone - especially those who are already fans of the truly unique label and the numerous artists that have appeared on it over the years. The list of artists interviewed in the film is long and impressive and includes Mike D who gives Wolf and his label major props and who is genuinely impressed at how the Beastie Boys music, which Wolf is a lifelong fan of, played a part in shaping his musical tastes. But even diehard Stones Throw followers viewing this film will discover new insights into the innovative, ever changing record label's journey that has gone through many changes in an industry that they witnessed radically change all around them, and endured many challenges over its two decade lifespan. In fact Stones Throw was born out of such a challenge: namely Peanut Butter Wolf losing his musical partner Charizma who was shot and killed back in 1993 - this right after the major label they were briefly signed to dropped them as artists before releasing any of their music.
"When he died I just felt so helpless," PB Wolf told me in an interview I did with him for the liner notes of the Charizma release 4 LP BOX SET release Circa 1990-1993. In honor of the legacy of his slain friend/musical partner Wolf, following months of being depressed and in mourning and doing absolutely no music at all, he then set about trying to get a new record deal. "I made tapes, demo tapes of the stuff that we did and gave them to everyone I knew in the industry. And people were saying well no label is going to put this out cos the artist is dead. And then I felt really defeated when no one was into it." So a few years later in 1996 he set up his own Stones Throw label, primarily to release the unheard recordings of his slain partner.
This emotional tale of this time period is touchingly told in the opening segment of the documentary bolstered by lots of wonderful unearthed early footage of Wolf, Charizma, their families, and their close associates in San Jose, Milpitas, and the South Bay where they all grew up together and simultaneously got hooked on music - all types including soul, new wave, and of course hip-hop. From there the film traces Wolf's move from the Bay Area down to LA and the sowing of the seeds of what would become a totally one of a kind label - that, while initially building a rep as a hip-hop label, is more diverse than any other record label out there. As Ariel Pink observes in the film, "It's almost like Peanut Butter Wolf created his own genre" by signing and releasing a myriad of diverse acts including countless ones with no commercial appeal - just music he himself loves.
Peanut Butter Wolf “What’s In My Bag?” Amoeba Episode
"Stones Throw is like a commune at this stage," says Wolf in the movie following a clip of quirky alternative soul/rock Stones Throw act The Stepkids who Tyler, The Creator raves about in the film. "He's got that vision," says Michigan to LA transplant and Stones Throw artist Mayer Hawthorne who originally hoped to be signed as a rapper but it was Wolf who saw that his real talent lay in the Detroit influenced neo-soul; something that Hawthorne had dismissed as merely a fun side-project. In the documentary's Chapter 8 "The Rebound" section, Hawthorne says he considers himself as part of the "second generation of Stones Throw" along with, fellow non hip-hop but more soul/funk/dance producers/artists, James Pants, Aloe Blocc, and Dam-Funk.
The part about Dam-Funk is perhaps most revealing about Stones Throw and Wolf's unorthodox and unprecedented approach to the music business. In the film he talks about how he first connected with the LA funk musician/producer via MySpace and how he did a track for the Baron Zen remix project. Then he sat down with Dam-Funk who told him he had about 5 or 6 albums worth of material all recorded. At this point most interested labels might say to an unknown and unproven artist - okay how about we release one single and test the waters, or maybe offer to compile the best tracks and do a single album. But not Peanut Butter Wolf. Instead his thought was - Okay lets put out a vinyl box set by this artist that no one ever heard of but when they go to the record store and see this guy has a box set they will assume he must be good so they will buy it. "And it worked," he relays in the film.
The aforementioned "second generation" followed the years with (among other artists) Madlib, J Dilla, and MF Doom - all of whom are key figures in the Stones Throw story and hence command their own segments in the documentary with lots of interviewees weighing in on these three talents. The animated Gaslamp Killer talks in awe of Madlib and J Dilla teaming up as JayLib. Talib Kweli calls that collaboration "as close to perfect" for a hip-hop album. "That JayLib project turned out to be like, I guess a hip-hop monument," says Common who recalls how he and Detroit's Dilla were roomies after Dilla moved west to LA. And just as Charizma's death had an impact so too did J Dilla's. Madlib compared Dilla to jazz pioneer John Coltrane. "Dilla was like a Coltrane. When Coltrane was there everybody tried to follow what he did. And when he died mothafuckers didn't know what to do," he says in the film.
After Dilla died, Doom left, and Madlib didn't want to do hip-hop anymore Stones Throw became what PB Wolf describes in the film as "the wild west" - a place where anything goes and where he proceeded to put out a lot of releases that were not only not hip-hop, but experimental and weird even by alternative standards. "We had to start over because the people we were relying on were no longer with us or just not recording," said Wolf recalling how, "The more I strayed from what people knew Stones Throw to be the more I got criticized." This surprised him since he felt he was continuing the same business model as he began the label with: finding under the radar artists and giving them exposure. This is the point where the movie drifts into the absurd and ridiculously funny and shows the very witty and innovative PB Wolf slide into his Folerio alter ego - a super-sensitive, romantic artist somewhat reminiscent of Prince and bearing his soul and donning a flowing jet black wig and pencil mustache with an '80s club wardrobe. This was purely done for fun and pressed up in limited numbers (200 seven inch records that were dated as a "1984" release) under the made-up Good Time Records label (a Stone Throw imprint). Apparently Folerio, who insisted he is for the people and Stones Throw is not for the people, did not wish to sign with Stones Throw proper. See the hilarious Folario video above released at the time (2009) and included in the DVD set. What is so great about Wolf's incredibly funny and campy Folario persona is that it demonstrates how the self-effacing artist does not take himself too seriously and that he has never lost any of that childlike sense of fun and creativity that he had as kid growing up in the South Bay and that got him into doing music in the first place.
Of course the music business is not all fun by any means and Wolf touches on this when he discusses the crash of the music biz hit when big chains like Virgin and Tower went bust and had a direct impact on labels like his. "We got hit with tens of thousands of returns of CDs," he recalls in the film noting how most labels (especially independent ones) got wiped out at this stage and never recovered. However Stones Throw did manage to weather that dark financial period and stay on track as a label - maybe because of Wolf's vision of just wanting to put out music he liked and not trying to change artists' visions. As recent era Stones Throw signee Homeboy Sandman says of the label: "They don't try to create artists. They try to find artists." Further making this point is fellow Stones Throw artist Guilty Simpson who in the movie recalls how, "He told me didn't want to change me, he didn't want to change my music…..I could say what I want, do what I want."
It is only fitting that Peanut Butter Wolf should officially celebrate the DVD/Blu-ray release on the history of his label at Amoeba Music - a shop that he has spent many hours and dollars in, digging in the crates (see his enlightening What's In My Bag? video segment above). In the documentary (at 32:04 point) there's a wonderful overhead shot looking down on Amoeba Hollywood's cavernous ground floor aisles of record and CD bins with James Pants in the shot, as his Stones Throw track "Clouds Over the Pacific" plays, seen walking among the music bins happily swinging his shopping basket in hand and living every music fan's dream: crate digging at Amoeba Music. For his May 28th in-store set at Amoeba Hollywood Wolf told me that for his upcoming set, "I have a lot of records, and a lot were bought from Amoeba through the years, so hopefully I'll use this as an opportunity to stretch out a little." He also said, via email, that, "I'm gonna try to help people expand their mind rather than let it wither or die. Gonna edutain and bore people to death and never get asked to spin at Amoeba or anywhere else ever again." Of course he's kidding about not being invited back to Amoeba again since, as anyone who has ever witnessed one of Wolf's live sets, he never fails to surprise audiences - just like his record label has done all these years with a back catalog that boasts close to five hundred titles.
J Dilla - Last Donut of the Night (Donuts)
After twice watching (and thoroughly enjoying) Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton (This Is Stones Throw Records) you realize that the in-depth ninety minute documentary merely scratches the surface of the story on such a rich historied record label. While it includes so much information on and interviews with so many label artists as well as outside observers, the fact that the label's back catalog of releases from the numerous artists that have borne the Stones Throw label since 1996 is so vast, that there could easily be a Part Two or an entire documentary just on Peanut Butter Wolf himself. But then, on second thought, the fact that Stones Throw is Peanut Butter Wolf's baby and his vision carried through from day one, Our Vinyl does actually tell his story as much as the label's - one that has remained 100% true to what he sees as quality music and, equally importantly, has stayed 100% independent all these years.
As A-Trak, yet another artist who has been on Stones Throw, notes toward the end of the film; while so many other successful independent labels have gotten co-opted by major labels - typically to their detriment - Stones Throw has never taken any offers or sold out to large corporations but instead stayed true to the music. Hence when in 30 years from now record collectors are digging in the crates, it will more than likely be in the $100 bins (not the 99 cents) where they'll find Stones Throw Records releases.