True Kings of The Underground
- December 09, 2006
DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, founder of Stones Throw Records, has been quietly building an empire through word of mouth, and his name is on the tongues of some of hip-hop's biggest movers, shakers and royalty. Now celebrating their 10-year anniversary, Stones Throw's influence and audience is expanding with every release.
Vapors: Can you tell us what your typical day consists of now versus when you first started the label 10 years ago?
PBW: The day-to-day is a lot different than when I first started; when Stones Throw began, it truly was just me. When I moved to LA five years later, it was me, Jeff Jank and Egon. Jeff was doing most of the art direction, Egon was doing more production, and I was handling more A&R. Now we have 10 people, so a lot of time is spent coordinating. We have meetings every Friday to discuss creative ideas.
Does the newfound circumstance of having a bigger staff also affect your label's process of signing an artist?
It does. Since we really are a team-oriented format, when we sign an artist now, I want to think of all the employees, and how it will affect everyone. It's really been a learning process, and we want to work with artists that are a great match for our team. We never want to run into a place where we all agree on production, but then have a disagreement on promotion.
When you bring on artists, do you explain that it's a symbiotic relationship between both themselves and the label?
Well, that's something that we really try to do. A case-in-point is, if I really like someone's album, I'll want to put it out and hopefully at the same time, if they like the label, they'll want to do it with us. It's key for us now to make it a perfect fit, so we can both be on the same page about what we can bring to each other. In this relationship, I want my artists to be happy, etc.
Do you guys work on music for movies and TV shows as well to help bring the music to a broader audience?
We have someone in our licensing department who works on those things for us. It's more difficult than it seems, and we're just branching off into that. The things we're doing with Adult Swim are great and that helps support the cause.
Does being in the driver's seat sometimes seem a tough act to tame? I imagine it must be difficult knowing that people's careers are on your back, so to speak.
It can be a little frustrating sometimes, but I love it. The key thing to remember is that we are both in charge of their careers; the record will only sell as much as they are willing to promote it as well.
I wanted to talk about Rawkus for a second. They actually helped bring a lot of people to a bigger audience. Everyone feels that you guys are in that same vein, and Stones Throw is the hot label. Mos went on, Talib, etc. Do you want to do that same type of thing and have your artists go on, or do you want everyone to stay home?
Well, with Madlib, he did the record for Blue Note and people thought I would be upset about that, but it was actually my idea. I went to them and said, "Listen, you should do an album with Madlib, he should do remixes for your catalog. He really knows jazz, hip-hop and modern music."
Is it also hard to find the right balance between promoting your artists and taking care of your own work as an artist yourself? Do your needs as an artist come secondary to the needs of the label?
Definitely; I've really switched gears to the point where I feel like I'm not an artist sometimes, because of the amount of hats I wear at any given moment. I don't really give myself producer credit though, because in hip-hop it really just means who came up with the beat, originally.
That's a great segue into talking about J Dilla and the things that he did with you guys and for hip-hop in general. He was the integral part of so many songs I love. I realize the main reason for that was because it was before the time of the "Look at me, I'm the producer" men- tality that is on every track now.
That's the truth. Dilla was never really one to be a self promoter. He actu- ally would just hide his production credit under the name the Ummah. Everyone gave Q-tip and others the main production credit, which I'm sure that they all did some, but when you look at Dilla's work on his own, you see what he does and what he was capable of.
Is there anyone in particular that you want to work with?
I know Madlib wanted to work with Wu-Tang and he has been actually, which came through his working with MF Doom. Also, I know he wants to work with MOP; I think they are really underrated even though they are more popular than we are. I think they still could be even more popular. The Doom thing sort of happened that way; we sort of reached out to him and he was down. The same thing with Dilla; he called us and it was a dream come true for Madlib. Dilla called us and not vice versa, so that was cool.
That must give you a lot of validation?
MySpace really has been great for us for as far as validation goes! DJ Red Alert saw that I had a lot of friends or whatever, and thought, "Damn, I guess this dude is legit!" Is this the new face of hip-hop? I actually met him years ago with Questlove at an event and he introduced us. It's funny because Quest told Red Alert, "This is Peanut Butter Wolf, he's the king of the underground and he's got more breaks than you!" I feel if the label ended tomorrow, we would have a lot of accomplishments and we would have a lot to be proud of. The catalog is in place for the legacy!
This a more personal question. Do you still geek out a little when you meet people who you listened to and grew up on when you were a kid? I read the piece about you first meeting with KRS-One.
Yeah, as a matter of fact, Arabian Prince was one of the first people I lis- tened to growing up. We've been talking to him and we want to put out a greatest hits of his. We're in negotiations right now, and it's great having him come by the office and say, "I can see you guys are right on the verge," and he's one of the founding members of NWA. Hearing that makes me step outside myself and say, "Damn, that's cool."
Can you tell me a little bit about the new projects you have going?
I know you and J-Rocc have something coming out. That's a little bootleg bit, just for us on tour, but the biggest new thing that's going on right now is the record we have coming out with Adult Swim. We feel that's going to do well and we're promoting Chrome Children with this new tour. Then we are working on the new Madvillian record for next year. Madlib has a solo album he's going to put out as well.
You're not going to stress him about it, right?
No, no it's done when it's done. We have started working with a little bit better of a deadline this year though, just because it seems this last year everyone finished their albums at the same time! However, at least they got done. We may try to spread it out a little bit with tentative dates. We also do have a Dilla album coming out next year - Ruff Draft - which we were working on with him before he passed away. Also Koushik's album will be out next year, and he's got a different feel. He's a hip-hop head with some 60s and 70s sensibilities.
My last question is, who inspires you now?
I really draw a lot of inspiration from the old stuff, but I don't want to seem like I don't like new things, because I do. There are artists who we listen to that aren't signed yet. We also listen to a lot of demos and find certain gems that we like and that is always great. The new people we find we like, we want to bring to the world. People always ask how to hit us up with music, but the best way is to send us a MySpace message that has your three best songs-if we like it we'll hit you back!
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