Chris Manak, a.k.a. DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, grew up on San Jose’s East Side. When he isn’t beat digging with the Roots’ ?uestlove or trading 45s with Biz Markie, he lives in Los Angeles, where he is a hip-hop DJ, record producer and owner of Stones Throw Records. He wrote this piece for Metro about growing up on hip-hop in the South Bay. -Editor
My name is Chris Manak, a.k.a. DJ Peanut Butter Wolf. I moved to San Jose in 1976 as a young kid and went to Piedmont Hills High School. The unique cultural climate of east San Jose shaped who I am today and who I will always be. Thankfully, I still come back to the Bay Area about twice a month for DJ gigs and to visit my family, who all reside in “San Jo.”
Todd Inoue gave me the green light to write whatever I wanted for Metro. I came up with the idea to go back to an older hip-hop era in San Jose. Here are my Top 11 Hip-Hop Memories of the South Bay from 1982 to 1992.
1.) Setting up a “human jukebox” outside my house in 1982
My best friend, “Sweet Steve” Helmer, and I had this incredible idea to bring our turntable console and all our records outside and invent our own jukebox to make money. Steve and I had hundreds of 45s, and even though we were only 11, we felt like grown men trapped inside the bodies of kids. We put the record player under a table, covered it with a tablecloth, hid underneath and charged 25 cents for two songs. My little sister, Amy, decided to cash in as well, setting up a lemonade stand next to us. Nobody was interested in the jukebox, but my sister made some good money.
2.) Recording a cassette with Steve of our top 50 songs of 1982 (which he recently dug up)
Inspired by our favorite radio station at the time, KSOL, we announced songs in prepubescent voices, mentioned a few things about the artists and tried our best at being radio personalities. Kraftwerk, Soul Sonic Force and the Time got equal plugs in our top 50. We even did a fake ad for Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.” The No. 1 song of the year in our opinion back then? Prince’s “1999.”
3.) Getting dropped off by my mom in 1983 at Chuck E. Cheese on Tully Road to watch a breakdance competition
I don’t remember who won the contest, but it felt like being on the set for Beat Street, my favorite movie at the time. I never knew how to break dance, so instead I asked for a mixer for my 13th birthday, so I could teach myself to scratch and mix. My parents got me a Realistic model from Radio Shack with a crossfader. Now, I’d finally become a DJ!
4.) Recording mix tapes for all my friends at Piedmont Hills High School instead of doing my homework
Back in the mid-’80s, my mix tapes were split by coasts. East Coast was slower in tempo. Maybe that’s why people would breakdance in the East and poplock in the West. Those tapes had everyone from UTFO to the LA Dream Team. I was a quiet, shy guy in high school, but making people tapes was my way of trying to be cool. That hasn’t changed.
5.) Getting hired at Star Records [corner of Capitol Expressway and McKee Road]–my favorite record store–in 1990 after waiting over 10 years
I thought it was the greatest thing in the world to get paid as a full-time DJ, playing records for Julius Papp, MC Twist and Jazzy Jim. I had shopped there since 1979, and back then, the owner promised me a job when I was old enough to work since I knew all the jams before even she did. Blow Up Factor: Peanut Butter Wolf and friend enjoy a cold beverage.
6.) Listening to Kevvy Kev’s KZSU [Stanford University’s] radio show, the Drum, in 1985
I’d get so nervous when I called the request line, and Kev would answer the phone. I listened to the show every Sunday night at 6pm religiously. Half the songs he played I couldn’t get at Star Records. It inspired me to seek out the rare underground records on indie labels that were coming out at the time. I later got my demo played on his show and was in disbelief. The demo was done with my first MC, Mark S. I did all the beats on a Boss “Dr. Rhythm” drum machine, and we did all the rhymes and scratches live out of my bedroom.
7.) Doing shows with DJ King Shameek in 1985 and him telling me that we’d soon be hip-hop stars and would tour together
He later moved to NYC and blew up with the group Twin Hype. I remember seeing his 900-number ads (alongside Fresh Prince) during Yo! MTV Raps and thinking, he used to promise me we’d “Do it to the Crowd” together. What happened?
8.) Going to the Egyptian Lover show at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in 1986 and getting dropped off only to find out it was sold out
I had to wait for my mom to go home so I could call her to come back and pick me up–pre-cell phone era. Later that year, while still in high school, I got my first taste of the stage and lights, opening up for Triniere with my man, MC Cool Breeze. We wore matching Coca-Cola shirts to the gig and had to sneak into the club. Triniere came to the show in a pink Rolls Royce limo and kicked us out of her dressing room. We felt so stupid.
9.) DJing at KSJS
I first started on the hip-hop radio show “Project Sound” in 1990 and eventually started my own funk show called “The Groove Machine.”
The program director of KSJS also helped me put out my first record, “You Can’t Swing This,” by Lyrical Prophecy in 1990. One of the first 12-inch rap records from San Jose, only 500 copies were pressed. DJ Shadow told me recently that the record now goes for big money in Japan with hip-hop collectors.
10.) Recording and performing with MC Charizma in ’91 and ’92
We were doing radio, clubs, magazines and TV appearances as my dreams were finally becoming reality. Charizma and I did shows for the Bomb’s David Paul at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, sharing the bill with House of Pain, Black Sheep, Pharcyde and Nas. The Rocksteady DJs–DJ Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike and Apollo–opened for us!
We were interviewed by a then-unknown Sway for KMEL’s new hip-hop radio experiment called The Wakeup Show. Who would have guessed that Sway would eventually become the face and voice of MTV! We never made it to MTV, but we did make it to Home Turf. Back then, everyone had a crush on show host Dominique DiPrima, but Kevvy Kev was dating her at the time, so Charizma and I just admired her from afar.
11.) Being part of the first hip-hop group from San Jose to be signed by a major label
In late 1992, Charizma and I signed with Hollywood Records, which was owned by Disney. They had us recording in bigger studios and our checks had Mickey Mouse’s face on them. We toured Europe with Raw Fusion [Money B and DJ Fuze of Digital Underground], and they would tell us stories about their friend Tupac and how he was always a wild one.
They were also in the process of recording a new song in the same studio we went to called “I Get Around.” I later found out that they used to all bump our demos, and that’s the reason we got signed in the first place.