Story by Jessica Hundley, photos by Joao Caziani. Published in Fader Magazine, May/June 2003.
According to Stones Throw records founder Chris Manak (otherwise known as DJ Peanut Butter Wolf), what the world needs now is soul. Stones Throw has been responsible for releasing not only some of the best underground hip-hop of recent years (Quasimoto's "Hittin' Hooks", Breakestra's "Getcha Soul Together"), but also for unearthing (through their subsidiary label, Now Again) some of the brightest lost soul classics.
Stones Throw functions, in many ways, like a powerhouse rock group or an improv jazz ensemble; Eothen "Egon" Alapatt as label manager keeping up the backbeat, Jeff Jank as art director providing all the pretty melodies, Madlib occasionally stepping in to grab the mic and Manak providing the overall orchestration. With a marketing degree and "trial by fire" experience at a distribution house, Stones Throw's founder is in the unique position of being both an artist and an experienced business manager. Manak has relied upon independent radio and press (as well as old school word of mouth) for Stones Throw's success to date, but it's his dual role as DJ/owner which lends the label its real credibility. "I knew what I was looking for as a DJ," says Manak, "and with Stones Throw, that helped in knowing what I wanted to release as a label."
The result is a record company run by people who love/live/breathe music, the kind of people who dig deep through the record stacks of the Montgomery, Alabama Goodwill searching for vinyl paydirt. "With the re-issues," explains Alapatt, "it's mostly vinyl we've found throughout the Midwest, all of it pretty much recorded between '68-'74. Basically, we all sit down and listen to stuff we've found and if we like something, we track down the bands or the labels and license it from them and try to get it out there again, on a broader scale."
You can feel Stones Throw's enthusiasm the moment you enter their sprawling home and headquarters, a white stucco modernist manse clinging tightly to the edge of one high and green-palmed Los Angeles cliff. It's an energy which hits you even before you spot the towering stacks of new and upcoming releases (Wildchild "Secondary Protocol", Madlib's "Theme For Fergus"), even before you descend into the basement studio, Madlib playing tight drum beats in a haze of California Kind bud, even before you settle down into the white-walled sanctuary of Manak's bedroom, records filling up the space from floor to ceiling.
"I love hip-hop, it's what I grew up with," explains Manak, "and it was hip-hop which eventually lead me to soul. Because that's what it all comes back to, that's the sound that hip-hop was built from." And he'll prove it by putting on one of Stones Throw's lost classic 45 re-issues, a canyon deep groove dubbed "Blind Man", all rich harmonies and loose jams, the sound a band called LA Carnival made in Omaha, Nebraska one gray day thirty long years ago. "Like I said", says Manak, grinning hugely as the wax spins, "it all comes back to soul."