Since 1979, Chris Manak has been maintaining hip hop with its authentic sound, ensuring the tracks he releases become future classics. He began by making mix tapes for the breaking crews that used to get down at the roller skating jams in San Jose, his hometown. The music he threw in those tapes ranged from Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” to Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and anything else he was feeling at the time. By age thirteen, he was the crowd pleaser known as DJ Chris Cut. His formula for rocking parties was simple: he only spun what he liked.
Fast-forward to 1989. Chris Cut changes his name to Peanut Butter Wolf, and he hooks up with a local cat named Charizma. Since Wolf had beats and Charizma could rhyme, they put their skills together and made home recordings. They even made a name for themselves in the Bay Area, and eventually got a deal with Hollywood Basics. But the record label wasn’t giving them the artistic freedom they were used to and nothing materialized from their deal. And, to make matters worse, Charizma was shot and died at age twenty. Wolf gave up on music.
Years later, Wolf takes his experience from working with other labels and honours Charizma’s death by independently releasing their joint, “My World Premier.” It was the record that launched his label, Stones Throw, in 1996. Since then, Peanut Butter Wolf has made sure to only release what he believes is good music. Wealth and fame would only be a consequence of what he has done to keep up the quality of music being released from his label. A good example of this is how he is committed to continue releasing the instrumental versions of the albums his label releases. His main reasons for this are to allow artists to be able to rock a show from vinyl and also to allow for deejays to remix tracks.
His conviction for keeping dope music alive has led him to release countless gems from underground legends like Lootpack, Rasco, Dudley Perkins, and, the beat conductor, Madlib. But, like all records that have been considered ahead of their time, the releases from Stones Throw are slowly being discovered and appreciated by the masses. So, Peanut Butter Wolf has decided to school everybody on what’s been going on with his label by releasing the Stones Throw 101 DVD and CD. Considering that this compilation is packed with a mix of 42 tracks from the label’s catalogue, and rare videos, this will be a lesson well learned.
GRIND: I read that you started buying records when you were nine years old. At the same time, hip hop records were starting to appear at record shops in your area. What got you to start seriously collecting hip hop records?
PB WOLF: When I first started buying records, I bought all my favourite things that I heard on radio station KSOL. It was the soul station out of the Bay Area where Sly (of Sly and the Family Stone) got his start several years earlier. That station taught me so much about music. I was buying mostly funk from that time, like Cameo – before “Word Up” – and The Bar Kays, and disco like Kano and Dynasty. Even electronic stuff like Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and YMO’s “Computer Games” were big songs on KSOL. Ironically, hip hop almost became extinct due to electro, then referred to as “space jams,” getting so big. It was all voocoders, drums machines, and synths and [the songs] had science fiction themes. Even Grandmaster Flash was doing it. At this time, I was buying all these obscure records that they didn’t even play on the radio. In 1984, I got my first mixer and turntables and did [mixtapes]. Songs with rapping on them were coming back. I’d put all the slower hip hop that was from NY, like Run DMC and UTFO, on one side and all the faster LA stuff like Egyptian Lover, LA Dream Team, and Wrecking Crew on the other side.
You have a wide variety of music coming from Stones Throw, how do you decide what to release, or who to work with?
Damn, it’s hard. For the most part, I just follow my ear and my instinct. But I’m slowly coming to grips with the fact that there are things that I like which I feel wouldn’t do well on Stones Throw because it’s too different from what the “typical Stones Throw fan” likes. The DJ Rels album I released last year was a good example of this. It’s disappointing to me as well as the artist.Reading an interview with DJ Premier of Gang Starr, I found out he liked a lot of the same “non hip hop” stuff that I liked in the 80s, like Tones On Tails, Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, etc. That’s what I like so much about Soul Jazz Records. They’ve put out compilations of totally different styles of music, but do a great job with each genre. Reggae, New Orleans funk, NY post punk, even British soul from the late 70s. Kind of like how some of the best indie record stores are set up. I always trust their releases. It hasn’t worked so well with Stones Throw. We’re known too much for our hip hop. Actually, I have a band Baron Zen that I wanna release, but don’t feel that releasing it on Stones Throw would do it justice. I may start another label.
What is your definition of success?
There are lots of different ways I measure it. There’s the obvious things like how many units did that record soundscan, or critical acclaim, then there’s things that are a little less quantifiable, like how much do I MYSELF really like the album a year later, 3 years later. Overall, I know I’ve worked with some artists through the term of Stones Throw that have made creative and entertaining albums, so from that standpoint, I feel successful. I look at the 101 release and definitely identify with some records more than others. Some of the ones I like best are the ones that never quite took off in the marketplace like Dudley, Gary, and Stark Reality.
What is it that you want to contribute to music with Stones Throw?
I want to be an inspiration to younger kids that there is an alternative to what is pushed upon them by the bigger labels. I have such mixed feelings about advertising and marketing. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t even promote my music because it means so much more when people discover it on their own, like I did back in the day. I just did an in-store at a DJ oriented record store in Southern California and at first I wasn’t even gonna do it because I have a fear of public speaking. When I did it, it was cool to see that almost everyone who came out was a teenager. I always think of our supporters as being in their mid 20’s to early 30’s, but that’s because we normally perform at 21 and over clubs. That blew me away to see so many younger kids who actually wanted to learn about the music and were asking valid questions.
How do you intend for people to perceive the Stones Throw 101 compilation?
Well, we were approaching our 100th release as a label and at the same time, we had done all these videos for our artists that weren’t getting much play on the networks. For the most part, even people I’ve known for years didn’t know there was a Lootpack video, a Charizma video, etc. At the same time, I’ve always wanted to do a mix CD of all our music, so I decided to attach it to this project as an added bonus. I’ve done mix CDs for labels in the UK and Japan, and yet never even did one for my own label. I wanted the DVD and CD to stand on its own whether you’ve followed us all along or even if you know nothing about Stones Throw.This compilation contains releases from 1996 to 2004.
How many more tracks (instrumentals, remixes, etc.) have been produced that have never been released from Stones Throw as of yet, and why are you holding out on us?
For every Madlib song that the general public hears, there are 10 that I’ve heard that I haven’t been able to release. From every song I’ve heard, there are probably another 10 that Madlib hasn’t shown me.That’s an extreme example, but I always encourage my artists to record a shitload of songs and we choose the best of them to put on the album. I hate when artists record 28 songs and their album is all 28 of them. Record 40 songs and put the best 16 on the album.