Imprints brings you regular profiles of the most exciting record labels the world over, with input from movers and shakers who contribute to their local electronic communities.
If you've listened to electronic music or hip-hop in the last 20 years, you probably have some personal connection to the Stones Throw catalogue. The independent Los Angeles label has, at one time or another, been home to Super Duck Breaks, Lootpack, Madlib, Quasimoto, Oh No, Breakestra, MF Doom, Dam-Funk, Guilty Simpson, Aloe Blacc, James Pants, Jonwayne, and Homeboy Sandman.
And that list doesn't even include J Dilla, the revered hip-hop producer whose music has arguably had more influence and garnered more adulation than any other hip-hop producer, ever. If there's ever a time I get to justify using the world "seminal" to refer to a label, it's for Stones Throw. And if you want a sprawling look into the label's backstory you can get it, warts and all, in their full-length documentary Our Vinyl Ways A Ton, which is currently touring the world in select theatres—and out on DVD later this year.
Standing at the center of it all is the charismatic DJ and producer Peanut Butter Wolf, aka Chris Manak. His eccentricity and open-mindedness have guided the label since he founded it back in 1996 and he's taken Stones Throw on a musical journey from hip-hop, funk and soul to new-wave, synth-pop, breaks and glitch. He basically puts out what he wants, and the world is better for it. I talked to Mister Stones Throw himself last week for this special edition of THUMP's IMPRINTS series, so let's get into it.
THUMP: Stones Throw is known for hip-hop, but you've made forays into dance and electronic music over the years too. What styles keep you interested? Why say yes to minimal wave or glitch, but no to trap or West Coast bass?
Peanut Butter Wolf: That's a tough one. I actually like a lot of trap when I hear it in the right context. A-trak invited me out to one of his house parties and he played a bunch of new trap. I was trying to shazam every song and they were probably top 40 songs that everyone else at the party knew by heart. I'm sure people thought, Who's this idiot Shazamming 2 Chainz? But some things just make more sense to be on Stones Throw. That said, I was talking to Lil B a while back and he gave it up to me for working with Madlib and Doom and I started thinking about how we could bring those worlds more together. Snoop Dogg has expressed interest in Madlib too. And hanging out with E-40's son, he seemed to be more into electronic music than the music that put his dad on the map years before, so people need to just realize it ain't always what you think it is. Stones Throw put out a great shoegaze record by a group called Boardwalk last year and it sounded a lot different than Homeboy Sandman, for example. My mission statement with Stones Throw is to remind the public that there are people who would like both Boardwalk and Sandman if exposed to them both.
Any thoughts on the whole EDM craze that's swept the US? Is there something interesting there or is it a total marketing BS tool?
It's not worth wasting time talking about. I will say this though, a couple years ago an EDM artist did a remix of Aloe Blacc that I hated and I wasn't involved in choosing him. It was commissioned by one of our European partners without my knowledge, but I had to approve it. I heard it and didn't approve it. The DJ came up to me at a club a few months later and introduced himself and I said, "Nice to meet you. I did a remix of Aloe Blacc and you didn't like it." I said, "I'm not sure what you mean, but good to meet you anyway." You know, trying to be political and polite and stay positive. He says, "No, no, no. I did the remix and the label in Europe said you didn't approve it." So finally I said, "OK I don't know who you are, but yeah, I didn't like any of the remixes so I probably didn't like yours either."
Do you see dance music and hip-hop fusing in any unique ways in LA? Does Stones Throw have an affect on that?
Low End Theory has done a good job of fusing the two in LA—and Boiler Room. I'm putting out an anthology box set on Egyptian Lover in a few months and he was perhaps the first artist out of LA that successfully fused electro and rap back in 1984. He's the first rap artist to go gold on record.
Can you run down some classic dance tracks from the ages that reflect the Stones Throw ethos or sound?
From the 80s I'd say Detroit stuff like Model 500 and Sharevari. From the late 70s, "Is It All Over My Face" by Loose Joints and stuff by Kano, YMO and Kraftwerk. I was buying a lot of those records when they came out, so they had a direct influence on what I liked. And we can't forget "United" by Throbbing Gristle, anything by Can, "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" and "There Was A Time" by James Brown.
Any other labels in the electronic world that you think are doing interesting stuff? What about artists pushing boundaries that you think ring true to the Stones Throw aesthetic?
That's what you're supposed to tell me—"Hey man, I think you should listen to such and such. It pushes the boundaries and rings true to the Stones Throw aesthetic." I didn't know labels still existed in 2014. I like everything MatthewDavid brings to me from his imprint Leaving Records. I like some stuff on Captured Tracks and can't forget the homies Peaking Lights. Mexican Summer is still doing some good stuff and I also like a lot of stuff that Flying Lotus is putting out on his label. He signed a couple things I was considering signing, but didn't follow through with, so definitely similar tastes there.
What music have you been rocking at the Stones Throw office? What makes the interns get up and dance?
I did a 24-hour mix of love songs on 45 for Valentine's Day this year, so we were playing that at the office. The employees at Stones Throw who DJ on the side are better DJs in my opinion than the ones getting gigs. My guys DJ Tilt, DJ Plus One, Kota Pop, and DJ Dave—they'll definitely out spin any other record labels' staff at a club.
What's in the works for the rest of 2014?
Dam-Funk's new album is being finished as we speak—new albums by Krondon, Jonti, Homeboy Sandman and Guilty Simpson produced by The Quakers. New artist signings MNDSGN and Silk Rhodes. MNDSGN came out of the LA beat scene, but his newer songs have vocals by him. Silk Rhodes is a two-piece soul group that I'm excited about. The DVD on the history of Stones Throw called Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton along with the soundtrack featuring a bunch of new instrumental tracks by Madlib. Last but not least, an anthology box set of Charizma and myself, which will include pretty much every song we recorded as a group in the early 90s. Questlove told me last night he wanted to do a project with us, so who knows?
Matt Earp is the DJ and writer Kid Kameleon. He currently lives in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @kidkameleon