Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, the documentary about the legendary independent label Stones Throw, is truly inspiring. Charting the label’s history, from its beginnings as a means for Peanut Butter Wolf to release the album he made with his deceased friend, Charizma, to its current status as a byword for creativity, independent spirit, and the love of music, the film is full of uplifting moments. Appearances from Kanye West, Madlib, Common, MF DOOM, Talib Kweli, A-Trak, Tyler The Creator, and lots more ensure big name pull, the real star is definitely Peanut Butter Wolf and the label itself, which brought together such luminaries as Dilla, Madlib, DOOM, and has put out records like Madvillainy, Champion Sound, Donuts, and most recently Snoop Dogg and Dam-Funk’s 7 Days of Funk.
We got the chance to talk to Peanut Butter Wolf about the film, his label, vinyl, and what we can do to make Madvillainy 2 happen.
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is out on DVD on May 27, and is in cinemas in the US and UK now. See if it’s in a cinema near you here.
Why did this seem like the right time to make a documentary about Stones Throw? Was it something you approached Jeff Broadway about making or was it the other way around?
Well, the first ones to approach me with the idea were Sebastian Bauer and Lucas Blaya out of Paris, France. They wanted to do a 60 minute “special” on Stones Throw for French TV. They came to LA and met with me and did a lot of planning and eventually came back for a month to film. The French TV opportunity didn’t really pan out, and soon after Jeff Broadway and Rob Bralver out of LA approached me with a similar idea, although they wanted to make a full length feature.
Jeff showed me a film he made before called Cure For Pain that I liked, so I put them in touch with the French guys and they worked something out where they’d use some of the existing footage from them, older footage from me (and other people I knew who had it), and they filmed a bunch of their own stuff. To me, it was the right time because there were people who were willing to do it. I never really wanted to do it, but am thankful that it happened.
What makes Stones Throw different from other labels, even other indie labels? To what do you attribute your continued success?
I’m not gonna sit here and tell you we’re totally different than other indie labels. I think a lot of the themes from this movie would be the same if someone were doing a documentary on Warp or 4AD or whoever else (although those labels have been around longer!). My mission statement is that I only put out records that I like and I’m sure all independently run labels follow that rule.
I guess a lot of the roster gets along with each other and have developed friendships over the years, which makes it more fulfilling, but again, when Run DMC and the Beastie Boys did the Fresh Fest tours together, they developed a friendship, as did many other crews throughout the years. Marley Marl had the Juice Crew with Roxanne Shante, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, etc. Native Tongues had Tribe, De La, JBs, etc, Rick James had Teena Marie, Mary Jane Girls, Stone City Band, and the list goes on.
You have a whole host of stars in the documentary, were you surprised at getting the likes of Kanye West, Common, and Madlib for an indie documentary?
Well, the director Jeff suggested Kanye and I thought to myself, “yeah right,” because I helped work on the Tribe documentary and he was asked to be in that one and it didn’t work out. But somehow Jeff made it happen. Madlib was probably the hardest out of everyone because he doesn’t do interviews, especially if they’re about himself. He was on board with the film from the start, doing the score to it, but the interview came at the final hour.
In general, lot of people were really cooperative. Ariel Pink and Geoff Barrow don’t generally do that many interviews either. Common, Questlove, Talib Kweli, and A-Trak sat in on Q&A panels for the fans in LA and NY. It felt good having so much support from people who are more successful on a commercial level. And I think Jeff and Rob were a good balance because Jeff understood the importance of having more known people in there and Rob didn’t seem to care about that much at all, so was good checks and balances.
Do you personally realize how important Stones Throw is, and what a cult following it has, or is it something that people have to point out to you? When did you realize that you were really in the middle of doing something legendary?
I realize how important it is to ME. I take the creative control part pretty seriously. But yeah, I’m in that sweet spot where I get recognized in used vinyl record stores but TMZ isn’t waiting for me at the airport. Every time I do a gig, people afterwards have nice things to say about Stones Throw and most tell me how long they’ve been following it.
It’s usually “since 1997” or “since 1999,” but I recently signed a 19 year old rapper who told me, “I can’t believe I’m on Stones Throw. I’ve been following y’all since like 2010.” That was hilarious to me, but for a 19 year old, four years is a long time.
Vinyl is having a real resurgence in terms of sale, and whole new, younger, audience is really starting to appreciate records.
Well, that same 19 year old is a beat maker so he samples off of YouTube. I took him to my house and showed him my record collection. I have one room of albums/12″ singles and another room of 45s. When I took him to the 45s room, he said “what’s a 45”. I showed him one and explained to him that it’s a song on each side and smaller than an album and he said, “why do they do that?” I didn’t have an answer.
What advice would you give anyone who wants to start an independent record label? What are the qualities you need to make it work.
This question is asked a lot. When I was first starting, everyone told me, don’t do it. I didn’t listen to anyone. Now that I’m 18 years into it, I tell people, “don’t do it!”
This may be an incredibly hard question – what is your favorite release on Stones Throw?
It’s an easy question and an easy answer—I don’t have one.
What inspires someone to record a 24 hour mix for Valentine’s Day?!
I went to Japan a few months ago and I told myself, “I’m not gonna buy any records this trip.” I really haven’t been buying many records lately because I have too many and don’t even have time to organize them or even listen to them for that matter. Besides, Japan’s record stores usually have mainly ’70s disco and ’90s hip-hop records that I already have. Well, I had a few days off in Osaka and poked my head into a store and they had a bunch of 45s. I have so many rare independently released 45s, but most of the major label ones I have are soul/funk ones from the ’80s and this store had really good major label stuff.
Major label music on 45s from the ’60s and ’70s is hit or miss, but I never got into it ’til this trip. I decided to listen to every single 45 they had in that store and it took 3 days and I bought about a third of them. There was a lot of REALLY good stuff. They were all love songs and I actually used the idea of doing a Valentines Day mix as an excuse to buy them all. Us DJs feel guilty spending money on records when we have so many back home that we have to justify it in our minds to pacify our conscience.
“Well, since I committed to doing this Valentines mix that’s 24 hours long and since its gonna be all 45s, I need to buy such and such amount of records between now and Valentines Day.” Works for me.
[Listen to Peanut Butter Wolf’s 24 hour Valentine’s mix for FACT here]
Is there anything we, the collective lovers of underground hip-hop the world over, can do to help make Madvillainy 2 happen?
I guess someone could start a petition. Maybe Stones Throw? I wonder how many signatures we could get?
UPDATE: We started a petition, just like Peanut Butter Wolf suggested. Please sign here!