No Junk. Just good stuff

Signing up for the Stones Throw newsletter promises you “No Junk. Just good stuff”. A neat summary of what has always been the way of the indefatigable California label that recently passed the milestone of 15 years of being more than just a cult hero. Home to all your favourite hip-hop purists, song-writing weirdos, artists that time forgot, rule-breakers and the occasional one-off pop star (Aloe Blacc...or is that Duck Sauce’s A-Trak?), there’s no better time to salute a treasured international monument in the face of digital upgrades and the ever lessening value of what hip-hop means.

In an interview linked with Stones Throw’s 100th release back in 2004, Chris Manak, aka label leader bridging b-boy and businessman, vinyl hunter (back then he had a vinyl collection of 10,000 and counting – “I’ve been buying records since 1979, like every weekend”), bespoke turntablist and all round ear to the ground Peanut Butter Wolf, was sounding more like a cliché-spouting footballer, clocking up an achievement by taking each day as it comes and one release at a time. When arguably the label’s most prominent associate, the trigger-happy Madlib (described in the past by Manak as “irreplaceable”), is in your ranks prepping what seems to be new material or a different alter ego every other week, it makes a mockery of slow and steady really being able to win the race, though less so when its competition (take your pick from Rawkus, Fondle Em, etc) have all long since gone to the dogs.

What is also a simple-but-true Stones Throw motto is that good music is good music. “I get excited about playing stuff out that sounds good, even though people have never heard of it - they’ll still respond to it”, he is quoted in the same interview. Whether it be achingly hip, becomes achingly hip as a result of Manak’s intervention, or rediscovered because it didn’t fit first time around, PBW has created a roster moving away from its diehard hip-hop and dipping into the exotic and alternative, both echoing and disagreeing with the Wolf’s admission of a love-hate relationship with modern music. James Pants, Gary Wilson, Mayer Hawthorne, Georgia Ann Muldrow, Dudley Perkins, Dam-Funk and Koushik are the faces and voices of Stones Throw’s dedication to giving everyone a chance. The label’s regular showcasing of funk rollicks old and new hammers home its valuing of the beat as king, as well as showing itself as a sucker for a lovingly presented reissue, occasionally in conjunction with subsidiary Now-Again and with outings such as The Third Unheard (Connecticut Hip-Hop) and PBW’s Minimal Wave Tapes. The Stones Throw fanbase is one that Manak has put down to “taking pride in knowing something other people don’t know”.

Despite its flourishing array of eccentrics and altering agendas, you always think of Stones Throw bringing hip-hop heat. Home to some of hip-hop’s most cultish acts, Jay Dilla, MF Doom, the omnipresent Madlib and Percee P have all helped create a benchmark by which other rap independents are judged. And it was Peanut Butter Wolf’s own hip-hop enterprise with the late Charizma, a classic he’s-the-DJ-I’m-the-rapper partnership with even more classic production values and attitude, that set Stones Throw rolling and out of spare time hobby into celebrated pioneer.

You only have to read Peanut Butter Wolf’s personal biography to appreciate that he’s as hard-nosed as any major label executive decision maker. His website mission statement is penned in no uncertain terms: “I don't put out what I think the people will like, I put out what I like. This has worked for me so far, and if it stops working for me, it will be the end of Stones Throw as a label.”

Words by Matt Oliver

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