The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

الاثنين، أيار ٠٢، ٢٠٠٥

Peanut Butter Wolf

By Jesse Ducker

People might still think Peanut Butter Wolf is a strange nom-de-plume, but the producer/DJ/label owner has an undeniable wealth of knowledge of hip-hop and almost all forms of music. So it makes sense that he gets worldwide respect for his skills behind the boards, turntables, and the office desk.

The San Jose native has been into hip-hop from the start, and in the late 1990s, after years of doing acclaimed production work, left the samplers and the drum machines behind to focus on the business side of things. Close to a decade ago, he founded Stones Throw Records, which he runs with his potna, Egon. PB Wolf also regularly represents the label. He often tours with Stones Throw acts or by himself, journeying around the world and doing DJ sets.

Stones Throw is a unique independent hip-hop label. It has put out many hip-hop releases, such as Lootpack, Madvillain (Lootpack producer/rapper Madlib and MF Doom), Jaylib (Madlib and super-producer/rapper Jay-Dee), the acclaimed live-band The Breakestra, and albums by other rappers who are down with the Lootpack (Wildchild, Ohno, Quasimoto, etc.). Later in 2005, Stones Throw will drop an album by mid-1990s NY underground legend Percee P, likely to be produced entirely by Madlib. The common thread through all these releases (besides Madlib) is that they usually take a back-to-boom-bap approach to hip-hop, or they try some way-out, highly experimental shit, like Quasimoto or Madvillain. Releases by the latter two artists at times feel like acid-trips laid on wax.

However, there’s a whole other side to Stones Throw. PB Wolf has used the label to reissue material that he loves. This includes the album Now by obscure, unclassifiable band Stark Reality, The Third Unheard—a compilation of early 1980s hip-hop from Connecticut—and a slough of early 1990s 12”s from artists like Dooley O and Stezo. The label has also put out material beyond the realm of hip-hop, including abstract jazz albums by Yesterday’s New Quintet and Monk Hughes and the Outer Realm (actually Madlib recording under other names). He’s also released Mary Had Brown Hair, a new album by Gary Wilson, an obscure psych-rocker whose only previous release came out in 1977.

In late 2003, Stones Throw released Big Shots by PB Wolf and his best friend Charizma, who was tragically killed 10 years earlier. PB Wolf said he planned to release the album, but needed to wait until the right time. Both PB Wolf’s beats and Charizma’s rhymes have stood the test of time.

Stones Throw has excelled through releasing their brand of hip-hop and music. While some indie “can’t miss” powerhouses like Rawkus have folded, Stones Throw is still going strong. In fact, to commemorate their 101st release, they dropped a Stones Throw 101, which features a DVD of all the videos by artists on the label and a mix CD with PB Wolf himself on the turntables. PB Wolf and Stones Throw have even more fly shit on deck, including a release from Canada’s Koushik, the long-awaited solo album by New York’s Percee P, and a new Quasimoto album, all set to drop shortly.

SHOUT: When did you decide you wanted to run a record label?
PB Wolf: Even when I was producing, I knew I wanted to eventually start my own label. This was true even back when Charizma and I were looking to get a deal. I’ve always been interested in the promotional aspect of things. When I produced for small record labels, I always worked to make sure the local radio stations and stores had the record. I also went to San Jose State University, where I got a degree in marketing with a minor in advertising. So I’ve always been interested in the business-side of things.

After shopping your demo, you and Charizma eventually signed to Hollywood Basic, which, at the time, was owned by Disney. Of course, now the label no longer exists. Did you guys ever consider signing to an independent label?
We wanted to go with an indie label. A major indie like Jive Records or Tommy Boy. This was before Jive was putting out records by people like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. But in the end we went with Hollywood Basic, because they came to us with the best offer. You can try your hardest to get with the labels that you’re interested in, but in the end it’s always best to go with someone who wants to work with you.

But did you have problems with the label regarding the album you and Charizma recorded?
Our music was one way, and people from the label wanted to change it into something else; something more pop. And we didn’t like it. Back then, we were young and felt like we were on top of the world, so we weren’t the most friendly with the label. They wanted us to do stuff like get a lot of outside producers to do remix work. We wanted to do things on our own. And Charizma and I grew up idolizing groups like Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, who did everything by themselves.

Do you miss producing?
I definitely don’t miss producing. That was a different time for me. Now I’m running the label full-time and doing DJ gigs. Hip-hop has changed so much since I was producing.

How so?
Well, to tell you the truth, it’s a little boring to me. I don’t like sounding like the old, bitter cat, but that’s how I feel. I’m really not feeling a lot of the hip-hop out right now. The music industry has been suffering lately, and to tell the truth, there’s very little new music that I like.

But a lot of the stuff that comes out on Stones Throw is hip-hop.
Of course. I still love hip-hop. The Jaylib and Madvillain albums have come out, and we’ve put out albums by Ohno, who’s down with Madlib and the Lootpack, and we’re going to put out Percee Pee. Basically, Stones Throw puts out whatever I like. We’ve put out a new album by Gary Wilson, who put out a psychedelic rock album in the ’70s. I don’t know if the average hip-hop fan is going to feel it, but a lot of my favorite records that we’ve put out people haven’t felt. For example, the Captain Funkaho 45 is one my favorite releases on Stones Throw, but most people don’t understand it.

When you first started the label, did you ever think you’d get to the point where you’d put out 101 releases?
I never gave it much thought. I’m happy that we made it, but I’ve always done it day by day. Nothing has been calculated. I’m glad I’ve been able to put out so many releases in so many different genres, but it’s all been rooted in hip-hop.

Is there anything you learned about running your own label through your experiences with Hollywood Basic?
I’ve learned to work with the artists to make sure that they’re satisfied with the way things are handled. I want them to be fully happy with their albums. I’m pretty hands-off in the whole process.
The only thing I ever have disagreements with the artists about is how long the album should be. A lot of times the artists want the full 74 minutes, and I think you should be able to get your point across in 60 minutes. So sometimes I ask them to get back and try to trim it down to an hour. The Madvillain album was 45 minutes, which was probably the perfect length for the album. There were a lot of songs, but they were all pretty short. The Lootpack album, one of the first full-lengths, was really long. We had to press it up on triple vinyl. And triple vinyl seems a little ridiculous. My Vinyl Weighs a Ton—my album on Stones Throw—was also triple vinyl. Yeah, I should have probably gone back and edited it down.

So are you concerned with selling records? Some of the stuff on Stones Throw, like the Stark Reality reissue, isn’t very accessible.
I’m only really concerned for the artists’ sake. I don’t want to feel like I’ve let people down. We do all of the stuff that other labels do. We get out on the road and promote the records. We’ve got street teams. We do videos. You might not see them on MTV, but we do them. In fact, when we first posted the video for Madvillain’s “All Caps” on our website, we had to take it down because it got too many hits. Our host said they couldn’t handle the traffic.
I only work with the artists I trust. But I’m really picky. A lot of times artists are scared to give me stuff, because they know how picky I am. I’m one of the pickiest people in the business. I won’t put a record out unless I love it. But we do we put out an album a month each year. I really do take this seriously.

With records like the Stark Reality record and the Funky 16 Corners album, Stones Throw is becoming well known for its reissues. Was it always the aim of the label to do reissues? What made you decide to do it?
It was always something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. When I met Egon, he was working for a radio show that would track down and interview old-school acts. That’s how the Funky 16 Corners compilation came about. Egon had known a lot of these artists through the radio show. Plus, the success of the Breakestra album made us feel like we could put out an album like that and it would be accepted by the “keep-it-real” hip-hop fan.
So Egon had original copies of the 45s, and we put them together and came out with the album. It was almost like a new release, to some extent, because a lot of these 45s were very limited local press-ups in the South and the Midwest, so they never made it to places like New York or California. They only had runs of like 1,000 copies, so like 99.9% of the population had never heard it before. That’s why the majority of these artists are receptive to us when we contact them and ask them if we can reissue their material. It gives them a second chance to be heard. A lot of their stuff was never heard before.

You get out there more than some people who run record labels these days. Not every label owner goes out on tour and performs with the rest of the artists. What made you decide to tour and deejay so much?
Well, I’m a deejay first, so I like going out there and doing that. But it actually works out well for the label. I can go out there and meet the people who run the stores and nightclubs. There’s also Egon, who works as the label manager and runs the label while I’m away.

What are you feeling these days?
Actually, I’m feeling a lot of the southern bounce music, like Lil Jon and Lil Flip. I’m still a fan of music. I still buy a lot of old stuff. I’ve got most of the hip-hop. A lot of the hip-hop I dig for is the independent gangsta rap stuff that came out in the 1990s after NWA. Like from all over the country. I buy a lot of old house records, a lot of dancehall. You can never have everything, there’s always going to be more to dig for.