Written by Sara Jayne Crow
I first saw Stones Throw Records owner Chris Manak DJing 45 records as Peanut Butter Wolf more than a decade ago in a dank Seattle club. While he rarely made eye contact with the audience during his performance, he dug through his record cases with unconcealed glee. He was a shy type whose subdued and yet surly attitude was somewhat compelling. He didn’t seem to be an introvert, or an extrovert either, really. He wasn’t punk or shy for the usual rebellious sake of alienating people. There was a struggle taking place, a struggle that wasn’t appreciable by those who weren’t inquisitive. There was a reason he sought out the far reaches of popular culture. He collected and played obscure 45 records plundered from global flea markets. He donned strange haberdashery that had nothing to do with trendy headwear. He spent thousands pressing vinyl that had no apparent revenue potential.
If you were paying close enough attention, the subtext seemed to read: the hype isn’t what makes the music. The money, the scene, and the popularity aren’t what make movements. What compels and inspires is usually at odds with mass culture. It’s adjacent. It’s perpendicular. It’s genuine and difficult. And it might not make you rich.
And so Stones Throw endured, perpendicular, at once setting and spurning trends. Formed in 1996, the Los Angeles-based label has a cratedigger’s treasure trove of disco hip hop, funk, psychedelic rock and punk. Manak mines past eras with re-releases of Arabian Prince, The Funky 16 Corners and Mr. Magic & Pookie Blow. There are releases by hip hop stalwarts J Dilla, Madlib and J. Rocc. There’s the bright, poppy music of James Pants, and strange gems by Karriem Riggins and the Stepkids.
Fresh on the heels of the lauded Stones Throw documentary, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, Chris has released a 4-LP box set anthology of rare and classic hip-hop, Circa 1990-1993, Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf. I caught up with Chris to talk about his early beginnings at the Beat Street breakdancing scene at Chuck E. Cheese in San Jose, the Stones Throw bomb shelter in Los Angeles, and memories of Charizma.