4 June, 2014@2:44 am
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records pulls the curtain back on hip-hop’s last great independent label, and the trials and tribulations the imprint has dealt with over the last two decades. Spoilers ahead.
Anyone who has been in the game during the label’s lifespan – whether fan or industry head – knows much of the history of Stones Throw Records, but the documentary puts everything in chronological order, with testimonials from some surprisingly huge names whom never recorded for the label. It details Peanut Butter Wolf’s early beginnings as an artist signed to a major label, whose dreams were crushed after the death of his partner, Charizma, and the shelving of their album. Interspersed with bits of juvenile home video footage of the duo, we see a very different version of PB Wolf, one yet unaffected by tragedy, goofing off with Charizma in some truly embarrassing, yet sincere, clips.
These events would lead him to create Stones Throw Records and become the more withdrawn, slightly awkward guy we know now. In a few brief interview clips, a more glum Wolf talks about the deaths of both Charizma and J. Dilla, two pivotal moments in his life and the label itself. Very rarely seen talking to the camera, the elusive Peanut Butter Wolf gives us a brief, fleeting glimpse into his soul.
But while Wolf is the backbone of the label, much screen time is given to the rest of the crew as well. We learn about the history of Madlib’s work with the label, and discover some interesting back story about the legendary Stones Throw mansion, the Madvillainy recording sessions, and how Madlib and J Dilla saw one another as equals. Each Common, Questlove, and Kanye West give insight into Dilla’s work for the label, explaining how Madlib was the main influence for the Donuts sound. It’s all pretty interesting, even if you already know the story.
Moving into the label’s post-hip-hop era is when things get a bit confusing. They struck gold twice with both Mayer Hawthorne and Aloe Blacc, a duo whom, like Madlib and Dilla, influenced one another’s music. Mayer gives his own testimony, while Blacc is absent, but as Wolf states at one point in the film, he likes to use Stones Throw as an entry level label for new artists, and then lets them go off and do whatever they like.
Yet we see them struggle with the death of physical media in the digital landscape, combined with Wolf’s pension for signing off-beat, non-hip-hop artists that leaves even longtime homies like J. Rocc and A-Trak confused. In perhaps the film’s most head-scratching moment, we find Wolf marketing himself as wigged Latin rock god, Folerio. It’s funny, but also a bit of a sad state of affairs as far as the music industry as a whole is concerned.
But it doesn’t phase Wolf, as Stones Throw has been less about money, and more about just surviving by putting out good music. His impeccable ear has discovered a large array of talent, that shaped both the indie hip-hop scene and a small piece of today’s mainstream classic soul revival movement, via Aloe Blacc and Mayer Hawthorne. As he puts it at one point in the film, years down the line, he doesn’t want to find his records in the five dollar bin, he either wants them to be so revered that they demand high sums, or so hated they’re banished to the quarter bins. In either case, they’ll still weigh a ton.
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