Stones Throw Records: Independent Music Champions

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Peanut Butter Wolf, courtesy of Static

by Austin Weimer

It’s San Jose, 1990. This quiet California suburb is exploding with new music, and the scene is hip-hop. Greats such as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dog are flooding the radio waves. Teenagers Chris Manak and Charles Hicks are hard at work on the floor of their living room with an eight track player and stacks of records, recreating their own radio stations with funk hits of the past. After a couple years of recording their own demos, Manak and Hicks started their careers by signing to Holywood BASIC Records in 1992.

The two, now known as Peanut Butter Wolf and Charizma, brought the San Jose hip-hop scene to a new level. Both of them quickly gained industry recognition, touring the San Fransisco Bay area and Germany with fellow members of their label. Wolf and Charizma recorded Big Shots from 1991 to 1993, a 15 track full length rap album set to release through Hollywood BASIC later in 1993. Tragically, a random and violent carjacking ended Charizma’s life in 1993. With no other labels interested in their music, Peanut Butter Wolf set out to release Charizma’s tracks, founding Stones Throw Records for that sole purpose in 1996.

Stones Throw’s current notoriety is built upon hip-hop superstars such as the late J Dilla, MF Doom, Flying Lotus, and Madlib. Despite the label’s roots in hip-hop, Wolf began to sign soul and alternative rock groups such as Mayer Hawthorn and James Pants, well outside of their fan’s comfort zone. The early 2000s proved to be difficult with major record stores shutting their doors due to online mediums outpacing physical sales. This shift didn’t deter Wolf from signing strange artists and taking new approaches to the music business. Vinyl, Cassettes, and special edition box sets still sold, with some persistence.

In 2012, Wolf joined up with the London-based company Boiler Room, a streaming service for venues across the world. This deal brought the exciting potential of instant, live music streamed from any of their 12 venues across the world. Today, Stones Throw artists frequent locations around the world due to their ease of access locations in major cities. When they are not streaming, live shows are a big local event in Los Angeles. Stones Throw signees DāM-FunK organized a 4 hour DJ set in Los Angeles the week after Prince passed, with all proceeds going to charity.

Today, the Stones Throw empire remains independent from any other major record label. Wolf’s control and success of the business speaks volumes about his creative management. Wolf, as a musician and DJ himself, remains true to his intuition about signing artists. In his own piece on the Stones Throw Website, “Everybody’s Got a Story, Here’s Mine,” Wolf says, “I put out what I personally like and save the rest for the other labels out there. As executive producer, I don’t put out what I think the people will like, I put out what I like.”

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