Founded in 1996 in memory of slain rapper Charizma, Stones Throw Records is not only known for exposing the likes of J Dilla to the world, but also being the home of offbeat and avant-garde artists. Last year saw the release of the music documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, the inside story about the Hollywood based label. In support and celebration of this milestone, label founder Peanut Butter Wolf has been doing the rounds in Oceania, with Perth thankfully being included. Leederville’s The Manor was chosen to host the DJ/Producer and label founder, with an audio visual set that promised to please old and new fans.
Local lad Charlie Bucket got things started with a set smoothly setting the stage, with the likes of Nas, the excellent leading track off Things Fall Apart by The Roots, a cheeky use of Superman Lover by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and other hip hop favourites. The vivid one hour set blended tunes of various decades, and served as an apt set up for the main act.
Taking place behind the grand piano – which serves as a surface for decks at The Manor – Wolf was repping his label in every action, which was clear with his Stones Throw slip mats. Booting things off with the jazzy refrains and visuals of They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y) by Pete Rock & CL Smooth, the track showed that tonight was going to be about good times, but also mindful of past losses. Wolf continued with some other old school cuts, before the familiar gritty visuals of Wu-Tang Clan’s Protect Ya Neck hit, the album that it came from rightly hitting the scene like an atom bomb when it was first released.
The set continued in a similar vein. The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep, who is known by non-hip hop heads due to the number of times it has been sampled, seamlessly flowed into Red Light, Green Light by Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf. The visuals reflecting the world and Wolf in more carefree days.
The good vibes continued with what was nearly a DJ Premier mini-set; it was nice to see the criminally underrated Greg Nice and Smooth B getting a look in with DWYCK, with its wordplay of whether it’s Muhammad Ali or Cassius Clay being the hip hop version of ‘Potato Potatah’. Showing the referential and diverse nature of hip hop, cuts like Old Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya, with its infamous piano sample harkened back to the Wu-Tang Clan that was played previously, whilst Sure Shot by The Beastie Boys,with its flute sample was reminiscent of Red Light, Green Light. Further callbazcks were found with old school R&B, with a live version of What’s Going on by Marvin Gaye and Ike Ike by The Dixie Cups, the tracks showing how easily one can slip into a circular reference model without even realising it.
No Stones Throw set would be complete without J Dilla, the producer’s producer. Starting with Breathe and Stop by Q-Tip post A Tribe Called Quest, the track, like a lot of Dilla’s work, threw a curve ball when it was first released and had many scratching their heads. With a rendition of Raise it Up by Slum Village, the issue of art vs commerce was raised. When the track was released in 2001, in a pre-internet world, Dilla used a sample of Extra Dry by Thomas Bangalter (one half of Daft Punk) without permission, thinking on the lines that Thomas was too obscure to notice. In an ironic twist, Daft Punk were fans of Slum Village anyway and rather than asking for payment, they got Slum Village to remix one of their tracks, showing how art bleeds into other art and what can potentially happen when cooler heads prevail. Geek Down capped off the trio of Dilla produced fodder; with its hallucinogenic visuals being an apt summary of the sadly deceased powerhouse in hip hop. The inclusion of Worst Band in the World by 10cc, which formed the core sample of Workinonit off Donuts was a nice touch and only further attested the referential nature of hip hop.
Nostalgia was a running theme all throughout the set. After Dilla, a slew of instantly recognisably classics hit up the audience’s eyes and ears. All I Do is Think of You by The Jackson 5 (also used by Dilla) got a run out, as did scenes from Soul Train and the visuals from an interview of an obviously coked out James Brown. This should have been a clue for what was coming next, the instantly recognisable bass riff of Give to Me Baby by Rick James had the audience shouting THAT line from Chappelle’s Show, whilst following that up with Controversy by Prince serendipitously lined up with Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood stories; two of the most memorable segments from the Chappelle’s Show. Throwing in Another One Bites the Dust by Queen just showed how ridiculously good some of the 80’s bass lines were, whilst cuts like Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and the often-sampled Rapper’s Delight showed how things were in yesteryear.
After the nostalgia trip, it was evident that anything could possibly be thrown up on the decks and screen, rules be damned – this ethos serving Stones Throw in the present and past. A nod to the South was found with Ice Cream Paint Job by Dorrough and the Witness the Fitness, with its blend of dancehall, funk and electronic beats, got the blood pumping. The combination of Liquid Swords and Flava in Ya Ear by Craig Mack, continued the good vibes, whilst things got back to the classics with a flurry of the old school. KRS-One saw the return of Premier with Full Clip as well as Smooth Operator by Big Daddy Kane formed a dream run for the older hip hop heads.
A generous serving of Stones Throw alumni past and present were weaved into the set to act as the finale. The soul groove of Mayer Hawthorne’s Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out had people smiling, though ironically, the seemingly love song – complimented by the heart shaped vinyl the track was printed on – is actually a break up song. This was followed up by Second Chance by Folerio, Wolf’s impish, pencil moustached alter ego who is a lover of self-expression and god knows what else. The creation of Folerio was telling of PBW’s decision-making process of Stones Throw post Dilla. Rather than sticking to hip hop, it was Wolf’s chance to release whatever he was interested with, rather than what would sell. This ideal was further emphasised with a play through of material from the critically acclaimed Madvilliany, the collaboration of the other famous presence of Stones Throw, Madlib, and the permanently masked MF Doom. The gorgeous visuals of the golden age of comics hit the audience in the eyeballs with All Caps and the Claymation antics of Strange Ways came next, previously being set up by a screening of the video for Funny Ways by Gentle Giant. The set closer was as good as anyone can ask for, with the label founder energetically thanking the audience before ending things with Tenderness by Otis Redding.
Peanut Butter Wolf’s set was evidence of the mining that occurs in a genre that is reliant on being mindful of history, as hip hop fans are subconsciously lovers of history (even if they don’t know it yet). The world needs more individuals like Peanut Butter Wolf and outfits like Stones Throw Records, if only to remind people that sometimes with great risks comes great rewards. Whilst many labels have gone to the wall trying to get the often never materializing dollar of “mass appeal”, Stones Throw is two years shy of being around for two decades, purely by releasing what Wolf thinks is interesting.
By David Coffey