It's hard to accept the fact that L.A.—based hiphop label Stones Throw Records is only 10 years old. With a roster that consists of today's brightest soul, funk, and hiphop heads, and a discography that boasts some of the most auspicious releases in underground rap, Stones Throw seemingly has built its empire through decades of diligence and cunning. But on the contrary, as Stones Throw's latest release, Chrome Children, commemorates (it's a collaboration with Adult Swim, sans the annoying skits), the story behind the label is one of decisiveness and experimentation.
"For the most part, I just followed my ear and my instinct," explains Stones Throw paterfamilias Peanut Butter Wolf (AKA Chris Manak). Amid the jiggification of hiphop in the '90s, Stones Throw incessantly pushed a groove-laden, sample-based style that paid homage to classic funk and soul from the past while clinging to a raw and grimy sound. With the former personified by the erudite beat-miner Madlib, and the latter embodied by the career of one of hiphop's greatest producers, the late J Dilla, Stones Throw has maintained an unparalleled level of integrity in each of its releases. The label looks to the future while acknowledging the past.
But while the label has always leaned toward a distinct hiphop sound, a few peculiar and gutsy experiments pepper the Stones Throw discography. Wolf traces his affinity for hiphop back to his youthful days as a bedroom DJ in the late '70s when he spent his stashed lunch money on soul and funk 45s. As he continued, his tastes were also influenced by various veins of popular music at the time, like new wave, post–punk, and electro. All of these diverse forms in one way or another have informed his decisions as a label head—from resurrecting the jacked-up electronic sounds of Baron Zen to choosing one of J Dilla's most obscure tracks, the almost Joy Division–esque "Nothing Like This," for Chrome Children.
However, whether heralding the sounds of the past through the protean funk of forgotten '70s chameleon Gary Wilson, or envisioning an apocalyptic reality through the insane nihilism of Madlib alter ego Quasimoto, Wolf says his vision for Stones Throw may have outgrown its image as well as its audience. "We're known too much for our hiphop," he states. "I'm slowly coming to grips with the fact that there are things that I like which I feel wouldn't do well on Stones Throw because it's too different from what the 'typical Stones Throw fan' likes."
Possibly the label's biggest risk to date was the release of Quasimoto's 2000 LP, The Unseen. Built around sticky beats, samples from Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and dialogue between Madlib (sometimes the voice of reason) and a dastardly, gauche little creature commonly referred to as Lord Quas (also played by Madlib, but with his voice pitched up), the Quasimoto project almost never saw the light of day.
"It took me a long time to convince Madlib to play me Quasimoto, and it took me even longer to convince him that I was serious about releasing it," Wolf explains. "The Quasimoto album that we put out never would have come out on a major label. We put it out as an indie and did decent with it, but most indies wouldn't even have taken the risk. I just kinda went balls out and said 'fuck it' you know? If I go bankrupt, I go bankrupt—at least I put a good album out. I think that's what the project represents. It's something I've had to do a lot of times."
Brandishing original tracks from nearly all the label's current artists, from recent signees like Georgia Anne Muldrow and Guilty Simpson to stable steeds like MED (AKA Medaphoar) and Madlib, Chrome Children encapsulates Stones Throw's ongoing journey to expand its sound—enhancing that classic, streetwise hiphop aesthetic that fans have come to expect from the label, as well as branching off into new frontiers. And even as Wolf contemplates the future of the label, stating that there's the possibility of founding a new imprint to house his more-adventurous musings (in addition to Now-Again, Stones Throw's sister imprint dedicated to unearthing vintage funk gems), Wolf's company is digging in its heels and digging in its crates, readying for another 10 email@example.com