Fri March 28, Chop Suey, $10 adv.
Had things worked out right for Bay Area DJ Peanut Butter Wolf in the early '90s, he would have played a more visible role in the establishment of what is often called Left Coast hiphop. He should have been as celebrated as DJ Shadow, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, or Dan the Automator--his record with rapper Charizma is as important to the region's hiphop identity as Endtroducing..., 93 'til Infinity, and Dr. Octagonecologyst. But that never happened because Wolf and Charizma's record was never released by Disney's hiphop label, the now defunct Hollywood Basics Records; and because soon after they left the troubled label over creative differences, 19-year-old Charizma was shot dead in a robbery.
The death of Charizma represented a defining moment in Wolf's hiphop career in the same way that DJ Scott La Rock's death defined KRS-One's career, or the death of KMD's DJ Subroc defined the career of Zev Love X (who is now called MF Doom). In fact, the fates of PB Wolf and MF Doom are eerily similar. Both were on the verge of becoming part of the third and most brilliant wave of hiphop, which started in 1993 (with Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang as its border mark) and ended in 1997 (with Wu-Tang Clan's Triumph as its border mark); both had their projects shelved by a major record label; both lost an important partner in 1993; and finally, both are now Geists, spirits, and symbolic figures of the latest wave of hiphop--which has been banished to the independent realm of the underground since 1998.
Mid last year, MF Doom began working with Madlib on a CD that will be released this year by Stones Throw Records--a label that was founded in 1998 by Wolf, who had then decided to focus less on production than the promotion of hiphop artists he admired. Stones Throw Records has released numerous 12-inches and CDs, the best of which are Rasco's Time Waits for No Man (1998), which produced a hit, "Unassisted"; Lootpack's Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999); Wolf's My Vinyl Weighs a Ton (1999); Quasimoto's The Unseen (2000); and Wolf's compilation of the label's often hard-to-find seven-inch singles, Jukebox 45's (2002). The last four releases must first be described as academic, as their sample-heavy material reflects the size of the DJ/producers' record collections and their knowledge of vinyl.
In this respect, PB Wolf's label is not so much a commercial enterprise as a research institute. He and his label's main artist, Madlib--the producer behind Lootpack, Quasimoto, and Yesterdays New Quintet--are hardcore researchers. They chronically search for and collect rare records, order and store them in their basements, and share the best of what they find in songs or on mixed compilations, such as Madlib's Blunted in the Bomb Shelter Mix (2002), which contains no less than 45 reggae and dub classics, and Wolf's recent Badmeaningood Vol. 3, which has a variety of tracks that, for a hiphop DJ, are both unexpected (Human League, Iron Butterfly, Michael White) and expected (Grandmaster Flash, Cold Crush Brothers, the 45 King).
At one of the numerous high points of Badmeaningood Vol. 3, Wolf displays his selective genius on the turntables by mixing Prince Far I's jazzlike, dreamy but dead-serious dub/art "Black Man Land" with the Jungle Brothers' pragmatic but playful "I'm Gonna Do You." The dissimilar tracks (in terms of themes, recording histories, geographies, sonic structures) find their impossible meeting point in the heady imagination of the DJ. "I think I'd like people to appreciate the similarities between different music and different eras," he says in the compilation's liner notes. "To me, hiphop is always about digging up stuff people haven't heard and exposing it to them."
The penultimate track on Badmeaningood Vol. 3, "My World Premiere," by Charizma and Wolf, was produced in the early '90s and released as a 12-inch in 1996 to inaugurate Stones Throw Records. It's wonderful for two reasons: because its influences are easily recognizable (for Wolf's beat it's Marley Marl; for Charizma's rap it's Marley Marl's rapper/protégé MC Shan), and because it captures the enormous (if not delirious) creative potential that once existed between the fallen rapper and his surviving DJ.