At Aron's Records, Los Angeles
Stones Throw Records is one of the most recognized imprints in all of hip-hop, and label founder Peanut Butter Wolf (aka Chris Manak) has likewise cemented his undeniable influence on hip-hop's current creative renaissance. Shepherding early releases such as Rasco's “Unassisted” and DJ Babu's Super Duck Breaks (1996) LP; a slew of records from cats like J.Rocc, Breakestra, A-Trak and Lootpack; and a current roster that boasts Quasimoto, Madlib and Jaylib, Wolf has achieved success not only as an entrepreneur but also as a producer and DJ.
But Wolf's rise didn't happen overnight. In December 1993, legendary San Francisco Bay Area MC Charizma was fatally shot in the streets of Palo Alto, Calif., leaving PBW, Charizma's production partner and DJ, disillusioned. As a result, Peanut Butter Wolf (a moniker he took on a dare posed by Charizma) limited his involvement in music to just listening and collecting records. But after the 1994 success of “Just Like a Test,” a track he did with Charizma, Upstairs Records approached him to record an instrumental EP.
Wolf spent the next couple of years collaborating with some of the most influential personalities in hip-hop, including QBert, Cut Chemist and Rob Swift. This put him in a position to produce various notable tracks, eventually leading to the launch of Stones Throw Records in 1996. “I'm really proud of Stones Throw Records and the catalog we've built over the past eight years,” Wolf says. “I usually just follow my ear with what I think sounds good, and there's a lot of talent in this area right now.”
Since starting Stones Throw, Wolf has shifted most of his focus to running the label and DJing. He drops needles on packed dancefloors everywhere from Europe and Japan to Canada and all over the U.S. This record-excavation trip takes him to one of his current hometown's most valuable resources, Aron's Records in Hollywood. “I try to spend as much time in record stores as I can, and Aron's has one of the best selections in L.A.,” he says. “I like a lot of different styles of music, so, normally, I'll start with the older disco, soul and funk stuff; then, I'll move to the new hip-hop.”
His enthusiasm is evident as he thumbs through every visible bin in the store. “Lately, I've been buying '60s rock records and stuff like that,” he says. “Even artists like Jimi Hendrix, who I was really into in the '80s, I'm going back and buying again. A lot of it is for gigs, but there's also a lot of records I know I'll never spin out. It's just what keeps me going.”
Although PBW incorporates a range of styles in his sets, not everything he plays is cutting-edge. “The thing is, when you're at a party and there's alcohol involved, everyone wants to hear the same ol' stuff, and you have to take that into consideration, so I play a lot of that, as well,” he admits. Nevertheless, Wolf's taste ranges from early-'80s L.A. punk to Snoop Dogg — something to be remembered the next time he plays in your town, and you find yourself asking, “What was that he just played?”
“Cooky Puss” (Ratcage)
I was that kid who was always trying to tell all his friends about the Beastie Boys. This record was kind of in between alternative punk rock with scratching, and they did a reggae version on the B-side. I'm DJing a party for XLarge, their clothing company, next week, so I figured I'd play this. It's a great record, and the drums kind of remind of me of “Pac Jam” by Jonzun Crew.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL & HIGH VOLTAGE
“We Are Making Music” (Hit Makers of America)
It's a Peter Brown production. He put out a shitload of hip-hop singles around '79 and '80, and almost all of them are really good. Slowly, they're all getting reissued, so you can buy them for, like, $5 instead of $80. Whenever I see a reissue on Peter Brown, I always pick it up. Anyone who likes the early hip-hop sound, I encourage you to go out and get it. You can't go wrong with Peter Brown!
Conversations With Dudley (Up Above)
This is one that I just bought, being a fan of all his stuff. He's a highly talented rapper and singer and one of the few truly creative people in hip-hop these days who doesn't really care what people think. He has a lot of self-confidence, and his stuff is really spiritual.
Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
I'm sick of hearing about it, so I've just gotta hear what it sounds like.
Gambler's Life (Soul Brother)
This one is a reissue, but it's another record I buy over and over again. I liked his later stuff that the Mizell Brothers did. Though the Mizell Brothers are most known for “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie: A Taste of Honey” — that was, like, a No. 1 hit in the '70s — this stuff is really danceable. You can play a lot of it in the clubs.
HURT EM BAD
“Hurt Em to the Rescue” (Las Vegas Record Service)
This is kind of similar to “Beat Box” by Art of Noise. Even though it's 1985, it has kind of an earlier-'80s feel, the kind of stuff people were breakdancing to back then. Back in those days, I would make mixtapes for everyone in school, and I remember putting this on there, and people didn't really know what it was.
Dub Will Tear Us Apart (The Social Registry)
These are reggae instrumental-dub covers of Joy Division songs. I've seen this at different record stores and just assumed I wouldn't like it because it would sound like that whole mash-up thing, but it's not bad. They did it in a tasteful way. Plus, I'm a big Joy Division fan.
“Callin' Out” (Quannum)
Quannum is one of the few labels that's still around that's been doing it since the mid-'90s. Lyrics Born is really underrated. I mean, you can listen to his albums from start to finish. Although this is a song that everyone knows from the [Diet Coke] commercial, it really is a catchy, good song.
PLATINUM PIED PIPERS
“Your Day Is Done” (Ubiquity)
It seems like Ubiquity has really started to put their ear to the streets. Platinum Pied Pipers is a group that Waajeed from Detroit is doing. Madlib told me about this, and I was really into it, so I bought a double today to go back and forth with instrumentals and the vocals. “Your Day Is Done” is the one I play in my sets, and people are really into it.
The World of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz)
I think Arthur Russell's really underrated. He's the kind from the late '70s, 'early 80s who was a bit orchestral with elements of disco. A lot of times, nothing was really planned out; it was more of a jazz approach, really raw and minimal, and the track “Pop Your Funk” gets crazy. He was one of the founders of Sleeping Bag Records, which was one of my favorite hip-hop labels in the mid-'80s that did a lot of dance stuff, as well.
“Snapshot” and “Wait for Me” are songs that I loved growing up, and although those are the two singles, their whole albums were really good. They're more known for the song “Watching You” that Snoop did a cover of called “Gin & Juice.” It's not a really rare record, but it's one of those records I'll just buy over and over again because my stuff's not organized. Now, I'll know where it is — at least for the next few weeks.