Stones Throw Records Tells Its Story in New Doc Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton
That thing where one extreme is so extreme it fully transcends to the opposite end of the spectrum. Hip-hop heavyweight Stones Throw Records is so painfully nerdy, the hard plastic lattice of back-, back-room crates comprises its backbone. Its earnest ambition erupts so untarnished the label warps itself into the audio equivalent of the iron-livered dude with perfect hair who never looks dumb in his leather jacket.
Filmmaker Jeff Broadway scraps and stitches together the label's winding, often dark history in Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records. The documentary pays close attention to label head Peanut Butter Wolf (Chris Manak, pictured above), the mysterious, brilliant dude behind the movement -- and all those stacks on stacks on stacks of wax.
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OVWAT opens with STR staple J. Dilla's "Lightworks" over the label's unofficial official artist Jeff Janks' bright animations. The cartoonized, crotch-watching alter-ego of producer/rapper Madlib, Quasimoto, eventually subsides and we pan over Wolf's enormous vinyl collection in his LA home.
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It starts at the beginning, chronicling the catalytic, young friendship between PB Wolf and rapper Charizma. Charizma's early, accidental murder sparked the label's birth. Since no one seemed particularly interested in putting out the bubbly, sincere Big Shots, Wolf just did it himself in 1996.
The documentary does a decent job mapping out the history basics of Stones Throw -- Charizma to Lootpack to Wolf's LA move to Dilla to present-day non-hip-hop signs. It combines rare archival footage with new interviews featuring folks like Common, ?uestlove, Mike D, Tyler, the Creator, and Kanye West in a very comfortable-looking sweater.
Most exciting of appearances, though, is the firsthand insight from reclusive and indispensable Madlib -- a later addition to the film. "He really doesn't like to be on camera interviews," Wolf told us. On convincing him to appear in the film, Wolf continued: "Madlib, it was tough... I don't like to bug people or that sort of thing." Yet there he appears explaining his magic mushroom-baked Quasimoto character, the label's jazz integration and more while making stoned hand gestures with jewel-encrusted pinkies. (He also, of course, scored the the movie.)
Broadway touches on the basic and the strange, attempting to satisfy both the entry level and diehard fans. It's an ambitious task to cover the near-two decades of history, rappers, non-rappers in a cohesive way while retaining some resistance to the STR disciple's scrutinizing chew.
"It's hard because one thing I wanted with the film was to show as many characters as possible, and the guys really did that partially to make me happy," Wolf said. "Then we watched it that way and it was too all-over-the-place. They had to tone it down and take people out. ...It's almost like you have to make two movies."
OVWAT, though, does beautifully pay tribute to the memory of two Stones Throw cornerstones, Charizma and J. Dilla. The former's mother, still based in the Bay area, attended the LA, San Francisco and Denver premieres. "She's really excited about it, keeping a scrapbook... she's a really awesome mom," Wolf said.
Recently, Wolf lost another huge artistic support system -- his father, to cancer. "My dad got to see it before he passed away," he said. "He was really proud of me. To me, he never really expressed it as much as he did to other people. A lot of people tell me, 'Ah yeah, your dad always gloated about you and stuff.' So, yeah. Feels good."
From the profoundly fundamental (Madlib puffing pot smoke in the studio, archival footage of Charizma fingering through LPs) to the profoundly bizarre (Diva wearing face paint, Wolf's alter ego Folerio bathing with his real-life dog Sydney, Gary Wilson in general) and all the other hunks (pop-soul maestros Stepkids enchanting Odd Future, Jonwayne recording whirring skate trucks, former interns FlyLo and James Pants), the documentary attempts a seemingly impossible task, and while it doesn't land on the nose, it's close. It's heavy and with 20 years worth of material, a little knee-bending is vital to lift such a load.
"I'm definitely happy it happened and glad with the results," Wolf said, throwing his signature monotone conviction. "It's just not perfect, but whatever."
Keep an eye out for more widespread screenings via the Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton official website.
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