Monday, February 12, 2007

Stones Throw Records

[buy everything you can find at Stones Throw, it's all good. and buy Plan B Magazine, they rock.]

Labels build their reputations through the records they release.
Bay Area imprint Stone’s Throw, begun by turntablist/producer Peanut Butter Wolf in 1996, nurtures an extended family of hip-hop mavericks. I’d struggle to justify these artists as being particularly ground-breaking or influential – though they often are, that’s not their primary aim. Better described as entirely wilful and idiosyncratic, these artists (trite but perfectly-fitting cliché alert) make music for themselves first (and goddamn how other people ‘do’ things), manipulating and perverting and personalising the blueprints in artful and brilliant ways.

Stones Throw is best known for the work of Madlib, immaculately-stoned DJ/producer/rapper/one-man-jazz-quintet Otis Jackson jr. A hip-hop Lee Perry, Madlib produced tracks for The Alkaholiks, before releasing a debut album with his rap group Lootpack on Stones Throw in 1999. Since then, a heavy-lidded tsunami of material has gushed forth: his recordings as Quasimoto, helium-voiced street-thug trudging some Corky McCoy/Melvin van Peebles mindscape, searching for weed and booty; collaborations with similarly-misfit genii J Dilla (Jaylib) and MF Doom (Madvillain); the murky 70s elevator jazz (whipped to a post-digi 21st Century clip) of his Yesterday’s New Quintet; the dreamy psychedelic miniatures of his work as The Beat Konducta...

They key to ‘Lib’s work is embracing the mindset, the ‘ear’ of its creator, loving the murk, the obscurest collages, the lo-fi invention of his beats. Same with J Dilla; the Slum Villager-turned-Ummah passed away due to complications from Lupus this February. In his last months, hospital-bound, he worked on a hallucinatory beat-tape, fragments of track ideas woven into a mystifying whole that begs exploration. Titled Donuts, the mush of disembodied soul and shredded funk envelopes you within its blurry neon universe, a trip that leaves voyagers forever changed. The other artists signed to the label are no slouches either – from the ecstatic soca/reggae/R’n’B hybrid of Aloe Blacc, to Georgia Anne Muldrew’s auterist jazz-soul and her searingly crazy-paved poetics, to Koushik’s meditative post-MBV groove.

Labels build their reputations through how they do things. A strong, subtle in-house style pervades, from slanted/stylish sleeve artwork (Jeff Jank, art director, take a bow) through to ambitious projects like Chrome Children, a collaboration with twisted cartoon network Adult Swim. Everything they release dances to a deftly different beat, like Peanut Butter Wolf’s Jukebox 45s, a 2002 set of undiscovered old skool funk gems, new tracks from the label’s stars, and pseudonomic nuggets from that lineup that pastiched funk, rap and soul with such loving accuracy that you couldn’t tell them from the genuine relics (like Dudley Perkins’ Sly croak ‘Flowers’, or Funkaho’s gamer strut-funk ‘My 2600’).

Along with their reissues imprint Now-Again, Stones Throw have also explored unheard corners of funk and rap; most celebrated was their Funky 16 Corners, a compilation of impossibly-rare groove tracks that would give DJ Shadow a hard-on, born of a cross-country road trip conducted by PBW and Now-Again honcho Egon. They played a set of ten-pin bowling in every city they visited, also looking in on the various funk veterans Egon had befriended over the years. The resulting set offered a subterranean history of the genre that spawned hip-hop, with authoritative text from Egon illuminating these neglected artists. The label conducted a similar survey of Connecticut hip-hop from rap’s dawn for 2004’s The Third Unheard.

Perhaps all labels are born of a love for music; Stones Throw’s success lies in the abundant joy and sincerity it takes in its every endeavour. PBW started Stones Throw with the objective of releasing the material he recorded with Charizma, his rhyme-partner from their teenage years until Charizma’s untimely death in 1993. Their album, Big Shots, finally surfaced in 2003, but thankfully Stones Throw continue their wayward quest, satisfying their curiosity and their errant muses with a steady slew of individual, artful records. As sure as any exists in this world, the Stones Throw logo is a guarantee of a wildly creative, sludgily good time. Theirs is the work of angels.

(c) Stevie Chick 2006

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