|April 2007: Stones Throw Label Manager Eothen "Egon" Alapatt picks the brain of founder, DJ and producer Chris Manak (Peanut Butter Wolf) about the triumphs and pitfalls of going it on your own.
EA: Chris, I've known you since you founded the label over ten years ago. You were holding down a second job, producing a lot of the music you released, answering the phones, sending out promos and basically trying to shout to the world that there was an independent hip hop scene worth checking out in California. Did you ever imagine that Stones Throw would grow to what it is today?
PBW: We've had a series of successes with Stones Throw over the past 10 years. I kinda had a hunch the label would survive on its own terms since I started it in '96 because I felt like I knew the most talented people on the planet, and I always trusted my ear for good music. At the same time, I could never foresee all the changes the Internet would bring to a label like mine in leveling out the playing field so that I could rely on being creative and not worry so much about the politics of the music industry.
EA: Your album My Vinyl Weighs A Ton is, at least in my opinion, a hip hop classic and a landmark release in Stones Throw's catalog. I bug you about this all the time, but can never really get a straight answer - why don't you produce music anymore?
PBW: I'll probably get back into it because I have a lot of ideas I want to get off my chest. I kinda gave up a few years ago because I didn't have anything I wanted to express that way. I'm fortunate enough to be able to do all different things so I don't get bored with any of them.
EA: I remember when you first released promos of Madlib's Quasimoto album. You were telling me that Power 106 in LA was playing the single, and that the music was going to be regarded as an important milestone. I agreed with you but was finding that this opinion wasn't shared by many more "traditional" hip hop heads. Now, six and a half years after its release, we find people like Thom Yorke name-checking the album in interviews, and follow up "concept albums," like "Madvillain," are amongst our most successful. What made you take that risk, when no one knew what direction it would go?
||PBW: Although I wanted as many people as possible to like Lord Quas, this wasn't my motivating factor in releasing it. To me, having a catalog of music that I'm personally proud of is what keeps me most excited. I treat my record label like I do my personal record collection. I don't base how many times I listen to a record on how many other people listen to it or how many times the video's been played on national TV.
EA: We signed J.Dilla as half of Jaylib in 2002. By that time, you'd known Jay for over five years. Did you know that Dilla's signing would transform Stones Throw in the way that it did?
PBW: I knew that he would draw more attention to the label because a lot of popular major-label hip hop and soul artists were attracted to Dilla. I also knew it would help Madlib be recognized by other recording artists as well. Donuts was an album like Quasimoto in that when I first approached Dilla about releasing it, neither of us were worried about how we'd promote it or anything like that. We both just wanted to put it out there for music's sake. He accepted a modest advance for it, and at first nobody in the music industry was interested in covering it or carrying it because nobody understood how there could be a demand for a "beat tape on CD". My job was to keep convincing the people who hadn't heard it that it was more than just a beat tape.
EA: I know you have tons of favorite Stones Throw releases, but what are you bumping in the car now?
PBW: I've been listening to the James Pants album and the YNQ album. Both of those should be out this year, hopefully.