Nurturing the Underground
I love underground Hip-Hop and the counter-culture that spawns from going against the grain. Artists that belong to it flourish in their own light. There are entities out there that give artists a platform to create, perform, and thrive; a blank page with no strings attached – enter Stones Throw Records.
Last week I took the time to watch “Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton,” a documentary that explores the origins of Stones Throw Records based out of Los Angeles, CA. Since its birth in 1996, it has become a haven for artists without a label to call home. Chris Manak, the Peanut Butter Wolf, cultivated a wide network of artists and producers that have made huge strides across multiple genres. Peanut Butter Wolf worked with some of the most prominent and influential Hip-Hop artists such as Madlib, MF DOOM, and J Dilla. His admiration for various forms of music is what guides Stones Throw and nurtures the music that rumbles beneath the bedrock.
“MY ADVICE TO ANY UP-AND-COMING ARTIST – BE TRUE TO WHAT YOU DO. BE DIFFERENT, BE ORIGINAL, AND BE YOURSELF. THIS HIP-HOP INDUSTRY IS CRAZY.” – CHARIZMA
The open mind of Peanut Butter Wolf led Stones Throw Records to become a creative household of outcasts, lost-boys, and beat-making bindlestiffs; experimental and avant garde. Some people might think the music pressed out of Stones Throw is too out there; however, it’s actually a hunting ground for some of the most sophisticated producers and rappers in Hip-Hop.
The documentary itself features interviews with some big-name industry professionals: Flying Lotus, Kanye West, Common, Prince Paul, Mike D, ?uestLove, Talib Kweli, Tyler The Creator…
“SMALLER MOVEMENTS MAKE FOR A BIGGER, BETTER CULTURE.” – ?UESTLOVE
Stones Throw Records stands for the advancement of independent music and the culture that it embellishes. Peanut Butter Wolf wants his artists to reach their full potential by giving them free reign over their work. He doesn’t build or create artists. He simply gives them a chance to be heard. He doesn’t diminish their creative flow in any way. If he likes it, he signs it. Stones Throw grew from the ashes of rejection and created a counter-culture around great music and hardworking musicians.
MADLIB AND MF DOOM
Ah, Madlib. Few Hip-Hop producers can match his work ethic or his affinity for weird. From what I can tell, Madlib worked in the ‘Bomb Shelter’ studio of Stones Throw 24/7, and I’m not exaggerating. He is known as “the hardest working man in Hip-Hop,” and according to the man himself, he only catches 2-3 hours of sleep a day. So, I imagine that he gets by with an SP1200 instead of a pillowcase.
I am a big fan of Madlib. In a lot of ways, I see myself in the way he works and his perception of how his music is received by fans. If Madlib can satisfy his inner-circle (3-5 people), he’s happy. I aspire to attain such an incredibly modest outlook. He’d probably still bump his own beats if he were the last person on Earth.
Then MF DOOM came into the picture…
MF DOOM is one of my favorite rappers; period. When I listen to Operation: Doomsday, I hear the rhymes of a tragic anti-hero. If you ponder through the past of Daniel Dumile, you’ll find that there is a lot of juice to the story of MF DOOM.
MF DOOM, formerly known as Zev Love X of rap group KMD, was dropped from Elektra Records shortly after the passing of his brother and career partner, Sub Roc. After a period of exile, Zev Love X resurfaced with a new pseudonym: MF DOOM. Over the past decade or so, DOOM has released a handful of albums, his latest being NehruvianDoom, a joint work with Bishop Nehru. His flow and clever rhyme schemes are unmatched, and his beat production is even more dastardly. Madlib stepped up and met DOOM in the Bomb Shelter of Stones Throw to create one of the greatest Hip-Hop records ever.
I’m bumping this record right now, and it’s flawless. It’s the type of album that should be in everybody’s crate. It represents so much more than what is on the surface. Madvillainy is the product of two workhorses who are legendary for their complexity and sophistication. DOOM floats over the otherworldly beat-grime without any effort. He doesn’t play by the rules of conventional rap. Madlib, “the one and only,” is an architect of grooves layered with sample chops and subtle nuances. This album is legendary.
I fell in love with this album around the time I started getting into MF DOOM. At the time, I didn’t know too much about Madlib, but this record introduced me to a sample of his work. I find myself pondering over this album occasionally, and I always manage to find a few new elements; new aural treasures and groovy candy painted over a sinister canvas.
“THOSE DRUMS CAME OUT OF THAT MPC – ARGUABLY THE BEST DRUMS IN HIP-HOP HISTORY.” – KANYE WEST
J Dilla. The name speaks for itself. Honestly, he is everything that I aspire to be. After his unexpected passing in 2006, his legacy has spurred inspiration in the quietest corners of the industry; my bedroom included.
J Dilla has a style that is replicated by many but trademark to him alone. Madlib looked up to Dilla for his artistry and vice versa. J Dilla was a huge fan of Madlib’s work as well. The two got together to produce an album called JayLib in 2003. Half of the album features J Dilla on vocals, and the other half features Madlib on vocals; two legends that were half of a whole masterpiece.
His second album, Donuts, is purely instrumental. It echoes classic 70s groove and is a landmark Hip-Hop album. This is a collection of some of his best MPC 3000 handy-work.
Three days after his 32nd birthday and the release of Donuts, J Dilla passed away on February 10, 2006. DOOM no longer wanted to record, Madlib didn’t want to create and Dilla was gone.
Since his passing, there have been a large collection of reels, odds, and ends that have been put out; unreleased instrumental tracks from the man himself. J Dilla’s beats are the best in Hip-Hop, without doubt.
DESPITE ALL ODDS.
I find a lot of inspiration in stories like these. Madlib, the architect who never sleeps. MF DOOM, the tragic hero in exile. J Dilla, the producer who made us all listen for just a few seconds more, just to hear the break. These are the people in this industry who we need to look up to. Stones Throw is a prime example that you should stay true to your craft, despite any odds. If you are already dreaming about the spotlight before you step up to the microphone, you’re doing it wrong.