Despite all evidence to the contrary, Stones Throw is not a hip-hop record label. Though their imprint has graced the packaging of J Dilla’s Donuts and Madvillain’s untouchable Madvillainy, Stones Throw demiurge Peanut Butter Wolf turns down the rap label status throughout Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, the new documentary on the LA-based independent.
Rather, as Vinyl boasts, Stones Throw is a culture of individuality, with hip-hop, funk, neo-soul and pop artists working prolifically to create for each other’s approval, placing critical and commercial success on the backburner. But with labelmates as pitch-perfect and pioneering as Madlib, J Dilla and Dâm-Funk, it’s a good group to strive with, the ideal melting pot for hip-hop and dance music’s future to stew in. “He does little tricks and nuances in his music that I know only I get,” says Questlove in Vinyl, paraphrasing the late J Dilla’s musical conversations with Madlib. “[He’s] talking to me and only me.”
Directed by documentarian Jeff Broadway, Vinyl charts its way from the beginning of Peanut Butter Wolf’s early career in San Jose to Stones Throw’s contemporary standing as an underground monolith. By 1993, Wolf and his rhyming partner Charizma were slated for hip-hop stardom, with fresh ink on a Hollywood Records contract. But Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf’s early success wasn’t meant to be. On December 16, 1993, Charizma was killed in a carjacking, devastating Peanut Butter Wolf and rewinding their career progress.
From here, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton takes an important turn, choosing to fast-forward to Stones Throw’s 2014 eclecticism, pressing artists like James Pants, Anika and the Stepkids.
Shifting through time with the poise of a good novelist, Broadway turns what could be a fanboy narrative into a well-curated retrospective on the label that has carried the torch of underground hip-hop since its start in 1996.
As it should, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton spends a considerable chunk of its time on Madlib and J Dilla, the dual engineers of Stones Throw’s vinyl-popping, marijuana soul sound. Broadway gets some magnificent frames on Madlib’s Madvillainy collab with MF Doom; though they lived in the same house during the album’s creation, the pair worked independently, rarely seeing each other. As Madlib puts it, “The only thing we did together was a lot of chocolate shrooms.”
J Dilla’s segment is a remarkable look into the life of one of the 21st century’s most lauded producers, an artist who passed in 2006 from a rare blood disease, the same week his definitive LP Donuts hit shelves. Equally as notable, we get to see the most knowledgeable names in contemporary hip-hop and electronic music weigh in on Dilla’s work. A teary-eyed Kanye West, lounging on a luxurious fainting couch, says that J Dilla’s music “just sounded like good pussy.”
Fans of the music will want to bring a pen and pad to the Alamo Drafthouse showing. Yes, there’s a non-stop parade of enviable artists and albums to get privy to, but for those with creative projects of their own, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a document of collaboration, raw dedication and go-for-broke innovation. “In 30 years, I want to see Stones Throw records either in the $100 bin or the 99-cent bin,” says Peanut Butter Wolf. “I want people who really hate it or really love it.”
9:30pm Mon, June 2
Alamo Drafthouse Park North
618 NW Loop 410
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