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Better Than Ever: Peanut Butter Wolf

Few figures hold more sway in the world of underground Hip Hop than Chris Manak, better known as Peanut Butter Wolf. Teaming up with Californian MC Charizma he formed a duo that enjoyed modest success in the pre G-Funk West Coast Hip Hop scene. Tragedy soon struck however, when Charizma was gunned down in 1993 before the pair even released their debut record. In attempt to heal the wounds caused by the loss of his best friend and collaborator, Manak began to return to DJ’ing and making beats again. A slew of releases, including a couple of compilations,  followed over the next few years until Manak decided the time was right to start his own label: Stones Throw. Appropriately the first release from the label was to be his and Charizma’s ‘My World Premiere’, an instant classic.

With Stones Throw, going on to become arguably the worlds leading label for non-commercial rap and other delights, Manak has overseen the release of more than a few era defining classics during the label’s nearly 18 year run. Madvilliain’s peerless screwball masterpiece ‘Madvillainy’ won universal acclaim back in 2004, whilst the release of ‘Donuts’ by J-Dilla mere days before his death in 2006 gave the label its unbelievably bittersweet defining moment.

2013 has been one of the label’s busiest years to date with reissues of ‘Donuts’ coming out alongside material from exciting ‘bands’ like The Stepkids, The Lions and Boardwalk, as well as a forthcoming LP from 7 Days Of Funk, the collaborative he project between none other than Snoop Dogg and Dam-Funk. Meanwhile, ‘Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton’, a retrospective documentary on Stones Throw from director Jeff Broadway ( trailer below ), premiered at the LA Film Festival earlier this month.

Looking to catch up with Manak ahead of his set for The Doctors Orders at Scala this Saturday 19th October, we flung him some questions recently about Dilla, record collecting and demos….

Yo, Peanut Butter Wolf, thanks for taking the time to chat to Hyponik. Where are you right now and what are you doing?

I’m in Tel Aviv and I’m eating Cheerrios and talking to you.

You and Stones Throw have just featured in Jeff Broadway’s documentary ‘Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton’. How was the experience overall and are you happy with the end result?

It was a big challenge because there’s so many artists I wanted featured and so much archival footage I wanted in there too but you have to use constraint when trying to condense 17 years (or 44 years if you start at my birth) into one film. I think it was tougher than any of us ever anticipated, but yeah, I’m happy with how it turned out.

You’re 17 years deep with Stones Throw now and you’ve been enjoying what’s potentially one of your most prolific years release-wise. Things are great now, but there must have been some struggles running an independent label for this long?

Things are great creatively. Better than ever. But, when you’re trying to break new artists that nobody knows about yet, that’s a tricky one. But yeah, been lots of struggles off and on the whole 17 years. That’s what makes it easy to do a documentary. Ups and downs are what the world is all about.

As a label head you must receive a phenomenal amount of music even on a daily basis. Do you have any kind of criteria when your sifting through all of it?

I got a text message sent to me yesterday that upset me. The guy compared his music to Miles Davis and Dilla and said I’d love his demo and asked when we could meet. How do these people get my phone number and think it’s just appropriate to compare their music to 2 greats, then assume I have time for a meeting when I haven’t even heard any music nor am I asking for a meeting. I’m a fan in believing in yourself and his stuff might be the next big thing, but there’s right and wrong ways to go about it.

This year has seen albums from The Stepkids, The Lions and a forthcoming record from Boardwalk. Many people will still think of Stones Throw as a ‘Hip-Hop’ label, so is the focus on the aforementioned artists who are all more ‘band’ orientated, something conscious or was it a natural progression?

Just happened that way. I got Jonwayne coming out too. And Pyramid Vritra. I still fucks with this hip hop shit, but yeah, it’s not genre specific and hasn’t been for the past 10 years or so.

You’ve put out some Dilla re-presses this year. You’re probably bored of this question by now, but are you sitting on any unreleased Dilla material that might see the light of day in the near future?

I have lots of unreleased Dilla stuff, but no plans at the moment.

Obviously people got pretty hot and bothered about Kendrick’s verse on ‘Control’ and there has been talk of a mainstream Hip Hop ‘revival’ for a while now. Is there anything in the mainstream that excites you at the minute or is it still all about the underground for you?

Takes a lot to excite me these days. Trending twitter topics usually don’t.

Not that it was ever in any doubt, but your epic 12 hour set for Boiler Room this year confirmed that you’ve got a ridiculously large record collection. Do you continue to add to that collection on a regular basis these days?

I haven’t really bought records in a few months. I go through spells. For a while, I was spending a lot of money on ebay and then decided, “what’s the point”? I can walk away from something and not think twice about it.

You’ve said, understandably, that running Stones Throw means you don’t have time to get in the studio these days. Is this something you miss?

Well, I’m still in the studio a lot (like I was with Myron & E, Vex Ruffin, and Snoop Dogg/Dam-Funk albums), but it’s just not making a song from scratch. It’s more taking songs that are almost finished and helping take them to the finish line.

Catch Peanut Butter Wolf playing alongside DJ Premiere and The Nextmen and Scala this Saturday 19th October

Words: Christian Murphy