Peanut Butter Wolf on His History with 45s and Why the Vinyl Comeback Is Overhyped
Leader of the Pack
Bay Area native Chris Manak, aka Peanut Butter Wolf, is best known for his distinctive production style of jazz, hip-hop, and funk-soul beats. Starting out his career in the early '90s with emcee Charizma, the then-teenage duo found instant success but never chose to conform to outside pressures. Gaining notoriety without releasing an album, they seemed unstoppable, opening for artists including Nas and the Pharcyde. But with Charizma's untimely death in 1993, everything changed. Three years later, Peanut Butter Wolf decided to start Stones Throw Records. Seven years after that, he put out the previously unreleased Big Shots, Charizma's and Peanut Butter Wolf's first album. Today, Stones Throw holds an eclectic stable of artists including Dãm-Funk and Madlib, and stands as one of the most respected independent hip-hop labels. Below, Peanut Butter Wolf tells All Shook Down about running a label, his record collection, and his favorite YouTube videos. He'll play a special 45s-only party with labelmates Mayer Hawthorne, J Rocc, and Baron Zen this Friday at Mighty.
What got you into the genres you're so well-known for?
When I was in second grade, I had a teacher who was into disco and soul and funk. He'd play us stuff like the Ohio Players' "Rollercoaster" and the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground." I was hooked. When I got into fifth grade, "Rapper's Delight" came out, and I memorized all the words by heart. I also wrote the words to "Super Freak" and my mom found the paper in my room and I got in trouble cause the lyrics were inappropriate for someone my age. By the mid-'80s I liked new wave and punk, too, but hated heavy metal.
Stones Throw Records is a label unlike any other. What's something important you've learned in running it for the past 15 years?
Let other people run it. I actually do more running of it than I want to. A 40-hour workweek doesn't exist. Weekends are for catching up on e-mails from during the week. I prefer being only involved in creative decisions. If I could be in the studio with artists and on video shoots and that sort of thing, I'd be happier. Too many e-mails these days.
Do you think it's harder launching a record label today versus when you did?
Hard to say. On the one hand, music fans don't care if an artist is on a label or not, so at least the audience is more open-minded to discovering something new. On the other hand, there's so much music out there competing for people's attention. No such thing as a demo just being a demo anymore. "Crawl before you ball" doesn't exist anymore.
DJing vinyl seems less common and more hyped these days. Since you're known for your 45s parties, can you tell us about their progression?
I've been doing 45 parties since the '90s. When I started buying records in 1979, all I could afford were 45s, 'cause I was a kid. My best friend Steve and I saved our lunch money and on Saturday we'd go to the record store, buy a 45 or two each, a hamburger from Burger King, and go to the arcade for videogames. By the late '80s, when hip-hop got bigger, we only bought 12" singles. 45s were too hard to spin with. By the late '90s, the slipmats were more advanced and I came up with an idea of spinning an all hip-hop 7" set. From there, been doing the 45 thing ever since. My friend Steve who I first bought records with as a kid is spinning with us on Friday. He goes by the name Baron Zen.
Do you think vinyl is making a comeback these days?
No. Overhyped in the media in my opinion.
How extensive is your personal record collection?
Lost track years ago. All I know is I started buying vinyl on a weekly basis in 1979 and still buy it regularly. I just went record shopping yesterday actually. Main difference is from 1979-1986, I only bought "new" records. From 1986-1996, I bought a combination of new and old. From 1996 until now, I mainly buy older records. I buy new music through iTunes, but not new vinyl so much.
Since your live sets incorporate lots of old rap videos, what do you think is missing in newer music videos today?
For me, I have more fun finding YouTube videos uploaded by people without a record label.
Your career has led you all around the world. Tell us a destination you think is underrated.
I've been inspired in the most unlikely places. I've been fortunate to travel the world since the late '90s, but just recently I went to Omaha, Nebraska, for the first time and the people there really impressed me. I'm ready to go back!
Lastly, you don't live in the Bay anymore, but what are some things you miss from here?
Of course my family is number one. They all still live in San Jose and I visit them when I can. As for S.F., it would be nice to be able to go to Groove Merchant weekly like I used to, and the restaurants out there can't be beat.