Chris Manak, better known as Peanut Butter Wolf, needs to be in two places at once.
He’s in Leeds to attend a showing of the new Stones Throw film, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, after which he will conduct a Q&A session. This should then be followed by a VJ set, at the nearby HiFi Club. The problem is that the timing of the events conflict. After making arrangements to push back the DJ set and intro the film instead, we head across the road from the club to a BBQ joint so he can grab something to eat before his hectic night begins.
The film documents the journey of Wolf’s LA-based independent record label, Stones Throw, which is known for its leftfield approach and has released records by the likes of Madlib, J Dilla, MF DOOM, Aloe Blacc, Mayer Hawthorne, Dam-Funk, Gary Wilson and James Pants. Initially conceived as a one-hour special for French TV that was later abandoned, the project was picked up by Los Angeles director Jeff Broadway, who planned to put together a feature-length film.
“I told him about the French footage, put them in touch with each other, and then they figured it out from there,” explains Wolf of the final project. “So probably like 30% of the footage is stuff that the French guys shot, and then there was a lot of archival footage and a lot of stuff that the guys in LA shot, and then the guys in LA edited it.”
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton cleverly conveys the complex history of the label, its diverse range of projects and its ethos, in a way that appeals to audiences of both die-hard fans and newcomers alike.
“I wanted it to be a film where people who had never heard of Stones Throw could be like, ‘Wow, this seems interesting’,” says Wolf as he picks at his food. “There’s a movie called The Devil And Daniel Johnston, and I’d never heard of Daniel Johnston at the time, but I saw the movie and was really touched by it and went and bought a lot of his records. That’s how I envisioned this film to be.”
- - -
Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf
- - -
Despite a number of notable co-signs appearing in the movie, including Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, A-Trak, ?uestlove of The Roots, Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future and Mike D of the Beastie Boys, he hopes it won’t just be these well-known artists attracting people to the film.
“I’m thankful that they’re in there, but I almost feel like I wish there’d been less of that in it. Especially when they’re just talking about the importance of what I do or whatever. I don’t want someone watching a movie to see it and go, ‘Oh, this must be important because this person said so’.”
Split into chapters, the film depicts the various stages that the label has gone through since it was founded in 1996, and delicately deals with the passing of two of the label’s staple artists: firstly Wolf’s childhood friend, Charizma, and later legendary producer/rapper J Dilla.
“I get emotional watching it,” says Wolf, visibly saddened even by the thought. “Of course [when] watching the Charizma and Dilla stuff, but really everything. There’s a lot of footage that got uncovered that I didn’t really remember or even know existed. Just remembering those times is an emotional thing.”
He is particularly absent from the chapter on Charizma. “With that section of the film I helped the director and editor a lot, like putting them in touch with people who I thought should be interviewed and steered it a little bit. Of course it was hard, but I think that I wasn’t in it that much because I wanted everybody else that was involved with him to talk about it, like Kermitt, our hypeman at the time, and Charizma’s mom, I wanted her to be in there, and his girlfriend at the time.”
When we reach the cinema, Wolf is clearly awkward with the idea of introducing the film. He initially wants to just stand on the floor rather than the stage, but after a couple of complaints from the balcony is forced to take to the stage. “Does anyone have any questions on the film you haven’t watched yet?” he says before a broad Yorkshire accent pipes up asking if he’d like to smoke weed with them.
- - -
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, trailer
- - -
“It’s just awkward because I’m on tour doing Q&As for the film and promotion of it,” says Wolf, of his naturally humble and understated character. “It’s weird for me to even sit in a theatre at the end of the film. They’re saying all that stuff about me and Stones Throw and how great everything is. And then I go up there and do a Q&A like, ‘Hey, look at me, everybody clap for me!’”
Not looking to sugar-coat things, a chapter entitled The Wild West documents the post-Dilla period of Stones Throw, in which the label had lost interest in releasing hip-hop music and began experimenting with other genres, some of which didn’t necessarily pay off. The responses of hip-hop aficionado DJs House Shoes and J. Rocc are particularly interesting in this chapter, as both clearly had some distaste for where things were going.
“That was cool,” Wolf responds when quizzed about these responses. “I wanted more stuff like that. J. Rocc, out of all of my friends, he’s the one who busts my balls the most. He’s the one that’s always teasing me and giving me a hard time, and that’s the stuff I want to be shown in the film, you know?”
And it’s Wolf’s balanced stance on the portrayal of the label that makes the film such a good watch. Far from conveying some super-human icon that is unrelatable, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is an inspiration. It shows how armed with focus, motivation and a huge amount of passion, Wolf and Stones Throw have made their mark on the world. Sure it’s been a bumpy ride, but when watching back the story as a whole it’s clear that what Wolf has achieved is nothing short of amazing.
- - -
Words: Grant Brydon
Clash has three copies of Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton on Blu-ray to give away, which come bundled with the documentary’s soundtrack. To be in with a chance of getting one, simply fill out the form below. We’ll contact winners on June 13th, 2014. Good luck!