Stones Throw Records’ Founder And Documentary Director Break Down Their New Film

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    The story of Stones Throw Records starts when the label was founded by Peanut Butter Wolf in 1996, but the real roots of the label's genesis began years later. Wolf, one half of a hip-hop duo with his good friend Charizma, had signed a deal with record label Hollywood Basics with dreams of hip-hop success before Charizma was killed in December 1993. Initially despondent, Wolf was able to pick himself up and start Stones Throw, which has gone on to become one of the most iconic and revered independent record labels in the funk, hip-hop and soul spheres, providing platforms to artists such as Madlib, J Dilla, MF DOOM, J Rocc, Dam-Funk, an ascendent Aloe Blacc and Snoop Dogg's recent funk incarnation.<br /><br />With such a rich history, director Jeff Broadway—a diehard fan of the label—approached Wolf in 2012 about making a documentary, to which Wolf agreed. The process—including interviews with Madlib, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Common, Questlove, Tyler, The Creator, Mike D, Earl Sweatshirt and A-Trak, among others—was extensive, and the fresh interviews combined with archival video and concert footage helps fill out the story with exceptional color. The result, <em>Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton</em>, premiered in Los Angeles last month, and will have an official DVD release May 27. <em>XXL</em> spoke to both Wolf and director Broadway to get to the bottom of the making of the film, the evolution of the label, and why it's still so important nearly two decades later. Plus, we've got some exclusive clips of Tyler, The Creator speaking about The Stepkids and Talib Kweli on the iconic <em>Madvillainy</em>. <em>—<a title="danrys" href="https://twitter.com/danrys" target="_blank">Dan Rys</a></em>
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    <b><i>XXL</i>: How did the documentary come together?</b><br /><b>Jeff Broadway: </b>I sent a cold email to the info account at Stones Throw about two years ago, and I heard back from Wolf directly several hours later, just expressing interest in potentially doing a film on Stones Throw and gave him a copy of <i>Cure For Pain</i> that the editor of the film, Rob Bralver, and I did together. He was pretty sold on it as a work sample, concept or whatever, and he decided to give me a chance and make the film.<br /><br /><strong>Peanut Butter Wolf: </strong>I never really considered doing a Stones Throw film. It was cool because the director, Jeff [Broadway], was a super fan of the label and the editor, Rob [Bralver], knew nothing about the label so to have them work on it together, was the perfect balance because I wanted the film to be able to be watched by anyone and hold their attention for 90 minutes, Stones Throw fan or not.
    Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <b>What was it about Stones Throw that made you want to make a documentary?</b><br /><strong>JB: </strong>I grew up listening to quite a bit of hip-hop, and then in college was seeking out some more experimental releases and came across <i>Madvillainy</i>, which was my introduction to Stones Throw. And I was just so compelled by these worlds that these releases existed in—<i>Madvillainy</i>, the Quasimoto albums—and it just felt so different from anything else I'd listened to or come across. So Stones Throw had already been on my radar for about 10 years, and I'd been living in L.A. for several years before I approached Wolf about doing this. It was something that was a local story that wouldn't have huge production expenses if everyone was on board—which everyone was—and it was a subject that I very well understood and was excited to become more involved with. And I felt there was a palpable demand by the fan base to know more about the label. So I went to Kickstarter and found indeed there was a demand for a film. So we made it.
    DOOM Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <b>When did you get started working on it?</b><br /><strong>JB:</strong> About March 2012. We had our first cut done in May of last year, so we turned something around pretty quickly. And obviously there was a bunch of archival [footage], and there had been a production that had begun work in 2010 that got shelved, and I worked with them to hand over their footage in exchange for credits, so we kind of had a strong base to start from. But all the interviews in the film were all original interviews. It was definitely an exhaustive process, and there was a remarkable amount of footage that we had to work from. We had a couple hundred hours of footage with the archival stuff and what we shot.
    Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <b>What was the most surprising thing that came from working on the documentary?</b><br /><strong>JB:</strong> Just how influential Charizma and his death was in starting Stones Throw, and what a catalyst he was for the whole label. I really had no idea. I was familiar with their music, but not even really that much, to be honest, and just discovering how impactful that loss had been in the creation of Stones Throw, and the whole ethos of how it's been run for almost 20 years was very interesting to learn about, and has a strong place in the film as a result.<br /><br /><strong>PBW: </strong>I couldn't believe how much old footage there was that other people dug up. I got a 20 minute pro shot video interview with Charizma and I from 1991 that I didn't even know existed from an old friend Corey who interviewed us back then. I got Dilla and Madlib's first time in the studio together back in 2001 from Houseshoes. My first time in Europe with Lootpack from Wildchild. I got lots of footage from J Rocc. One of Madvillain's first concerts from a guy Cognito. And all my old home movies from my childhood from my mom. That was all the kind of stuff I wanted to see in the film. I was also surprised that Madlib agreed to do an extended interview. He doesn't ever do interviews on camera. And that Kanye did his.
    Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <strong>What was the toughest part about putting the documentary together?</strong><br /><strong>PBW: </strong>Probably getting the funding, but Jeff spearheaded the Kickstarter campaign that helped tremendously. But even with that, documentaries are so labor and money-intensive to make. I think Kickstarter raised like $50,000 or something, so even that isn't really enough money to make a full-length feature that stands a chance in the theaters. The guys really worked very hard around the clock for a very modest salary so for that, I'm very thankful. It really was a community effort from people who believed in the cause. They probably would've made more money working at McDonalds.
    Madlib Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <strong>Was it difficult to delve into some of the more sensitive areas of Stones Throw's history?</strong><br /><strong>PBW:</strong> Definitely. It was hard for me to go to Charizma's mom and girlfriend at the time and ask them to talk about Charizma on camera, for example, but they both agreed to do it. Charizma's mom actually has been very supportive and pleased that the film happened. My brother cried a lot during his interview while talking about Charizma and afterwards he told me, "Wow that was really weird. He died 20 years ago and I never really cried like that in the 20 years since it happened." My mom cried too during her interview and so did I, but I asked the director to not include any of those moments. But old wounds were reopened for sure. And of course I can only imagine how the unedited footage of all the people who were interviewed about Dilla went (Kanye, J Rocc, Common, Questlove, etc). I'm sure it was difficult for everyone to talk about him. And my Dad was dying of cancer as it was being filmed and he passed away last month, so I'm glad he got to see the finished movie before dying. Before this film, he never really had a grasp on what my career is, other than I "do music."<br /><br /><strong>JB: </strong>Obviously, there are some sensitive issues and topics that are delved into, and it's always kind of tough to ask someone things that you know are implicitly sensitive or emotional. But we knew that the story was there for the film to be more than just an infomercial or a run-of-the-mill music documentary, because there are a lot more human elements to the story. We didn't want to sacrifice those just because things are difficult to speak about. Wolf was an open book as far as storytelling went, and I think the narrative succeeds as a result of that.<br /><br />There are all these little mini biopics within the larger story and subnarratives, like Wolf's own personal story, Madlib's evolution and genesis, Dilla and his arrival at the label, ditto DOOM; some of the more iconic stories that we knew we had to tell. And then just the weirdness that Rob and I were so pumped on, because that was really something that I didn't know was there until we met Wolf and got to know him better and became friends and he let his guard down and we spent time around other peers and really got the full grasp of what was in front of us with this film.
    Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf. Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <strong>What is the label's biggest role in the current music industry?</strong><br /><strong>PBW: </strong>I guess to stay afloat without having to put out music I wouldn't personally buy as a consumer. That's why I did it in the first place, and the label's been that way for 18 years, so if I were to let go of that ideal now, I'd have a lot of explaining to do to myself and anyone else who paid attention. But that's kind of an over-simplistic way of running things, because when I sign artists, I feel personally responsible to them for their career to an extent. And although I always like an artist's music when I first sign them, sometimes by the second or third album, I don't like the direction they're going as much as when I first sign them. When I hold up the production of their album waiting for them to create "better songs," it leads to resentment from them towards me. This is what happened with Aloe Blacc. I sent him back to the drawing board one too many times, I think. But Stones Throw has a clear artistic vision which has been a both a blessing and a curse.<br /><br /><b>JB: </b>I think just serving as a home to really quality artists who perhaps don't have the built-in marketing appeal or some of the traits that labels look for before they look for quality music, even. You take a guy like Jonwayne who is musically very talented, but let's be honest: he's a young, white dude who's overweight, he's got a huge beard, he's a little rough around the edges as far as marketing and traditional shit a label might look at in a musician. He's just case in point, not to pick on Jon. But you know, I think that that can be said for a number of musicians—Vex Ruffin is a guy who works at UPS and he's put out a couple albums now on the label. I just think it's rare in this day and age for a label that has the history that Stones Throw does and still takes chances on artists who are a little bit more difficult to sell. It's a label that really puts music, first and foremost, before anything else.
    Madlib With Peanut Butter Wolf Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <strong>What was your reaction upon seeing the film?</strong><br /><strong>PBW: </strong>I had seen many early versions of it before it was finished and then the guys would show me sections and I'd give my opinion on things, but I never really saw it all together in the finished state 'til I watched it at the LA Film Fest. My family and friends all came down from San Jose and Charizma's family came down, too. It felt absolutely awkward seeing it on the silver screen—especially sitting next to my mom—but I really wanted to see what parts the audience would respond to. I've seen it a few times on the big screen and I've gotten emotional at the most random times. Just emotional that all those people are in the theater showing support. Something about having it in a movie theater was like a validation that all the years of work somehow paid off in a way beyond just monetarily. The guy who started Yahoo graduated from my high school the year before I did, but I feel just as blessed with my life in terms of achieving my childhood dreams. This is something I always wanted to do and I'm still doing it and still enjoying it.
    Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures
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    <strong>What is the biggest difference between Stones Throw now versus Stones Throw back then?</strong><br /><strong>PBW: </strong>Nobody is selling nearly as many units on an indie level in 2013 compared to what an artist of similar popularity—in terms of how many people come to their shows—was selling in 1996. But at the same time, I have more resources at my fingertips now than I did then in terms of a pool of potential recording artists to pull from. There's a whole generation of music makers that were influenced by at least one or two artists that Stones Throw has worked with in the past, so that part of it makes my job easier to scout talent. And when someone like Snoop chooses Stones Throw when he can record for any label he wants, that's a testament to how lucky I am to be in the position that I am in now.
    Photo Credit: Gatling Pictures

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