Kanye, Madlib and J Dilla Share the Screen in a New Documentary On Hip-Hop Institution Stones Throw Records
“Hip-hop was stale, like the worst kind of bread you don’t even want to feed to ducks,” recalls Portishead's Geoff Barrow of the creative torpor that afflicted the world of beats and rhymes in the late 1990s. In part it was Stones Throw Records that helped rescue the rap game—and now it is getting its due as the subject of a compelling new documentary directed by Jeff Broadway, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. Equal parts tragedy and celebration of the human spirit, the film shows how the tiny independent inspired some of the biggest names in music, from Kanye West to Snoop Dogg, the Beastie Boys to the Roots.
Stones Throw is the life’s work of Californian Chris Manak, better known as Peanut Butter Wolf. Manak launched the Los Angeles imprint in 1996, to put out posthumously the rhymes of his close friend and musical partner Charles Hicks, aka Charizma, shot dead in a car-jacking at the age of 20. As the label’s reputation grew, Wolf found a new figure to inspire him in the shape of prodigious beat alchemist, Madlib. Working in the studio from 7pm to 7am every day and fueling his endeavors with epic quantities of magic mushrooms, Madlib took hip-hop to new levels of nuance. His innovations earned small-time Stones Throw a big-time reputation, and attracted another visionary to the label—Detroit's J Dilla, whose production skills are discussed in tones of reverence by hip-hop cognoscenti, not least Yeezus himself.
Dilla’s death from a blood disorder at the age of 32 is a shocking moment in the narrative. But the release of his instrumental album Donuts just three days after his death in 2006 sealed Stones Throw's reputation. Today the label is home to musicians of every stripe, from soul singer Mayer Hawthorne to guitar bands like Stepkids. “Most of the things I sign are things that nobody's heard of,” says Peanut Butter Wolf with a smile of pride. “In 30 years I want to find Stones Throw's records either in the $100 bin or the 99 cent bin: I want people to really love it, or really hate it.”—Tom Horan
The Rising Soul Star Reflects on the Imperfect Roots of his Songwriting
“It was fascinating to watch the Downtown Los Angeles sunrise, when the natural world immerses the industrial environment in light,” says lo-fi prodigy Moses Sumney, who is perched on top of the Ace Hotel in the latest installment of our series with Yours Truly, Sunrise, Sunset. “It's such a contemporary phenomenon, it feels almost futuristic. I live in Mid-City, where things are more quintessentially California: the sun peaks up out of the palm trees and casts their shadows on the sidewalk.” The San Bernardino-born singer-songwriter’s expressive folk-soul hybrid turned music industry heads throughout 2013 despite playing only a handful of shows and being without a record label. He is fresh from playing New York Fashion Week’s closing party with Solange Knowles and her Saint Records a fortnight ago, covering Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” in a collaboration with fellow breakout alt-RnB artist Kelela. “Solange was a sweetheart,” says Sumney. “She gave me a warm introduction and came back onstage during my set to ensure the rowdy fashion week crowd was paying attention.” Sumney starts his weekly month-long residency at Los Angeles’ Bootleg Theater tonight, with alongside local rising artists Deradoorian, yOya and Kan Wakan. “I’ve seen tons of residencies at the venue and they seem to represent an LA rite of passage,” says Sumney of the city’s live music heritage. “It feels very egalitarian that someone like me, who wasn't raised in the LA scene at all, could come in so suddenly and be embraced.”
The Shadowy Trio Enlists Filmmaker Dugan O’ Neal and Art Troupe WIFE For a Spellbinding Music Video
The otherworldly movements of Los Angeles dance outfit WIFE cast a meditative spell over The Acid’s synaesthetic music video from filmmaker Dugan O’ Neal and the band’s Ry X. The Acid have so far built up a following as an anonymous totem of haunting vocals and dismembered electronics, but are today revealed as the LA-based singer-songwriter Ry X, Team Supreme collaborator and veteran electronic artist Steve Nalepa and Grammy-nominated British dance producer and DJ Adam Freeland. “I have always felt very connected to aesthetics in line with music—they are part of each other and the whole,” says Ry X of the singular audio-visual vision for this new musical collaboration. “When we came up with the idea for the video, we brought WIFE into the fold before all else.” Captured against the dramatic backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains at the end of last year, WIFE’s Kristen Leahy, Jasmine Albuquerque and Gabriella Vincenza Cataldo star as the choreographers, performers and costume designers of “Basic Instinct”. “I love creating visually dramatic narratives, but the one through line is a subtle sense of surrealism or magic,” says O’Neal, whose varied work joins the dots between web comedy series L.A Rangers and music promos for TV On The Radio, The Glitch Mob and Ellie Goulding. “Ry really pushed to make it as simple as possible and let the song be the narrative. It definitely reignited my relationship with music videos.”
Can you tell us about the serendipitous genesis of the band?
The Acid: Ry X and Adam had known each other for years before we made an unlikely reconnection in Los Angeles. Steve and Adam already had a studio session booked just hours after. We all followed the flow of the synchronistic timing and jumped in.
What is your musical approach?
TA: It can be a hard thing to strip something to its core. Musically, some people tend to be afraid of space, they want to put a lot of things in to hear it bigger and better. Most of the time, allowing space for the critical elements makes them much more potent.
How about the visuals for “Basic Instinct”?
TA: We birthed the concept in the first days of being in the studio together, inspired by the photos that our friend Toby Burrows made for his Fallen series. From there it was a collaboration and the process took care of itself.
The Acid EP is released April 14 on Infectious Music and The Acid's live debut is London's Chat's Palace March 31