Produced by Jeff Broadway
Directed by Jeff Broadway
Stones Throw Records will have its place in the grand narrative of hip-hop. Housing two of hip-hop’s most important and influential producers in Madlib and J Dilla, and their respected works – Champion Sound, Madvillainy, and the awe-inspiring Donuts to name a few – in its catalogue will assure it. But out of all the ideas presented about Stones Throw in this documentary, its place in that narrative is not explicitly touched upon. Director, writer, and producer Jeff Broadway instead focuses on the personal narrative of label founder Peanut Butter Wolf because only through him can the viewer gain a more complete picture of what Stones Throw is today.
Named after one of the label’s first records of import, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is an intimate look into the story of Stones Throw. Most importantly, it is a reminder to the viewer of why the label carries such weight, aside from those two producers’ work. In recent years, the label has grown past being strictly a conduit for groundbreaking alternative hip-hop but an institution of creativity and uniqueness in independent music. To convey that point, Broadway decided to tell the more personal tale of its label founder and how it permeates through Stones Throw. It’s with PBW that the principles of the label reside.
There is no shortage of hip-hop’s elite giving their praises for those producers and the role Stones Throw played in helping promote and cultivate an environment for them to flourish. From A-Trak to Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the diversity of the interviewees who offer their praises is an indication of the label’s importance. The influence of the label through those two producers cannot be understated. Yet, it is the vision of Peanut Butter Wolf on which the narrative is centered.
Context serves this documentary well from this perspective. During the ’90s and 2000s, hip-hop’s influence had reached mainstream critical mass, clearly displayed by the immediate popularity of 106 and Park and MTV’s non-stop play of Murder Inc. videos. The genre’s influence had been growing steadily in the past decade, especially in the high spending markets of the suburbs. You could say that, as a whole, the creativity of the genre was teetering on the precipice of the Scrooge McDuck money pile that its growth had created.
But it’s in this period that Stones Throws cemented its legacy, rising to prominence as an alternative to that status quo. While the majority of hip-hop was trying to party on yachts and drive expensive cars, Stones Throw was pushing the boundaries of hip-hop with experimental production and unconventional aesthetics. It was against the austerity of hip-hop’s new formula for mainstream success. A large part of this was Peanut Butter Wolf’s vision as a man of counter-culture and diverse palette. Broadway does an excellent job of presenting the different eras of PBW’s own development and state of mind in music and how that relates to Stones Throw’s place in the music world.
Within the documentary, Roots’ drummer Thompson dropped one of the most pertinent points on Wolf as a visionary. “As a curator, Peanut Butter Wolf is absolutely needed,” he said. “We need more people to follow his example. Smaller movements make for a bigger, better culture.”
That sums up Stones Throw today. Long past are the days of the label being viewed strictly through an alternative hip-hop lens, though it will always be part of its fabric. And rightly so as the main concepts of making great alternative hip-hop are the same principles that Stones Throw seems to operate within. Push boundaries; value independent creativity; always try to be something fresh and different.
The subtext underneath the narrative is that this approach leads to the influence Stones Throw has accrued over the last fifteen years. A few of the artists on the roster even consider the label to be its own genre tied into a specific culture. It’s a cliché that success comes with being yourself, but Wolf always seems to be at the forefront of movements, wherever they lie on the spectrum. Every label has a great story and Broadway has delivered the narrative that shows why Stones Throw has gained so many fans of their work.
For more on Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, click here; and watch a trailer for the documentary below.