Image from wholedude.com
There aren’t many genres that survive from its inception throughout the proceeding decades. Many of them wane off as they refuse to evolve with the times. Hip-Hop, as well as Pop and Country music, managed to careen their way into the next stage of imperative music and keep their stability strong.
When a genre has the capacity to do so, it always has much more room to experiment along the way. In 1996, a beatsmith and rapper by the name of Chris Manak of the moniker Peanut Butter Wolf, found the underground yet esoteric label entitled Stones Throw. Manak found the label along with his fellow lyricist Charles Hicks, then known as Charizma. Releasing their beat tapes in the rising underground world, Hicks was unfortunately gunned down just after exiting his adolescent years.
This event occurred in 1993 when Manak was 23 years old. After Manak took a hiatus from making music, three years later, he came back with the vengeance by discovering Stones Throw. Initiating its birth was Manak and Hicks’ collaboration effort entitled “My World Premiere.”
The title of the record itself could presume an eerie foreshadowing of the label’s destiny. Ever since then, the label has been slowly but surely curating the geniuses behind not only Hip-Hop but independent music’s most valued figures. J Dilla and Madlib tend to be the first names to recollect when this label is brought up in conversation. The next mental image would be the all-pervasive album cover of MF Doom and Madlib’s notorious collaboration effort, “Madvillany.”
Madvillainy album cover (Image from genius.com)
This album, as well as the works of J Dilla and Guilty Simpson, cradled the label to Hip-Hop’s infinite spectrum of head-bopping beats and the old-school aggressive approach to lyricism. In the early 2000’s, when club music began to take advantage of Hip-Hop’s evolving state from the urban gritty representation to party-anthem vignettes, the label’s affiliates brought back the genre’s roots while also enhancing the genre’s past potential.
Throughout the years, Manak opened up from strictly a Hip-Hop orientation to more Alternative and R&B routes. One of the most prominent Neo-Soul figures of the label has to be Mayer Hawthorne. His approach to music disdained from the style that made Madvillainy and J Dilla’s Donuts such fantastical cult albums but still managed to bring in Stones Throw the revenue and status they were garnering.
As the years passed by and its status grew, the label managed to become the underground music reservoir. If you aspired to follow the routes of J Dilla or Madlib, this was the haven you needed to reach. Having this label on your resume will open unfathomable reaches in your musical grasps. Stones Throw’s years of culminating underground prodigies helped the label create its own culture, where only the most right-brained artists could come and show off their obscurities.
Starting with Madlib’s gritty modicum, Looppack, and catalyzed throughout the years with other beat knicks until the unfortunate death of the legend J Dilla, Stones Throw was looked as a strictly Hip-Hip oriented label. After the shock of Dilla’s death permeated throughout the culture and stagnated the growth of the genre for a while, the label delved into taking risks.
Artists like Dam-Funk, Mayer Hawthorne, and James Pants, after some successful attempts at marketing and showcasing, became the next household names for the label. Their sound derailed from the boom-bap sound that defined the label and instead contorted the definition with some new and experimental sounds. Their music became catchy nods that related to the Funk music that Parliament-Funkadelic established in the mid to late 1970’s.
This experimentation occurred slightly before the digital boom of music streaming pre-2010. After a few seasons of inchoate success with this new turn, cassettes and CD-based content were becoming obsolete. The label saw their revenue decrease and their surrounding labels shut down. As a reaction, Manak and his affiliates had to respond. Soon after, Aloe Blacc was signed and sold his infamous “I Need a Dollar” track on iTunes, generating the needed income.
Image from discogs.com
From this new wave assimilating into an evolved industry, something interesting was happening. After the Trap era starting taking form after 2010, Stones Throw repeatedly fought against the standard with a new wave of artists, all with different appeal. After the advent of SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, and Bandcamp, an expulsion of artists with innovative styles brought forth what now may be the most amount of music we have at this point.
Stones Throw has already been an interesting and abstract reservoir, but this age brought out the most experimental musicians the label has up to this day. Artists like Knxwledge, with his frivolous sampling and head-nodding beats that continue to churn out month after month, season after season. In the route of Funk music, L.A. based producer Mndsgn continues to follow the spirit of Dam-Funk and James Pants with his revival approach of Funk and Dance music, with his lo-fi touch added to it.
In the Alternative route, Mild High Club manages to combat the conventions of previous Alternative music and add their touches of Jazz and Experimental music to their weird twist of the genre. Their most prominent work, Skiptracing, released in 2016, became one of the most awe-inspiring projects to be released that year, besides Knxwledge and Anderson .Paak’s giddy and moving collaboration effort, Yes Lawd!.
In today’s enclave of varying music genres, subgenres, and innovative styles, it’s great to see an older label like Stones Throw keep up with the times, but on the other path. No other label has held their reputation this long and hold the names of artists that not many other musicians replicated at the time.
Not many other producers at the time were making music like Madlib and MF Doom. Not many bands took the approach like Mild High Club did. No other label discovered as many Funk and Soul artists like Stones Throw did with Dam-Funk, Mndsgn, and Mayer Hawthorne, just to name a few. Manak saw in these artists what his contemporaries couldn’t.
It takes only natural talent to tell the difference between potential innovation and pretentious desperation. Manak has proved countless times that his ear is the guiding ear for good music. As long as Stones Throw continues to thrive throughout time, the label will no doubt continue to release provocative music. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of them halting their streak anytime soon.