INTERVIEW: Peanut Butter Wolf – 45 Live
Like many genres and sub-genres out there at the moment, hip-hop continues to move through changes, stretches and amalgamations of sounds. Hip-hop music is, as most people are already very much aware, a component of the hip-hop cultural movement which started in New York during the 70s. But you didn’t have to be a teenager living in the Bronx to be a part of the hip-hop revolution. New York City, even today, only has a population of around 8 million people – but far, far more than that have been involved in hip-hop music, or at least been influenced by it in some manner.
One of those who has been both influenced by hip-hop, and gone on to be heavily involved within it, is Stones Throw label head Chris Manak, AKA Peanut Butter Wolf. There doesn’t need to be any explanation with regards to Mr Wolf’s contribution to the hip-hop world. But, when the boutique record label Five Day Weekend approached him to ask if he would do them the honour of creating a mix CD that would take people on a trip through the golden era of classic rap music, well… how could he say ‘no’? The good news is that Peanut Butter Wolf said ‘yes’, and hence 45 Live: A Classic Rap Mix was born – an 18 track journey encompassing all that was good “back in the day”, and available on shelves right now.
Staying true to the ethos of old skool mixtapes, the entire CD is mixed, with all 18 tracks selected, and also edited where Peanut Butter Wolf saw necessary. For anyone who grew up worshipping this music, or for any old skool rap afficionados out there, a lot of this material will appear familiar. Present are classics from the likes of; T La Rock, Just Ice, Biz Markie, Marley Marl and Big Daddy Kane, whilst Peanut Butter Wolf has also included a few tracks particularly close to his own heart. Peanut Butter Wolf was given the keys to the archives of labels like;Enjoy, Sleeping Bag, Fresh, Cold Chillin, Strong City, Nia and Idlers, and he raided those archives good!
01. The Fearless Four – Rockin’ It
02. Spoonie G & The Treacherous Three – Love Rap
03. Tricky Tee – Tricky Tee Rap
04. Universal Two – Dancin Heart
05. Sweety G – At The Place To Be
06. Busy Bee – Old School
07. Dimples D – Sucker D.J.s (I Will Survive)
08. T La Rock – It’s Yours
09. Just Ice – Cold Gettin Dumb
10. Biz Markie – Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz
11. Marley Marl – Marley Marl Scratch feat. MC Shan
12. Mantronix – Hardcore Hip Hop
13. J.V.C. Force – Strong Island
14. Jungle Brothers – Jimbrowski
15. Cash Money & Marvelous – Mighty Hard Rocker
16. Stezo – It’s My Turn
17. Big Daddy Kane – Just Rhymin With Biz feat. Biz Markie
18. Boogie Down Productions – The Bridge Is Over
Essentially, this release is like a story-book depicting how the young Chris Manak, from San Jose in California, came to fall in love with rap music. If the tracks on this CD had never existed, then I doubt very much that there’d be a Stones Throw record label here today.
Perhaps it was not an obvious choice ‘geographically’ for Five Day Weekend to invite Peanut Butter Wolf to curate such a release, so I was interested to know how someone growing up over the other side of the United States had experienced the hip-hop explosion. How did Chris Manak hear this music? What was influencing him? How did he sate his hunger for the music? San Jose, situated in North California, doesn’t even host a million residents, yet this was the home of a man who went on to found one the most highly respected independent hip-hop labels in world; Stones Throw. But all these questions needn’t stay unanswered. I managed to catch up with Peanut Butter Wolf recently to talk about 45 Live: A Classic Rap Mix, and to satisfy the aforementioned curiousities!
Jus Like Music: First off, thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your forthcoming release on Five Day Weekend, 45 Live: A Classic Rap Mix. Now, as a hip-hop DJ and producer (and record label owner!), who’s been in the game since the late 80s, you obviously must have initially found hip-hop as a ‘fan’ first and not as a performer or artist. Can you tell me a little about your first experiences of hip-hop and subsequent exposure to rap music?
Peanut Butter Wolf: My first exposure to rap music was Rappers Delight in 1979. I bought that 12″ and stuff like “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow, “Birthday Party” by Grandmaster Flash, etc. I bought everything I could afford. I supported hip-hop from that era, to the drum machine era of the mid 80s, to the James Brown era of the late 80s, to the jazz era of the early 90s, and so on and so on. In the mid 80s, I started doing talent shows and sent demos to college radio stations and so on.
JLM: You hand selected the tracks for this release, from the vaults of labels like Cold Chillin’ and Strong City, but were there certain tracks you instantly knew you would have to include? Tracks that really resonated from your youth and perhaps to you, personally, represented the epitome of rap from this era?
PBW: There were certain groups I knew I had to include, like Tuff Crew and Jungle Brothers and Just Ice. “It’s Yours” by T La Rock was an exciting one for me too. The main criteria for me was to try to make it all songs that had never been on 7″ before. What I realised while putting this together was that most songs that were never on 7″ before were too long to put on 7″, so I had to make re-edits.
JLM: I appreciate that growing up in San Jose, as opposed to New York, meant that you didn’t necessarily have that first hand experience of such an emerging scene, but how did you observe what was happening there and then transcribe that into your own surroundings? Was there much of a movement early on in San Jose or were you in a minority, as such?
PBW: For me, my first exposure to rap music was through the radio station KSOL. They were a soul station that would play rap stuff here and there. And there was a record store, Star Records, which shaped my taste too. They had all the ‘underground’ stuff I was looking for. By the early 80s, movies like Beat Street, Wildstyle, and Breakin helped as well. There were breakdance competitions at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza that I’d go to, and of course the mixtapes that were dubbed and cut-up records that you could only buy at the flea market. By 1984, I was making my own mixtapes and recording my own rap songs with local rappers, two of which I included on this mix.
JLM: I’ve followed the Stones Throw story since about 2003, at which point I worked my way backwards till I’d listened to as much as there was left to listen to! But, I know that previous to Stones Throw, from the late 80s and into the early 90s, you had been working with the emcee (and your close personal friend) Charizma. I must have listened to Red Light, Green Light over 500 times and my copy of the Stones Throw 101 DVD is looking quite tired now, but when you were making music with Charizma back then, how did you feel about what you were actually creating at that time and what would you say were your main influences?
PBW: At the time of Charizma, I was really having fun with making ‘beats’. I had gotten to know the Ensoniq EPS sampler really well and had started finding odd things to sample from. By the early 90s, I made it a point to not sample from James Brown or George Clinton or anything like that. I had been buying ‘breaks’ since around 1986, even though it was hard to find good stuff in San Jose where I lived. The best way to get samples was by borrowing my friends parents’ records.
JLM: As is evident from this fantastic mix CD, the classic material from the likes of Biz Markie and Marley Marl was indeed both innovative and strong. A lot of younger people around today might not be so familiar with the tracks or artists on 45 Live: A Classic Rap Mix, but seeing as this is where modern hip-hop’s roots are set, do you think the music is still relevant today and something that younger people can relate to?
PBW: I definitely think young people can relate to it. In the 80s, I was fascinated with the 60s and 70s. By 1987, I stopped listening to new soul and funk and went back to Sly and Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding and got really into that kind of stuff. I get MySpace messages from lots of high school students who are fascinated with Charizma. Seeing pics of kids with hi-top fades and gumby cuts now and thinking they’re old pics until I look closely.
JLM: Hip-hop has most definitely changed over the years, and now there seems to be more of a focus on individuals obtaining riches and flaunting them in music videos, and perhaps some of the old values of hip-hop culture have disappeared. Some even say hip-hop is dead, how do you feel about that and where do think the future lies for hip-hop music?
PBW: A lot of what’s popular isn’t very interesting right now. I got into commercial rap stuff a few years ago ‘cos it seemed more interesting than the underground stuff, but I haven’t been too impressed lately. I’m excited about a lot of the emcees we’re working with, like Guilty Simpson, DOOM, MED, KRAK ATTACK, and Strong Arm Steady.
JLM: As the label head of Stones Throw, what are the biggest challenges you face, as a label, when releasing a new record or pushing a new artist? Does Stones Throw have a particular ethos or credo with regards to operating in what is clearly a very tough time for the music industry as a whole?
PBW: Biggest challenge is maintaining the support from people in the industry. The fans are there for us, but the mainstream media, stores etc. are generally not supportive of a lot of our artists. Mayer Hawthorne and Dam-Funk have been recent exceptions, which I’m thankful about.
JLM: Finally, would you have any tips or words of wisdom for any aspiring artists or labels trying to get off the ground and get their music out there? Perhaps a few “dos & don’ts”?
PBW: DON’T DO IT.
Sage words from Peanut Butter Wolf! 45 Live: A Classic Rap Mix is a solid mix definitely worth getting your hands on, regardless of what sorts of hip-hop/music you find yourself currently listening to. This is where it all began and Five Day Weekend (and Peanut Butter Wolf) have done a fantastic job of reminding us all of that fact. It’ll be a beautiful nostalgia trip for the old skool heads, and a great insight for anyone looking to check out the roots of rap a little more closely.
It’s also worth noting that Five Day Weekend are the label who will be bringing us the first Edan album since 2005’s Beauty And The Beat. They’ve given him access to Traffic Entertainment Group’s extensive back catalogue to mix and re-work – but two years hard work have seen Edan produce a masterpiece encompassing synthesizers, guitars, percussion, an echoplex and even glockenspiels and some kazoo. Echo Party promises to be one of the most extraordinary hip-hop releases of 2009 and will mark the return of a man responsible for some of the most unique hip-hop in recent years. Official release date is 17th November and Edan will be making the vinyl sleeves himself, each will be one of a kind and original. But that’s Edan all over; unique. When he was recently discussing the new album on American radio, the host asked him how he felt about all of these genres and sub-genres around today. His response, “I just don’t care. I just like music!”
Extracts from this article will appear in the upcoming winter issue of the fantastic Shook Magazine (Vol. 1 No. 7), so definitely make sure you grab a copy when it’s out!