video: Jeff Broadway
In taking on the history of LA hip hop label Stones Throw and its owner, Peanut Butter Wolf, director Jeff Broadway takes a largely chronological approach. Broadway traces the personal history of Wolf (aka Chris Manak), from his early life and collaboration with childhood friend Charizma, to the label today, 17 years on from its inception. It’s a film that easily functions as an introduction to the casual viewer, while still giving histories of the artists on the label and details behind some of its landmark releases that many Stones Throw die hards will not have encountered before. The significant role that Madlib’s morally suspect alter ego, Quasimoto, is given in the animations for the prologue and scene changes in the film is also one of many knowing nods to those more familiar with the label.
Barring a few occasions of overbearing editing or effects used to re-energise low quality footage or photographs, particularly in the opening ‘Chapter’, there’s not much to criticise in the film. The only other complaint would be that, at points, the soundtrack isn’t perhaps allowed enough time to shine as you’d like. In trying to include the huge body of work that the label has released, it was perhaps inevitable that there wouldn’t always be room for extensive plays of any one artist, but it nonetheless feels frustrating at times the speed with which tracks are cut short. In standard documentary style, the film is structured around a mix of old footage and scenes filmed for the documentary, along with interviews with people involved in the label or in the hip hop scene surrounding it, such as label artists Madlib, Doom and newcomers like Jonwayne. The film also features the likes of Kanye West, Common and ?uestlove of The Roots. The interview elements are largely illuminating, with the film doing well to bring out the often endearing strangeness of many of the figures involved (including a fantastically awkward couple of seconds after a bizarre sexual analogy from Kanye), while still being informative and never losing track of the overriding narrative of the film as a whole.
Through the ‘Chapters’ that separate the film, we are given a structure which focuses upon defining artists or groups of artists at different times in the label’s lifespan. This is useful not only in highlighting the crucial eras, but also in showing how the label has opened up beyond hip hop as it’s gone on. Examples include the ‘Madlib Invazion’ chapter, which forms a crucial, formative part of the label’s history. Here we are given anecdotes about the hectic house up in the hills of LA shared by Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf and the other two founders of Stones Throw, which served as their creative hub upon their re-location to the city – something spoken of with reverence by outside figures. Through this chapter structure, it’s easy to get a sense of the unswervingly underground ethos of the label, despite, and because of Wolf’s open mindedness to different genres and artists that aren’t picked up by anyone else. Broadway’s success in conveying this essence of the label is down to his depiction of the real sense of disparate community which exists at the label, through encouraging the eccentricities of many of the interviewees alongside the explicit discussion of what it is that drives the music they put out.