Happy 20th Anniversary to Peanut Butter Wolf’s debut studio album My Vinyl Weighs a Ton, originally released January 18, 1999.
Chris ‘Peanut Butter Wolf’ Manak’s Stones Throw Records is a story of triumph over tragedy. He founded the label in 1996 to ensure the music he had made in the early ‘90s with the talented emcee Charizma received a proper release. Charizma was murdered in 1993 aged 20 and Manak was determined to pay tribute to his fallen partner by releasing their single “My World Premier.” It subsequently became the first record on Stones Throw, giving Manak some closure.
Stones Throw soon emerged as the premiere label for quality underground, independently-minded hip-hop, dropping excellent music by Lootpack, Guilty Simpson, Oh No, Percee P and others, most of it produced by the sublime Madlib, who has also released many of his own classics on the label. It’s a story already told a million times, but that sense of triumph over tragedy continued in 2006 when Stones Throw also released J Dilla’s seminal Donuts just days before his death.
But back in the ‘90s, even by the end of the decade, Stones Throw still mostly existed as an outlet for Manak’s own music, including his debut album released in January 1999, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton. Essentially a compilation, it features the work of several artists Stones Throw was releasing music by at the time, including Rasco (“Hold Up” and “Run The Line”), whose excellent Time Waits For No Man album came out the previous year in 1998, and Lootpack, who released the classic Soundpieces: Da Antidote! the same year as My Vinyl Weighs a Ton. Lootpack was a group that featured Wildchild, DJ Romes and, most notably, Madlib.
The acclaimed and fruitful musical partnership Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib would go on to form essentially therefore began with My Vinyl Weighs a Ton and Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, and you can hear the influence they had on each other’s production styles, sometimes using the same sample sources. Peanut Butter Wolf even samples Lootpack’s “The Anthem” on My Vinyl Weighs a Ton’s Lootpack-featured cut “Styles, Crew, Flows, Beats.”
In addition to verses from Wildchild and Madlib, “Styles, Crew, Flows, Beats” is also notable for featuring Madlib’s alter-ego Quasimoto in one of his earliest appearances. Stones Throw would later release all three Quasimoto albums, and the high-pitched character also featured on two other revered releases from the label: J Dilla and Madlib’s Champion Sound, as well as Madlib and MF DOOM’s beloved Madvillainy album.
Classifying My Vinyl Weighs a Ton as a compilation is actually a disservice. This is far more than a sampler of Stones Throw talent, instead offering a collection of finely-crafted beats and exquisite rhymes. The various emcees who appear on the album fit perfectly with Peanut Butter Wolf’s dusty, rugged production, creating some of their best work. Indy rap icon Planet Asia, for instance, has rarely sounded fresher and more focused as he does on “Definition of Ill.”
The same can be said of Kazi on “Breaks ‘Em Down.” The Oxnard emcee never managed to develop his work with Peanut Butter Wolf into a solid career, but purists should hunt down his Blackmarket Seminar album, recorded in 1996 and fully produced by Madlib. “Keep On Rockin It”, meanwhile, goes to show what an excellent rapper Charizma could have become had he not been killed. Stones Throw finally released Peanut Butter Wolf and Charizma’s Big Shots album in 2003.
True to Peanut Butter Wolf’s roots as a DJ, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton is also a platform for the art of turntablism. Several acclaimed scratch DJ albums released at the tail-end of the ‘90s had brought wider attention to turntablists, among them The X-Ecutioners X-Pressions project in 1997 and Rob Swift’s The Ablist. My Vinyl Weighs a Ton continues to shine a light on the mesmerizing skill of the hip-hop DJ, first with cuts from DJ Babu on “Casino”, and more significantly on “Tale of Five Cities”. Clocking in at almost nine minutes, the track is a wet dream for any scratch fanatic, with contributions from no less than Cut Chemist, J Rocc, A-Trak, Total Eclipse, Rob Swift, Kid Koala, Rhettmatic and more.
The album also includes several skits and interludes, thankfully kept very short so as not to distract from the main offering. They are also incredibly funny, and offer a rare insight into the secretive world of the professional crate digger, like on the Biz Markie featuring “Barter.”
Peanut Butter Wolf stepped away from production after My Vinyl Weighs a Ton, focusing his attention on touring as a DJ and running Stones Throw. The label has diversified into several other genres since the ‘90s, enjoying continued success and still releasing good hip-hop. For more on the label’s history, the documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records is highly recommended, especially as it features Folerio, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Peanut Butter Wolf.