Everyone should strive to be their own individual, their own person, have their own identity and formidable amount of self-awareness. For musicians, that sense of identity and self-expression comes out in a beat or a chord progression. Paradoxically, that very individuality is what makes music such a unifying, liberating experience for those who share that passion. Jeff Broadway’s new documentary, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records, encapsulates the persistence necessary to pursue the dream of owning a blossoming indie record label (Stones Throw Records) and allowing true artistry to flourish in the process through a distinct identity.
What I enjoyed the most about this movie was it’s message: stick to your guns, stay true to yourself, don’t give up, but most of all, work your fucking ass off. Yes, those are all deeply-rooted cliches, but they mean the world to those pursuing a career in the creative arts. A near-certain life of rejection ahead can only be overcome by a steel will similar to Stone Throw Records founder, Peanut Butter Wolf. A life defined by a mix of music, struggle, and grief.
Chris Manak, aka Peanut Butter Wolf, is the movie’s centerpiece. Broadway does phenomenal work chopping up the film into chapters around Manak’s life. Each chapter follows Wolf’s musical journey, first as a creator of music, then thrown into Stones Throw’s founding years, MADLIB (they could make an entire movie on this guy), the decline and, finally, the rebirth of the label. Throughout all of these chapters one element remains a constant: Wolf keeps putting out weird, unique stuff that other labels won’t put out. Wolf challenges the scene by, essentially, creating his own underground scene with acts like Madlib, J Dilla and MF Doom. It’s this acceptance of the “irregular” that helps Stones Throw create a solid identity as a label and blossom into an influential label.
Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton’s soundtrack features a heavy hip hop soundtrack. Being the labels major focus (at least in the earlier years), hip hop makes the most sense for the majority of the film’s tunes. Songs from Quasimoto, Jaylib, J Dilla’s Donuts, MF Doom/Madlib’s Madvillainy are all included. The soundtrack is a hip hop aficionado’s dream. Stones Throw is an aficionado’s label. Interviews with hip hop idols such as Kanye West, Common, Talib Kweli, Madlib, MF Doom and Snoop Dogg goes to show the influence this label has garnered over the past twenty years. All of them talk so highly of the label, and of Wolf’s dedication to providing an outlet for the underdogs. Artists that would never be signed by major labels are welcomed at Stones Throw and allowed complete creative control. This freedom fosters a creative community not a business.
Broadway paints Stones Throw Records as a family, a collective of friends making music and striving to constantly push the industry standard. Stones Throw has been shaking up the status quo since The Lootpack released their first album in 1999. Since it’s founding, Stones Throw has been one of those labels for musicians, by musicians and for musicians. Across the board respect. But, even with a huge amount of respect from big acts, without solid sales or a formidable profit Stones Throw Records struggled after Madlib and MF Doom stopped recording after J Dilla’s passing. Wolf continued to put out weird, original artists without any hope of sales. He was doing it for the sake of doing it, because well… he liked it.
Broadway harnesses the creative mind in Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton. Viewers are given insight into the mind of a musician and allowed access to some groundbreaking music. This is recommended viewing for anyone wanting to be bold, creative and progressive all at the same time. Wolf teaches us that music isn’t a choice but an instinct. One genre isn’t better than the other, there’s only good music and bad music. Stones Throw Records presses good music and have, essentially, created their own genre in the process. If you’re passionate about music, want to gain insight on some of the great creative minds to come out in the past decade, and love rooting for the underdog, then I suggest watching Jeff Broadway’s Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records.