By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
During an era when illegal downloading has forced label consolidation, specialization and focus-grouped singles, Stones Throw has taken the opposite tack. It has forged a cult of the weird and random, one that creates market demand rather than responding to it. It's the authentic Japanese restaurant of labels — you only see Japanese people eating there. Of course, there have been missed opportunities: Warp Records star Flying Lotus was once a Stones Throw intern; he has since become a spiritual leader of the city's beat-scene underground.
But more often than not, Manak has deftly developed new talent, including soul man Hawthorne and DâM-FunK, whose futuristic funk has almost single-handedly revived an interest in early-'80s boogie music.
Stones Throw's biggest recent success story is Aloe Blacc, whose Sam Cooke–style soul has gone gold in England, France and Germany. Granted, not every record has been profitable, but there have been enough hits to stay in the black.
"At every decision along the way, someone has said that it was a bad idea. When I put out Lootpack, guys in the Bay told me I was crazy," Manak says over eggs, potatoes and toast at the nearby Antigua coffee shop. "No one liked Quasimoto at first. People said James Pants had too many styles, and before Donuts, our distributor told us that no one wanted to buy instrumental hip-hop."
Yet the small imprint has had an incalculable influence on contemporary music. Both Thom Yorke and seminal British electronic producer Four Tet have remixed Stones Throw artists. Odd Future's Tyler, the Creator has cited James Pants as one of his favorite producers, and the chopped soul melancholia of Donuts has assumed near-biblical influence.
But the label's most significant contribution may still be its first major artist, Madlib, whose psychedelic beats, jazz and globe-trotting mixes deserve a genre unto themselves.
In any case, it's surprising when Madlib stumbles into Antigua. Dressed in a sharp wool peacoat, the laconic producer is as lanky as a woodwind.
He has either just returned from, or is on his way to, a pre-Thanksgiving smoke session at his studio down the street. It's not clear; indeed, it's sometimes hard to understand Madlib. He speaks softly and in fragments, making faces like a silent comedian when something catches his interest. Nonetheless, he proceeds to catch Manak up on his raft of projects. An album with Freddie Gibbs is half-done, as is a full-length with Planet Asia and one with Georgia Anne Muldrow. Madlib and Flying Lotus have begun work on the collaborative "Lying Otis." He and Doom have been trying to work together again, but Doom is even harder to get hold of than Madlib.
"We made it this far because [Manak] gave everyone creative freedom to do different things in different genres," Madlib adds. "Most labels only do one type of music, rock or hip-hop or jazz, but we're trying to do everything."
Fifteen years into the experiment, both men are married. Madlib has a baby on the way, while Manak is getting ready to drive up north to see his parents for the holiday.
"Crazy," Madlib nods his head.
"What's crazy?" Wolf asks.
"Stones Throw. Fifteen years?"
I mention that a decade and a half in the record business might as well be numbered in dog years.
"Any dog born when we started would be dead by now," Wolf cracks.
The longtime partners talk about the perils of staying afloat in an ever-contracting and fickle industry. Music is their business; moreover, it's their entire way of life. When Manak isn't dealing with label matters, as Peanut Butter Wolf he's a highly in-demand DJ who spins kaleidoscopic video sets all over the world.
They speak of their still-inexorable desire to create something timeless, and their tones are heavy with the weariness of innovators. After all, Wonka described invention as 93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation and 2 percent butterscotch ripple.
"I met with my distributors recently and they said, 'You know what the problem with Stones Throw is? You guys are always two steps ahead,' " Manak says. "Which is ironic because we embrace a lot of forms of retro music."
"One day, everyone will get it," Madlib says, waving his arm, raising an eyebrow and standing up to disappear. "But by then, we'll already be on to the next thing."
Stones Throw's 15th-anniversary party is Thurs., Dec. 22, at Exchange Los Angeles.