Peanut Butter Wolf Speaks on Charizma's Life and Death
Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf famously dedicated his imprint to honoring his late friend and collaborator, the rapper Charizma.
Growing up in San Jose the pair were a duo. Over Wolf's boom-bap inflected beats, Charizma had a delivery reminiscent of Big L, without any cursing. But Charizma was killed - the victim of a fatal 1993 carjacking when he was only 20 - before their music ever saw a proper release.
Since his friend's death, Wolf has regularly released their songs, keeping Charizma's memory alive. To commemorate the 20th anniversary anniversary of Charizma's passing, Stones Throw just released the 4LP box set Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf (Circa 1990-1993), which contains rare and previously unreleased songs, photos, and other ephemera.
We talked to Peanut Butter Wolf about Charizma, their relationship, and their music.
Do you remember the first time you met Charizma?
He went by Charlie C at the time. Kermit, [a rapper] brought him by the house. Charizma was like 16.
I liked his stuff at the time, but I was working with so many different people. So I would fit him in on certain days. I was living with my mom so I would always have to schedule when different rappers would come over to record. As we got to know each other I started really appreciating his rhyming.
Then I realized that he had a weird sense of humor like I did. A lot of the other MCs that I worked with were really serious. I think a lot of them were really just different than me, whereas Charizma more similar. We just really clicked and eventually I just stopped working with everybody else and just focused on him - we became a group. I remember early on that he would get frustrated when [I had other rappers scheduled instead of him] and he told me, 'One of these days you're going to drop all of these guys and just work with me full time.' I don't know if it was a Jedi mind trick, but it was true. That's what I did.
How do you feel the two of you developed in the short time you worked together?
We changed a lot. My favorite stuff was towards the end - "I Got Methods," that was like maybe the last song we had done. And I felt at that point we were really on to something. That was actually after we had gotten dropped from [Hollywood Basic records]...When we signed with [them] everything had to be approved through them - which studio we went to; they had to hear the rough versions of the songs first and approve them before letting us go in the studio. We were just dealing with their budget constraints. They would go months without allowing us in the studio. We were able to be more creative on our own without any money. It was like this fake money that we never saw. We signed for an advance, they gave us a little bit of it, and then they held it all up. We didn't really have a good lawyer or anything. And you don't want to bring lawyers in when you're first starting a relationship.
Who were some of your influences?
KRS-One was someone that both Charizma and I loved so much. After Charizma passed away and I'd decided to start Stones Throw the first release was the Charizma release, ["My World Premiere"]. We went to KRS-One's video shoot - me and some other people, Charizma was gone. At the end of the shoot I asked his DJ if he would play the test pressing... and then he played it over the loud speakers and KRS-One was like, 'What is this?' He was really into it. He was nodding his head. He was like, 'I'm feeling this.' I'm like, 'That's my shit! That's me!' I got all excited and I started talking to him and I said, 'Actually, the MC passed away. It was kind of similar to how Scott la Rock died.' His eyes glazed over and I kind of lost him for a minute and then he came back.
The next day I saw him again and DJ Red Alert was with him. I gave [the record] to Red, introduced myself, and then KRS-One was like, 'You have to listen to this. This is the real shit.' That's all that Charizma and I really wanted. We wanted respect from the people that we look up to. So that's a special moment for me. Before I had released any Stones Throw record, I had already reached my goals - off a damn test pressing (laughs).
Was it Charizma's decision to never curse on record?
It was. He never cursed. I actually was going through a born-again Christian phase at one point as well. And there were certain lyrics that he said that I was uncomfortable with, even without him swearing. He said, 'Not religious,' at one point and I said, 'Well I am religious, you're representing both of us.' Then he changed it to say, 'Not a hoodlum.' It was just silly that I was trying to censor him. He never really swore when we hung out too much either. He never drank. He never had a sip of alcohol; he never smoked; he never did drugs. He was really kind of straight edge with that. But he did always carry his gun with him everywhere. I think that's ultimately what led to his death.
Were you ever worried about his carrying a gun?
Just having him bring it in my car I was always like, 'I don't want to drive around with a gun in my car.' That's something that I would always tell him and he'd say, 'You don't understand. I have to protect myself.' To me that felt like an instance where the lyrics to all the songs that he was listening to might've influenced him. I never felt like I was in danger of anything hanging out with him. He would bring it to clubs with us. When we'd perform he'd have it right in his crotch. We'd get into arguments... I feel like when someone starts carrying a gun it's an addictive thing, which I can't really explain.
... But he got caught with the gun and got arrested. He was going to do jail time; he was going to do six months. He asked me to testify for him and his mom to testify. We both took the stand and said that he's an upright citizen. Then they let him go and he was killed a couple of months later. To this day I'm always second-guessing if I should've testified for that...