You might not immediately recognize Paul Stewart’s name, but you’re aware of his contributions. His résumé reads like a chapter from a West Coast rap history book.
The Pharcyde? He became their first manager, brokered their first record deal and personally commissioned their iconic roller-coaster album cover.
Coolio, House of Pain and Montell Jordan also entered the industry through Stewart, who negotiated their first contracts. And when Suge Knight and Death Row didn’t mess with Warren G, the Venice High graduate shepherded him to Def Jam executive Chris Lighty (and later co-executive produced G’s debut, Regulate … G-Funk Era).
On a list of the greatest hip-hop A&R reps of all time, vaunted music historian Dan Charnas ranked Stewart at No. 20.
Before Malcolm Gladwell turned it into a cliché, Stewart was the connector. He wrote for The Source, DJed and promoted storied L.A. rap party Water the Bush. He has handled music supervision on dozens of films, including Barbershop and Hustle & Flow. As a record executive, he ran Def Jam West, his own PMP imprint and John Singleton’s short-lived New Deal Records.
Then there was the time in 1993 that Singleton celebrated the wrap of his film Poetic Justice by taking Stewart and 2Pac to Freaknik, Atlanta’s annual spring-break party.
“I never saw anyone switch gears as easily as 2Pac,” Stewart says. “One second we’d all be having an intellectual conversation inside the limousine, the next he’d stick his head out of the roof and start hollering at everyone who walked past.”
Wearing a Slauson Ave. shirt, jeans, and a week’s stubble, Stewart holds court on a basketball court: the original hardwood used by The Beastie Boys when they recorded Check Your Head here, in what is now a shared Atwater Village office space.
“We went to Club 112 and Left Eye from TLC was there, getting crazy,” Stewart says, continuing the 2Pac tale. “You never realize how remarkable things are in the moment.“
For his next act, Stewart is documenting hip-hop culture via the printed page. His publishing firm, Over the Edge Books, encompasses all facets of urban culture, from street art to photography, erotica to pulp fiction, true crime to hip-hop history. The idea is to chronicle vibrant corners overlooked by major publishers and potentially spin them into multimedia properties.
“Music supervision led me into producing films. I was frustrated with how the culture was being documented and wanted to do better,” Stewart says.
“Eventually, I wanted to control the content from the earliest stages. I’d studied companies like Marvel and Vice that got their start in publishing material. Hollywood naturally gravitates to things with physical track records. “
Since its genesis in 2012, Over the Edge has published 30 titles. Some can be found in specialty retailers, but, in an era when bookstores continue to struggle, Stewart has hewed mostly to e-books, limited-edition collectibles and print-on-demand, lest he be stuck with excessive inventory or forced to chase distributors who don’t get it.
“I’ve learned from the music industry going digital and applied it to this,” Stewart says. “A lot of publishers are attached to old models that they’ve been doing forever. I don’t have that problem.”
Forthcoming selections include a memoir from Ice-T’s first wife, Darlene Ortiz, a collection of gritty ’90s rap magazine covers from Murder Dog, and The Rules of the Game — a novel written by Too $hort, channeling the spirit of Iceberg Slim.
“The things that become big in mainstream culture are always big in the underground first. We’re publishing what the mainstream doesn’t yet understand,” Stewart explains.
“I spent much of my life doing A&R for music; now I’m trying to A&R the world.”