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Photograph by ZEN SEKIZAWA


Monday, April 09, 2007

The following Q&A is excerpted from Issue 30: Hip-Hop Nuggets. This issue is available for purchase on this site

The Stop Smiling Interview with Madlib
+ Peanut Butter Wolf

By Patrick Sission

As a high school student in California, Chris Manak wrote an essay about starting a record label. It’s difficult to imagine that Manak, who would later emerge as Peanut Butter Wolf, had a clear vision even then of how his quixotic label, Stones Throw, would operate.

One thing he didn’t lack was the knowledge — or the hustle — to be a music entrepreneur, having spent years making beats and compilations, spinning records and soaking up hip-hop culture before he founded the label in 1996.

The label’s name reflects the passion and kinship that Peanut Butter Wolf strives for in music. A turn of phrase used by Peanut Butter Wolf’s mother, stone’s throw is something he would joke about with his friend Charles Hicks, a rapid-fire MC known as Charizma. The duo started performing together as teenagers. After a short-lived record deal with a Walt Disney subsidiary, a promising partnership was cut short when Charizma was shot and killed in East Palo Alto in 1993. PBW quit music for six months before returning to beatmaking and DJing. When he founded the label three years later, the first release was “My World Premiere,” a 12” by Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf.

Otis Jackson Jr., better known as Madlib, is the primary architect of Stones Throw Records’ sonic diversity. A producer known for his prolific output of “dirty ass loops” under various guises, including helium-voiced degenerate Quasimoto and one-man jazz band Yesterday’s New Quintet, Madlib has collaborated with much of the Stones Throw roster, along with other hip-hop underground geniuses like MF Doom and J Dilla. His work ethic — “When I do music, I wake up, do music, go to sleep, that’s it,” he says — stems in part from his musical roots. His father, Otis Jackson Sr., was a 1960s R&B singer; his mother, Senesca, wrote music; and his uncle, trumpeter Jon Faddis, performed with Charles Mingus and played on The Cosby Show theme.

I met Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf before the soundcheck for the Stones Throw Chrome Children tour last fall in the lobby of Chicago’s Metro.

Stop Smiling: What was it like growing up in such a musical family?

Madlib: I knew more jazz than rap when I was young. I was always in the studio with my dad at a young age, just watching him. That’s why I vibe so much in my crib, where I’m always surrounded by instruments. My dad played electric bass, but he was mainly known for singing. I’d go over to my grandparents’ place and see my uncle, Jon Faddis. I went through his record collection and always liked the ones on Blue Note. I had to do the Blue Note compilation — 2003’s Shades of Blue. He congratulated me, said he was glad they let me in the vaults. I knew music was something I was going to do after watching my father and my uncle and seeing how they lived. Music was everything. But I never took lessons. I just learned the natural way.

SS: When you started producing hip-hop, did your father understand what you were doing?

Madlib: Not at first, but he supported it. The first music I made was terrible, but he was like, “Okay, now keep working.” He liked the Lootpack stuff so much he helped put it out. Other labels were giving us a thousand-dollar deal for three people, and he didn’t want us out there like that, so he funded our first record.

SS: What was your routine when you started collecting records?

Madlib: I would save my lunch money every week. DJ Romes had a bike, and I would ride it all the way to the record store and pick up the latest stuff. My mom was mad because she knew I was using my lunch money. She’d ask me why I was coming home so hungry. Well, I had to buy that EPMD album.

SS: What about your first turntables?

Peanut Butter Wolf: Mine were a pair of Fisher turntables my mom had. Only one had a pitch control. I had the Realistic mixer, with the lights for the BPM meters.

Madlib: I had two little Realistic turntables. My early records were all scratched up because I didn’t know about slip mats.

PBW: Same here. When Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” came out, I turned the record over after scratching it, and it was white. I’d just destroyed it.

SS: Do you remember some of the first beats you made?

PBW: My first beat was a “Roxanne, Roxanne” answer rap I did on a borrowed Dr. Rhythm machine. I started out in a group called the Slobs when I was 15. There were these fat dudes from San Jose, one white and one black, and I was the skinny DJ. They always rapped about food. I think that was their thing. It was right when the Fat Boys came out. They had this track called “Brush Your Teeth.” One of them ended up going into the service, and then committed suicide around the same time Charizma passed away. I was like, “Am I cursed?” I shouldn’t work with any MCs.


SS: Both of you were close friends with J Dilla, whom you’ve both spoken about a lot in the last year. What further projects does Stones Throw plan to do to keep his legacy alive?

PBW: The plans all really come from his mom, Miss Yancey, Ma Dukes. Before he passed away, when I didn’t have any idea he was going to pass away, before we brought him a crate of records in the hospital and he was making music in his bed, I talked with him about releasing Ruff Draft, which we just put out, and the MCA album.

Madlib: He flew me out to Detroit to work on it.

PBW: The concept behind the MCA album was to have different producers do beats and have him rap over those beats. People knew him as more of a producer than a rapper, and he wanted to show he was not just a behind-the-scenes guy.

SS: Working with J Dilla on Champion Sound, was there a feeling of friendly competition?

Madlib: Maybe with him, not with me. I don’t really compete with motherfuckers. I just do what I do. I’m just here to make some good music and make a little money. I looked at it like we were a crew. I vibed off his shit. His music was so dope. Untouchable. He never fell off. He just liked music so much. His thing was, you don’t think about music, you just do it.

PBW: His personality, everything, people couldn’t stop talking about him.

The full Stop Smiling Interview with Madlib + Peanut Butter Wolf is in Issue 30: Hip-Hop Nuggets. This issue is available for purchase on this site.


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