Most folks in the music business have busier days than the average nine-to-fiver, but for Chris Manak, there’s truly no such thing as leaving his work “at the office.”
Better known to the public as Peanut Butter Wolf, this DJ and owner of Stones Throw Records says that his 11-year-old label is on his mind from the moment he gets out of bed. In between studio sessions, holding meetings at Stones Throw HQ, and listening to business proposals, Wolf can be found trudging through L.A. traffic making moves on his cell phone. He’s also not complaining about the lack of down time.
What initially inspired this San Jose, California native to launch his own imprint was simply the idea of putting out and promoting music he digs – and his mission hasn’t faltered yet. Long before he got Stones Throw off the ground in 1996 with his and Charizma’s hard-knocking single, “My World Premier,” Manak was a massive music nerd.
Manak’s vinyl habit dates all the way back to the late 1970s when he was just an elementary school student, copping disco and early hip-hop hits on a weekly basis with his allowance. Amazingly, 30 years later, he still has the same childlike drive to get his fingers dusty in the crates.
“You'd think that after 30 years, it would lose some of its charm, but it hasn't,” says Manak. “There's always something old or something new out there to discover. [Also] some of my tastes change a little here and there. Even though I was a big electro fan in the early-80s, I didn't really like the two music forms that it transformed into — house and Miami Bass — back then. Now I find myself going back and buying that stuff and enjoying it. [It’s the] same for early-‘90s regional ‘gangsta rap.’ I collect all that now.”
What doesn’t entirely add up, though, is how the head of one of the busiest indie labels on the planet has time to keep up his status as a vinyl connoisseur.
“Hectic or not, you make time and prioritize,” he clarifies. “I need one of those T-shirts that says: ‘I'd rather be shopping.’ Some people go to the movies or watch TV in their spare time—I'm on eBay. As for actual record stores, that's what I do when I travel. I take in the stores rather than Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower.”
Despite taking advantage of the Searato Scratch Live digital DJ evolution, Peanut Butter Wolf will still lug his actual vinyl out on special occasions. Take his highly publicized “7 Days in L.A.” DJ series, which went down this past fall and saw Wolf bring the sounds of seven genres — from 80s house to reggae — to seven different clubs. These are the kind of gigs this selector lives for.
“It was so much fun to do the different themes each night,” he recalls. “The prep work was grueling, since my set list was posted on various websites and each night was recorded, but when it came to show time, it was the most fun I've had DJing, period.”
Truth be told, though, Peanut Butter Wolf is hardly the only devoted crate digger/DJ in the Stones Throw camp. When he moved the label from the Bay Area to L.A. in 2000, he was joined by the renowned loop digga himself, Madlib, in a co-op style house/office. The transition to Southern California also saw Manak live with his first two full-time staffers: label manager Eothen “Egon” Alapatt and art designer Jeff Jank, both who share Manak’s rich appreciation of music.
“Our taste in music and art is what brought us together and it's what has kept us together for all these years,” Manak explains of his relationship with Egon and Jank. “We can get into some pretty heated arguments, but that's because we're all so passionate about this — even years into it. We've gotten two different offers from directors to film a reality show around out office and declined them both because we didn't want to put our arguments out there for the world to see. The three of us are practically more like family than friends these days.”
While the Stones Throw staff thankfully didn’t join in the absurdity of reality TV, the work they have done for their artists has still gotten their indie imprint mainstream attention. Recently Madlib was a guest on an episode of BET’s Rap City (with Talib Kweli hosting) and last year Stones Throw collaborated with the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming. This winter, Peanut Butter Wolf will even present a Holiday-themed album, Baad Santa, available exclusively at Urban Outfitters stores.
All of these advances in exposure may have not seemed so possible just a few years back, but as Manak notes, progressive moves like aligning with 2K Sports for his B-Ball Zombie War compilation are necessary if done right.
“We'll work with almost anyone who lets us release the music we wanna release without changing us, as long as we aren't morally opposed to their mission” he says.
As a DJ, Peanut Butter Wolf’s visibility is rising just as quickly as his label, which further cuts down his opportunity to take a breather every now and then. But who needs free time when you’re DJing for Too $hort at a Tila Tequila party?