feature: ‘our vinyl weighs a ton’ docu about stones throw records available now! #soundcheck

June 2, 2014

While the vast majority of record labels operate as businesses—that is, their goal is to make money, and once they cease that function, they cease to operate—the truly great labels, those that will continue to thrive long after the major label system has fallen, are families. Stones Throw records, along with Rawkus and Def Jux, has been the home to a family of misfits and provocateurs ranging from Madlib to J Dilla to Aloe Blacc that have defined the sound and feel of underground hip-hop and soul. The new documentary from director Jeff Broadway Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton chronicles the first decade and a half of Stones Throw’s life.

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

Click here to watch trailer if you’re on a mobile device

Broadway’s documentary culls together archival footage, live concerts, animations, and the standard small army of talking heads including ?uestlove, Kanye West, Madlib, Talib Kweli, and Tyler the Creator. The range of interviews is astounding, particularly Kanye, who sounds uncharacteristically humble talking about the mighty J Dilla. Jeff Broadway has captured not just the story of Stones Throw, but why it matters to hip-hop at large. In this family, founder Peter Butter Wolf is treated not as a boss and executive, but as a beloved older brother, Stones Throw’s mad genius Madlib is the mischievous younger brother. And J Dilla, to whom nearly half the documentary’s running time is devoted, is the favorite child.

How can you not be moved by J Dilla’s story? The genius producer cut down at 32 from a blood disease. Nearly 10 years after his death, Dilla’s absence is still felt in the hip-hop world, which seams to be only now catching up with him. He is one of the rare artists whose legend in death neither exaggerates nor retcons his significance. In many ways, Stones Throw is the house that Dilla and Madlib built.

However, Stones Throw has always been more than just a hip-hop label, releasing the dance punk of James Pants, the neo-soul of Aloe Blacc, and the instrumental prog rock of Mars Volta’s Omar Rodríguez-López. As the label’s sound has expanded and grown, it has confounded and alienated hip-hop purists. But that refusal to compromise and commit to any rigid definition, either internally or externally imposed, is part of what’s made Stones Throw so vital. Even when it fails, Stones Throw is a family committed to being a safe space to let its artists grow and challenge themselves. Maybe the most telling parts of the interviews are the ways some subjects have been unafraid to question or criticize some of Peanut Butter Wolf’s signees and creative left turns. While he is certainly loved by the talking heads, he’s far from viewed as some messianic figure, beyond criticism. That space is reserved for J Dilla.

DVD available here.
Digital download available here.