There probably isn’t another person in the West Coast hip-hop scene with a more masterful eye for talent than Chris Manak, better known in music circles as producer/DJ Peanut Butter Wolf.
For more than 20 years, the Bay Area-born Wolf has run Stones Throw Records, the label he founded in 1996, and has released some classic, indie hip-hop. After all, this is the same label that gave us “Donuts,” the final beat tape from the late, great hip-hop producer J Dilla, and “Madvillainy,” for which producers/MCs/eccentrics Madlib and MF DOOM joined forces as the group Madvillain and came up with an album of heady, crazy hip-hop. But Stones Throw has also been home to on-the-rise R&B singers like Mayer Hawthorne and Aloe Blacc.
Wolf is still snapping up prime talents who keep giving him (and us) exemplary work. Just last year, after he released his acclaimed album “Malibu,” buzzworthy rapper/crooner Anderson .Paak paired up with producer Knxwledge (they call themselves NxWorries) and came out with “Yes Lawd!” which ended up on a lot of critics’ top-ten lists.
“Well, I don’t really remember how I first found out about AP,” admits the Wolf, in an email exchange, “but I dug his stuff and heard a few songs in particular that he was doing with KNX. He wasn’t really signed to anyone when I discovered him, so I met with him and offered him and KNX a multi-album deal for what was at the time – and still is, I guess – their side project.”
For Wolf, releasing music from his artists has always been a high point.
“It’s great when some do well financially or critically or both, but my highs are always based around putting out music that I love,” he says. “I have some I love more than others, but that’s more of a personal thing.”
Needless to say, the low points are when artists have high expectations for their projects, only to find they don’t perform well upon release.
“This is always the worst part of the business to me, whether or not they blame the label or blame someone else or themselves. It just bums me out when an artist creates something and doesn’t get the attention they were assuming they’d get. I can easily know what music I like personally, but can’t predict what the general public will want to support.”
Wolf continues to release music he likes, whether it’s compiled by other artists or himself. A consistent musical mixologist, he often releases mixes on the Stones Throw Records website, like the recent tribute mixes featuring music from all of the artists who passed away last year.
“The idea was to do a one-hour mix with one song from every singer/musician I liked who passed away last year,” he says. “I ended up having to do three volumes – and didn’t repeat any artists – because we lost so many greats.”
He’s also out there performing for audiences, which he will do at Moogfest in Durham this weekend.
Not only will he spin a Saturday-afternoon set at the American Tobacco Campus (in addition to a Thursday night show at Motorco), he will also take part in a conversation with fellow DJ/producer Greg Belson Sunday afternoon at the Armory. (Considering how both these men are avid collectors of rare soul 45s, the conversation will most likely steer toward that subject.)
“It’s my first time,” the Moogfest newbie says. “I’ve heard good things about it in the past, so I’m happy to be involved this time around. Most festivals have the same predictable lineups, but Moogfest has a lot of people that aren’t household names.”
So, after all these years of being one of the most revered DJs/producers/tastemakers in the game, just what is Peanut Butter Wolf’s biggest achievement?
“At this point, it’s that I am still finding rappers, singers and bands that are interesting to me and being able to work with them,” he says. “A lot of my favorite labels have had a good run of, like, four or five years and had to fold, but it’s been a great run so far for me, and I don’t have any intentions of changing careers anytime soon – although I have always wanted to be an animal doctor or a therapist.”
What: Moogfest, featuring Peanut Butter Wolf
Where: Various venues, Durham