l-ementary: If someone had told you in 1979, your self titled “coming of age” year, that in 2002 you’d be head of arguably the most respected underground hip hop label, not to mention such a celebrated artist in your own right, what would you have said?
P.B. Wolf: At age 9, I wanted to be an inventor and wanted to invent something that would have a permanent impact on the world. Something like the telephone or the light bulb. So if someone in 1979 let me see myself in 2002, back then I would have been disappointed. By about 1982, I started placing music goals on myself. I haven’t achieved those either, but I’m on the right path.
You wrote that your father helped finance your first record…How important has your family been in your musical career, and were they always supportive?
My father always pushed me to strive harder. Whenever I bragged to him about something I had done, he seemed somewhat disinterested. Little did I know, he was bragging about me behind my back to others. My mom brags as well, but she’s a more vocal in her excitement to me. In 1998, I won a San Francisco Bay Guardian award for accomplishments in music and that was great because my parents were in the audience. My family has always been important and I do things for their approval as much as for myself.
What are your thoughts on everyone these days being an emcee, or a producer or a DJ? Has it watered down the music, or are you all for growth, even if that means some great artists are not getting the exposure they deserve?
I think the “great” ones will always be recognized by the listeners who really take the extra time to seek it out. I recognize the greatness of Cymande, Johnny Hammond, and Slave even though these artists didn’t have the commercial success of other greats of the 70’s and 80’s like Sly, Marvin, and Prince. And my favorite Sly songs are merely album cuts from the Riot album.
Are there any artists out there that you admire that people would suprised you like?
I love the Violent Femmes first album and P.I.L.s Second Edition album. The Pixies Doolittle album. The Cure and the Smiths. That music speaks to me as much as hip hop, soul, or jazz. I love certain disco music and certain house music. I have about 5 crates full of house records I’ve bought over the past years.
Stones Throw has released music from Madlib, Lootpack, Breakestra, Rasco… countless others… without mentioning names, does it upset you at all that these guys don’t get the same exposure as mainstream artists?
It always upsets me and it upsets them. I don’t know what to do to change it. We tried videos, full page ads in the Source, street teams, etc. The Quasimoto album was voted top 20 of the year in Spin Magazine by the critics beating out U2 and Madonna that year, yet the average music fan will never care to figure it out. I’ve accepted that.
Since you’re such a well known record collector, what are your thoughts on the push towards cd’s…I’m thinking specifically of the Pioneer cdj-1000’s, which a lot of respected DJ’s are beginning to embrace…Do you feel betrayed? Upset? Do you think it’s a fad or is it here to stay?
I will always collect records. I make CDs from my records, but as a consumer, I NEVER buy CD’s. I tried the CDJ-1000 and was one of the few that wasn’t immediately sold on it. A-Trak was just telling me about new technology using your turntable and your computer. He said Craze embraced it and doesn’t even bring records anymore when he DJ’s. I’m a little envious that I’m not that organized, but don’t feel upset because carrying records is my only form of exercise.
Continuing with the last questions, what are your thoughts on the technology progressing in hip hop? These days producers are abandoning their SP’s for computers and getting samples off the Internet instead of 45’s…Are you happy with the changes being made?
Anything that keeps the music interesting, I’m all for. I have to say that the kind of hip hop I’ve always loved hasn’t really progressed the past few years. Pete Rock’s had some great stuff and Jay Dee, but overall, it’s kind of stagnant. So maybe we could use different tools. In the end though, who uses it and how it’s used are most important. I’ve heard beats first hand from producers who have all the latest toys and their beats were complex, but the ear only cares to digest so much. Show and AG said it best about beats “needing Liquid Draino”.
Being the head of a label, you must get a lot of demos and whatnot… What are your thoughts on some of the newer stuff you’re hearing these days… What’s the potential out there and where is it coming from?
I get tons of rapping demos all the time, but I never really get singing demos. I love soul music and would be more likely to sign a singer than a rapper, because that’s an area Stones Throw is lacking in. I always encourage people to create, but don’t have a big enough staff to take on more projects right now. That’s the part about having a label that sucks: having to tell people I’m not interested. I personally know how it feels though. In 1985, I got my demo rejected from Beauty and the Beat Records and Sleeping Bag Records. In ’91, Charizma and I were rejected by everyone except for Hollywood Basics. Even now, none of the artists on Stones Throw have received a contract by a major yet, even though our peers like J5, Dilated, and Blackalicious are all on majors.
Also, what’s the weirdest thing anyone has ever sent you? Like, do you ever get some southern bounce artists trying to get signed?
One of the weirder ones was by an MC who took a copy of the Lootpack instrumentals on vinyl and rapped over the whole album. It was funny because if you listen to it casually, he says our names on it so much that you’d think he were part of our crew. Jeff, who works with me, set up a fake email address and started emailing me pretending to be the guy. At first I would write the guy back, but after a while the letters starting taking a stalking tone. I started getting scared and eventually Jeff let me off the hook and fessed up.
Is there any Charizma material still to be released? I thought I heard an album was being compiled…
There are at least 20 Charizma songs that he and I recorded between 1989 and 1993 that haven’t been heard yet. He passed away in 1993, so the plan has always been, if I were to release it, I would do so in 2003. That is still the plan. I remember when 2003 seemed like an eternity, but it’s now around the corner. There will be no remixes or new beats to his old vocals. The songs will be the same as they were in the early 90’s.
Do you see a “renaissance” of the 7″, with your label, and some retailers pushing it?
I’m glad for the resurgence. It’s cool to see other hip hop artists embrace it as well. I didn’t really give it much thought when I first did it a few years ago (other than it would be a series). I just did it.
I don’t have cable, so I couldn’t catch it, but did you make it onto CNN the other day? If so, what do you think of the exposure?
CNN is tonight. They pushed it back. I’ll be on a plane when they air it, but at least it gave me something new to brag to my parents about.
What’s the chance of seeing a cross country Stones Throw tour in the near future?
We are doing a Stones Throw DJ tour in August. It will be me, Madlib, Egon, and special guests. Expect to hear all kinds of music (soul, funk, disco, reggae, hip hop, Brazilian) and no tricks or routines. Strictly dance floor action.
Finally, what accomplishments are you most proud of, both in your music and life in general?
With music, I’m most proud of the Quasimoto album. I’m proud of all the albums I’ve released, but that one speaks to me most. It’s the kind of album I’ve always wanted to release. Biggest accomplishment in life in general: having friends and being a friend.
Anything to add?
Don’t underestimate your ability to affect other people (both negatively and positively). You have the power to hurt people or help people. Love yourself and love others.