Stones Throw Records was started in 1996 by Chris Manak (known to many as Peanut Butter Wolf) in honor of his late friend and collaborator, Charizma. It was the peak of the turntablism era when founded and since then Stones Throw has stayed true to their roots in hip hop and strong vinyl releases, however the label has grown to have one of the most talented and eclectic rosters of any label today. While some non-hip hop releases started to pop up in 1999, the breadth of the label began to grow quickly after the death of legendary producer and Stones Throw signee, J Dilla. Manak credits Dilla for introducing him to some of the new directions and genres that have began to get signed to the label.
The label is continuing to grow and introducing the world to some of the most unique and innovative acts today. From its humble beginnings, Stones Throw has become of one of the most important and respected labels in the industry.
The album opens with oscillating string chords immediately hypnotizing the listener. We are effortlessly pulled in by the spell of this Brooklyn native.
Garzón-Montano was raised in a family with French-Colombian heritage and with strong musical roots. His mother a member of Philip Glass’ ensemble, he was encouraged from an early age to find his instrumental voice. Starting with violin, Garzón-Montano grew to learn drums, guitar, keyboards, and an array of other instruments while studying at Laguardia High School for the performing arts.
Jardín is packed with colorful arrangements that are as diverse in their sonic make up as the cultural and artistic makeup of Garzón-Montano’s upbringing. The delicate and lush opening statement of “Trial” leads into the lead single of the album, “Sour Mango.” The combination of lyrical and harmonic complexity creates intriguing timbres that propel, not only this track, but the entire album forward.
Thick and blocky vocal harmonies meander effortlessly throughout the album. “Long Ears” features background vocal runs that flow in front of the busy and percussive groove ending in an expressive outro with a choir of vocal layers coming from Garzón-Montano. “Crawl” and “My Balloon” feature two of my favorite bass grooves on the album. Both syncopated groves support stylistically disparate tracks– “Crawl” a danceable and more traditional neo-soul song and “My Balloon” a sonically explorative experience grounded in a hip hop driven feel.
It is rare when such a wide range of influences and experimentation can come together so cleanly to create a cohesive final product. The common thread is the distinctive vocals and vocal mixing that sweetens these tracks that carry a deeper meaning often relating to the topic of isolation.
In an interview with HNHH in 2017, Garzón-Montano says, “I wanted to make music that would remind people how beautiful life is – how delicate their hearts are. A Garden is full of life, and growth, and beauty. I named the album Jardín hoping for it to create a space for healing when people put it on. I’ve always wanted to make music that is healing, comforting, and funky.” Just as if you were to look at a vibrant flower bed, the variety of color and presence of fragile, but beautiful life shines through.
The legend of Quasimoto began in the year 2000 with the release of The Unseen. The mind behind this now legendary series of albums is none other than producing legend and Stones Throw stalwart, Madlib.
It is said that the producer decided to rap over some of his own beats one day, but was not satisfied with the sound of his voice. He took his beats, slowed them down, rapped slowly, and then sped them back up to speed producing the distinctive high pitched voice of this notorious alter ego often referred to as “Lord Quas.” The album title for the debut release in 2000 was a reference to the fact that the MC was meant to be invisible. Soon, however, an animated character drawn by Madlib and Jeff Jank became the infamous face of this character.
Over a span of 13-years, three Quasimoto albums were released with the latest release, Yessir, Whatever, coming in 2013. The album serves as a compilation of songs that were released on rare and out-of-print vinyl and produced throughout roughly a 12-year-period. The character of Lord Quas is a menacing one meant to represent a bombastic and larger-than-life gangster. Violence and drugs are frequent topics in Lord Quas’ verses even though their references are sometimes thought to be a parody.
A characteristic element of all Quasimoto releases is the back-and-forth between the high pitched voice of Quas and Madlib’s true voice. On “Broad Factor,” the opening track of Yessir, Whatever, we hear this interchange with Quas on the verses and Madlib on the hook. Originally released in 2004, this track is a cover of “Nod Factor” by Mad Skillz but sexualized in only the way Lord Quas could get away with. Biz Markie’s “Pickin’ Boogers” and Showbiz & AG’s “Fat Pockets” were also graced with this Lord Quas treatment on earlier releases.
The psychedelic and magic mushroom infused journey through the mind of Quasimoto with tracks like “The Front,” where Madlib calls out those who look for shortcuts and try to weasel their way into his circle for personal gain. He’s been paying his dues and mastering his craft for years only to be met with snakes in the game.
“Planned Attack” gained the most traction on the album as the lead single. Lord Quas lays down the facts on how he and Madlib are the hottest duo on the scene putting other MC’s careers in danger. The track serves almost as a “who’s who” through many different era’s of hip hop with samples from names such as Busta Rhymes, Jeru the Damaja, Bran Nubian, and Big Daddy Kane.
The legend of the elusive Lord Quas remains intact to this day as fans and followers of the underground hip-hop scene wait patience for the MC's next coveted appearance.
[Originally published in On Queue October Pt. 1]
If you are ever given the opportunity to see a Peanut Butter Wolf live DJ set, don’t hesitate and immediately get tickets. There are few people who have the ability to turn DJing, often viewed as a passive action with little skill other than buttons needed, into an eclectic display of music history and musicality. Once I saw Peanut Butter Wolf live, I went home and drove into any recorded set I could possibly find. I stumbled across one done for Bandcamp Weekly earlier this year. The set featured many new and old gems signed to Stones Throw Records including a single from a then upcoming release by Jerry Paper. October 12th was a long awaited release day for me and Like a Baby did not disappoint.
Born Lucas Nathan, Jerry Paper is based in LA and draws on his experience moving from New York city to the West Coast while exploring themes of “the endless human cycle of desire and satisfaction.” The laid back and low volume album bristling with wavy synthesizers and reverb soaked vocals is co-produced by Matty Tavares, a member of BADBADNOTGOOD. Those familiar with the jazz fusion and free improvisational style of this band and Tavares voice on keys and synths will feel right at home.
There is an undeniable dreamy timbre through the entire album. It is a pleasant blend of psychedelic rock meeting wistful synth textures of electronic music. For lovers of lo-fi, there is more than enough to enjoy. The album begins as though it is powering on. “Your Cocoon” (the single featured in Peanut Butter Wolf’s set) climbs up to speed into a wash of funky drums and plucky guitar accompaniments.
“A Moment” has an undeniable bossa nova flavor to it made clear through the driving brushes on drums and the silky background vocals. “My God,” another single from the project, is a melancholy meditation on the true importance of financial worth. Many of the narratives sung through the album are sometimes hard to decipher due to the unique and thick processing done to Jerry Paper’s deep vocals. This does nothing to take away from the album and adds a mystique that compliments the sound.
I feel like there is a definite embrace of what may be seen as “cheesy.” It is a quirky sound, but it is so refined and self-aware that it sets itself apart in its own category. The album is as pleasing to listen to as it is filled with deep commentary on the reality of our surroundings allowing the listener to sit back and relax or interact in a more thought provoking manner. It is a soft-rock masterpiece that has been well worth the wait.