"I’m glad you say “trusted” because I think that’s important when you’ve been around as long as we have (26 years!). We’re constantly signing and introducing new artists. Music fans have real trust in us to release 100% incredible music. That’s invaluable."
Pursuing his longstanding, early high school dreams of running a record label, Stones Throw records is the brainchild of DJ, producer and label manager Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf.
Driven by Manak after a step away from music production after the tragic passing of his musical partner and friend MC Charizma, Stones Throw became the home to such artists as Madlib, J Dilla, Guilty Simpson, Jonwayne, Dam-Funk and many more. Growing from a go-to name for the best of underground beatmaking to a hip hop mainstay and now encompasses a much wider range of genres such as jazz, reggae, soul, funk and psychedelic rock.
The eternally evolving label continues to present its impressive sound signature with a burgeoning roster of artists we have become greatly familiar with at Rough Trade. In celebration of our ready indulgence in this label's offerings, we catch up with Stones Throw UK and Europe label manager Maya Kalev to dig into the behind-the-scenes of working with such a historic label.
Five Minutes with Maya Kalev
Hey Maya! You are the UK and Europe label manager for Stones Throw, running the UK oﬃce of the LA-based label. How long have you been in this role and can you tell us about what the most rewarding part of your role has been over the years?
I’ve been working with Stones Throw in some capacity or other for coming up on ten (!) years and I’ve been the UK and Europe label manager for a little over five. One of the most rewarding parts of being a member of the team for a decent length of time has been watching some of the artists grow their fanbases around the world. Signing artists like Mndsgn, Sudan Archives, Mild High Club and Knxwledge and watching them become globally successful with fans around the world since those early releases have been immensely rewarding. Equally, there’s something so exciting about starting to work with a new artist and coming up with ideas together. It always comes together for me at the shows. There’s nothing quite like seeing hundreds or thousands of fans go wild.
To many people Stones Throw is an exalted and trusted independent record label whose reputation as musical tastemakers precedes them. How would you break down in short what ‘Stones Throw’ means and its philosophy to someone who was not familiar with what the label’s all about?
The label doesn’t have a unifying sound – we don’t specialise in any one genre. That being said, there’s definitely a sonic thread running through our releases, which span across R&B, psychedelic rock, post-punk, electronic, hip-hop, jazz, and so much more – you just need to listen a bit harder to find it! Defining the philosophy is more straightforward: we’re strongly artist-focused, and we see every release as an opportunity for creative collaboration. I’m glad you say “trusted” because I think that’s important when you’ve been around as long as we have (26 years!). We’re constantly signing and introducing new artists, and music fans have real trust in us to release 100% incredible music. That’s invaluable.
The Stones Throw HQ has overseen the rise of hip hop’s greatest such as Madlib, J Dilla, MF Doom, garnering a reputation for being a highly revered hub to the world’s best beatmakers. Which release (or releases) over the label’s 27 years have made the biggest impact on its evolution or to you personally?
There’ve been so many, picking just one is impossible. Quasimoto’s The Unseen had a huge impact on me personally long before I joined the label. Donuts and Madvillainy, obviously. We put out the debut record by NxWorries - the duo of Knxwledge and Anderson.Paak - in 2016, as Anderson was starting to blow up. He's a bona fide star now. Knxwledge is in my opinion one of the greatest producers working today, and his albums Hud Dreems and 1988 are instant classics. It’s also been a pleasure witnessing Mndsgn make music in so many styles – but always with his own sound signature. It’s true that Stones Throw has a reputation for being home to some of the greatest beatmakers, from the iconic producers you mention to the new vanguard. It’s never just about one sound or style: Mndsgn’s recent album Rare Pleasure is an album of gorgeous songs; Jamael Dean is a talented rapper and producer as well as a brilliant jazz player; Benny Sings is both a fantastic pop songwriter and beatmaker.
Today, Stones Throw represents sounds ranging from hip hop to experimental psychedelic rock and at Rough Trade we have been heavily locked into some of its newer visionaries such as Sudan Archives, Automatic and John Carroll Kirby. Are there any artists which you can single out in particular who best inspired the label with moving forward in new directions or expanding its creative horizons?
This is such an interesting question because I want to credit all the artists with inspiring us to expand our creative horizons, and I’m sure every person at Stones Throw would give you a different answer. I think the artists you name are all great examples of exciting, supernaturally talented, incredibly creative musicians who I’m so honoured to work with. Seeing as this is a question about new directions, this might be a good opportunity to mention some artists with music on the way. I’m thrilled we’ve signed the R&B legend Eddie Chacon, who’ll be releasing new music in the new year and has an impeccable creative vision. Gabriel da Rosa, the first Brazilian artist to join our roster, will be coming out with new music next year, too. His music is a beautiful take on traditional bossa nova and samba, and I love that it might not be what people expect on Stones Throw, but it’s been really well received; I think that speaks both to the quality of what he’s doing and to the trust you mentioned earlier. Jamael Dean is a true jazz visionary and I cannot wait for people to hear what he’s been working on. We also have some new signings and very exciting projects in the works that I can’t speak about just yet, but which you’ll be hearing about very soon.