Film Review: “Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records”

Written by Film, Film Reviews

Initially conceived as an outlet to release the music of the late MC – and friend of label co-founder Chris Manak (Peanut Butter Wolf) – Charizma, Stones Throw Records has grown over the last 18 years to become the label of choice for hip-hop mavericks, funk weirdos and pop outcasts. In Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records, director Jeff Broadway (Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story) weaves together home footage, archival clips and new interviews with members of the Stones Throw family as well as a host of hip-hop luminaries (including ?uestlove, Common, Kanye West, Mike D, A-Trak, Talib Kweli, Tyler, The Creator, Flying Lotus and Prince Paul) to tell the story of the label and several of its genre-defining releases.

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton covers a lot of ground over a brisk 93 minutes, taking us from Manak’s days as an aspiring DJ making tapes of imagined Top 50 countdowns with friend – and eventual Stones Throw co-founder – Steve Helmer (Baron Zen) to the burgeoning hub of feverish creativity centred in the late 1990s on the Stones Throw house in Los Angeles and Madlib’s Bomb Shelter studio, and ending with recording sessions for 7 Days of Funk, a 2013 collaboration between singer/producer Dâm-Funk and Snoop Dogg (that LP’s “Hit Da Pavement” is a modern funk classic). While Broadway captures the excitement of the rise of Stones Throw as the name in underground hip hop – when, as ?uestlove says, “Stones Throw came crashing into our worlds…like a meteor” – as well as its recent renaissance with a new generation of artists such as Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc and Dâm-Funk (the first two having since departed for major labels), he does not shy away from exploring the label’s creative and commercial dark days that followed J Dilla’s death as well as Manak’s post-Donuts shift away from hip hop and embrace of experimental sounds (Baron Zen, El Captain Kunkaho, Folerio). At times, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton feels as much as the story of a record label as that of a community and a subculture seeking to reinvent itself and grow in the face of changes in both the music industry as well as the tastes of its architects.

Like a lot of the music released by Stones Throw, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is not for everyone. Avid crate diggers who can list their favourite volumes of the Beat Konducta series and have spent countless hours trying to decipher lyrical Easter eggs in Lord Quas or MF DOOM’s verses will best appreciate this documentary and should consider it essential viewing, but those who are entirely unfamiliar with the label’s mythology would probably be better served by first seeking out some of Stones Throw’s classic releases. For them, a six-pack of Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf’s Big Shots, Lootpack’s Soundpieces: Da Antidote, Quasimoto’s The Unseen, Jaylib’s Champion Sound, Madvillain’s Madvillainy and J Dilla’s Donuts would make a much better – and, frankly, mandatory – introduction. Nevertheless, this lovingly assembled and often deeply moving (particularly the chapters dedicated to the late Charizma and J Dilla) film is both an enjoyable history lesson and a wonderful tribute to one of the most important record labels of the last two decades.