Why Stones Throw Records Has More Twitter Followers Than Drake’s Label
On June 30, 2015, Stones Throw tweeted, “Know your audience”, which, considering their track record, is more than sound advice. If you haven’t heard of Stones Throw, the Los Angeles-based record label founded in 1996 by Chris Manak (a.k.a DJ Peanut Butter Wolf), consider this: Republic Records, the juggernaut label representing Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Drake (to name a few), has 72k followers on Twitter. Stones Throw has almost double that, repping 126k followers. A Stones Throw fan might also be the first to tell you that Twitter obviously isn’t the end-all quantifier of relevance, but still—for a staunchly independent label with few employees, operating out of one floor in Highland Park, Stones Throw has made it clear that they don’t live in a glass house (I had to, sorry).
Stones Throw was originally formed as an avenue for Peanut Butter Wolf to release his debut album with childhood friend and rapper Charizma, who tragically was murdered before it ever saw the light of day. Likely due in part to this aspect of Stones Throw history, the label has long since operated as a family. Legendary beat-maker Madlib is one of the original members, along with Jeff Jank, who designs most of the accompanying artwork and logos. After Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf became friends, the studio became a haven for artists who would come to be mainstays of hip hop’s historical landscape. Madlib and MF Doom released Madvillainy on the label. J Dilla’s Donuts was released on Stones Throw (3 days before his death) in 2006. Apple Music, Tidal and Spotify struggle with balancing their artist-to-fan relationships, but Stones Throw has uncompromisingly established its reputation as a home for artists and fans alike.
“We’ve been in Highland Park for a while, and we’ve seen a lot of changes.” Jodi Burian, the label’s project manager and general boss lady manager said during a tour of Stones Throw’s office and studio. Aside from surrounding physical changes, the label’s had to fight to maintain their reputation, as well as their level of output and quality. As a brand, however, they haven’t had to sacrifice their principles. “We’re lucky to have die-hard fans,” Jodi explained. With their roster of underground hip hop legends, there’s no reason not to trust the label’s decisions—”Any time we release something with Madlib, our fans go nuts. But we also make an effort to release new music that we really believe in. We’re also lucky to have a founder that’s around all the time. We’re able to bounce back ideas between all the incredibly smart people that work here.”
I looked around the office. ”Where’s your A&R department?”
“We’re a little different that way,” Jodi said, pouring me a cup of green tea. “Everyone’s really involved in the outreach and pitching of new artists. One of us will suggest something we’ve heard through word of mouth maybe, or artists will get in touch with us. They’re usually artists who’ve been around for a bit, people who are performing a lot around Los Angeles.”
She told me how she had always loved music, but never expected to work in the music industry. After finishing a degree in international studies, she began working as an assistant for labels like Daptone, Innovative Leisure and Rhymesayers, and eventually Stones Throw, stuffing envelopes and delivering coffee to higher-ups. She finally joined Stones Throw in Los Angeles a few years later after realizing the job incorporated all of her interests. “My international studies degree didn’t go to waste. Most recently, I’ve been working on how we distribute music in countries like Asia and South America. That’s a market that hasn’t been explored as much, and reaching those audiences is definitely a priority.”
Today, Stones Throw boasts a roster that includes Aloe Blacc, Mndsgn, Mayer Hawthorne, J Rocc, DAM Funk, Knxwledge, among many more. The label is no longer rap centric, easing their audience through the transition out of hip hop’s ‘golden era’ by releasing albums that also establish them as tastemakers for electronic, soul and disco music. Stones Throw also represents mainly dudes. Currently, DIVA is the only female artist signed to the label, but Jodi maintains that they’re always on the lookout for female artists. “It’s a boys’ club,” she said. “But we’re actively aware and working on that.”
Get your demos together, ladies—Stones Throw needs you. Or apply for their internship program. Or, at least, heed Jodi’s advice for girls in the workplace, hip hop or otherwise.
“As a woman, it’s difficult not to be scared to say what you think when you first start your career in a male-dominated industry, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your work.”
“When I first got started, I was intimidated a lot of the time, since most of the people I was surrounding by were men. The first time I went on tour, I was the only girl in a large group of guys. There was one point where one of the guys said something super rude and sexist to me, and I didn’t say anything, and it was such a shitty experience. Since then, I’ve made an effort to consistently stand up for myself. As a woman, it’s difficult not to be scared to say what you think when you first start your career in a male-dominated industry, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your work.”
“What are you guys listening to right now?” I asked. “What’s playing behind closed doors in the offices of Stones Throw?”
Jodi laughed. “To be honest, everyone in the office is making fun of me because I just discovered The Weeknd. I keep playing The Weeknd songs and being like, wait, guys, isn’t this cool? And everyone’s like, yeah, Jodi, you’re late. But hey, the songs are pretty good, right?”