Hot Wax

L.A. hip-hop honcho Peanut Butter Wolf puts his vinyl obsession to good use with the masterful mix set Badmeaningood.

Ever wonder why many airlines now offer pretzels, not peanuts, as in-flight snacks? Because the person sitting next to you might break out in hives, quit breathing, or even die if they inhaled just the tiniest mote of dust that escaped from that foil packet of goobers the flight attendant lobbed at you. Fortunately, earlier this month, doctors announced a new drug engineered to help the 1.5 million Americans who are severely allergic to peanuts, a condition that accounts for 50 to 100 deaths a year.

Los Angeles denizen and underground hip-hop stalwart Chris Manak understands being afraid of this deceptively treacherous legumehis DJ moniker, Peanut Butter Wolf, was borrowed from the name of the monster that lurked under the bed of an ex-girlfriend's little brother. And although PBW doesn't suffer from any food allergies, he does wrestle with another common affliction: a record-buying addiction. When he titled his 1998 full-length My Vinyl Weighs a Ton, he wasn't exaggerating.

PBW puts his extensive collection and far-reaching tastes to good use on his new mix CD, Badmeaningood Vol. 3 (on Ultimate Dilemma). Seamlessly integrating everything from '60s psychedelic relics (Iron Butterfly's "Soul Experience") and '70s reggae ("Black Man Land" by Prince Far I) to the Human League, Roy Ayers, and old-school jams (Grandmaster Flash, Jungle Brothers), this dance-floor-friendly collection is closer in character to a vintage Afrika Bambaataa set than a contemporary hip-hop mix tape. It is also a strong indicator of what audiences can expect when PBW hits the decks this weekend at Chop Suey.

"That's primarily the reason why I wanted to do this mix CD, because that's what my sets have been [like for] the past couple years," says Manak. "I think people who haven'theard me DJ before, they expect something different. If it's just a young, male, keep-it-real, hip-hop crowd, sometimes they don't really understand what I'm doing," he admits.

Although My Vinyl Weighs a Ton featured "Tale of Five Cities," a landmark collaboration including turntable colleagues Kid Koala, Rob Swift, Z-Trip, and Cut Chemist, PBW's DJ sets are designed to get butts shaking, not just heads nodding. "That's what I want to hear when I'm in a club: something to dance to," he says. Which means anything is fair game, as long as it keeps the party pumping. "I try to pull from all the different types of music and make it work. I sneak in songs that people don't know or one they know but wouldn't expect me to play."

The best example of PBW's ability to catch listeners off guard on Badmeaningood Vol. 3 is a surprisingly effective marriage of two '80s gems, Joe Jackson's jazzy "Steppin' Out" ("probably my favorite song on the whole CD," offers Manak) and the electro oddity "Punk Rock Rap" by Wild Style stars the Cold Crush Brothers. The finished CD, assembled from 18 slabs of wax that have lived in his crate for the past few years, might have been even more eclectic were it not for the hassle of obtaining the rights to certain selections. "I picked roughly 50 songs, but we were only able to clear maybe 20 of them, because of major labels."

PBW'S appreciation for all kinds of music is also reflected by the variety of titles released on his acclaimed indie imprint, Stones Throw Records, home to cutting-edge full-lengths by Yesterday's New Quintet and Quasimoto, as well as The Funky 16 Corners, a soul archivist's wet dreamfeaturing a slew of vanity-label late-'60s and early-'70s funk rarities, assembled by label manager Eothan Alapatt (a.k.a. Egon)that wound up being featured on NPR and even Sex and the City. (For an introductory overview of the Stones Throw catalog, pick up Peanut Butter Wolf's Jukebox 45's, a 22-track set featuring most of the label's main players, culled from the A- and B-sides of limited-edition 7-inch singles.)

Although Manak admits he'd prefer to only issue one or two records a year, the Stones Throw release schedule for 2003 is jam-packed with goodies, including two albums featuring the ever-prolific rapper-producer Madlib: one with Jay Dee (as JayLib), the other with MF Doom (as Madvillian). But the title closest to Manak's heart is the long-delayed full-length featuring tracks the DJ-producer recorded with his former rhyming partner and friend, Charizma (born Charles Hicks), who died in 1993.

"It's a trip going back and listening to it," admits PBW, who founded Stones Throw in 1996 specifically to release Charizma's posthumous cut "My World Premiere" (also featured on Badmeaningood). "I haven't heard a lot of those songs in five to 10 years."

Initially, Manak had reservations about releasing the Charizma material, most of which was cut between 1990 and 1992, before the duo inked a disastrous deal with the Disney-owned Hollywood Records subsidiary label, Basics, which yielded a year's worth of tracks that were never made available commercially. "I was afraid that the music might sound dated," he confesses. "But I'm going to make it clear in the packaging that it's an album that was recorded in the early '90s. And, that being said, styles have gone in so many directions now that a lot of DJs like to play early-'90s stuff in their sets."

As for PBW, his own obsession lately is "early-'80s dance music and early house circa '86 or '87, back when they first started doing it. That really rough-sounding shit, the unmastered private-label stuff." How much of that will wind up in Friday night's program? It's well worth stopping by to find out. Even if you're one of those 1.5 million allergy sufferers, this is a rare chance to have a taste of Peanut Butter that'll prove life-affirming, not life-threatening.

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To read Peanut Butter Wolf's complete, unpublished liner notes to Badmeaningood Vol. 3, visit www.stonesthrow.com/news/pbw-badmeaninggood.

 
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