Stones Throw Records: Ten essential listens

Stones-ThrowUnbeknownst to many mainstream hip-hop fans, Stones Throw Records has played a huge role in the movement since their arrival on the scene in 1996.

Being known as an underground hip-hop label using jazz and funk as a main sound in their music, many of their signees have played a huge role in getting this sound into mainstream hip-hop with influence and collaborations.

Even with their low-key reputation, Stones Throw lays claim to many of hip-hop’s most respected producers and MCs including J Dilla, Madlib, Madvillain (the MF Doom Madlib collab project), and 7 Days of Funk.

Since the label’s inception in 1996 until the death of J Dilla in 2006 Stones Throw was a primarily hip-hop label.

Founder Peanut Butter Wolf really took the death hard as J was a big influence on him, and he decided to transition to a more experimental sound leading to the label’s new sound infusing Soul to their extensive catalog.

Celebrating their 20-year anniversary, we take a look back at the 10 best tracks to come out of Stones Throw Records up to the present day.

10. Microphone Mathematics – Quasimoto (2000)

Renowned producer Madlib’s got a very impressive resume, and he found fit to create yet another fresh side project to his own work. Born in 1999, his alter-ego Quasimoto was a stoned-out, squeaky-voiced character.

The track Microphone Mathematics is a prime example of Stones Throw’s jazz-infused simple yet intricate sound, with a repetitive trumpet in the background and strong base presence.

9. We’re Through – James Pants (2008)

The Stones Throw intern-turned-DJ James Pants was one of the first signees of Stones Throw’s transitional period from primarily hip-hop to more experimental music.

One of these examples was on his first EP Welcome with the electronica track We’re Through. Being a multi-instrumentalist, the song features many sounds from bells, chimes and cymbals.

It was very different to what Stones Throw had been doing up to J Dilla’s death in 2006.

The song is great – a nice experimental electronic track with an easy-going beat, still sticking to that laid-back hip-hop sound the label is known for while being completely different on its own.

8. Accordion – Madvillain (2004)

Madlib and MF Doom’s critically acclaimed group project Madvillain is probably one of the most successful acts under Stones Throw’s wealth of talent.

Their debut album Madvillainy was one met with praise from critics and listeners alike, noting the rough experimental hip-hop beats and the short abstract lyrics and rhymes.

The track Accordion was one that I found most interesting, using an accordion sample and adding a slow somber drum beat you get a very dark track – but hell is it good.

7. Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out – Mayer Hawthorne (2009)

Another of Stones Throw’s post hip-hop era signees, Mayer Hawthorne brought soul music to Stones Throw.

Influenced by some of the biggest names of soul and funk such as Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Smokey Robinson, Hawthorne brings an updated sound to that sung by those legends.

Label head Peanut Butter Wolf decided to convince him to sign to Stone Throw and release his side project as an album.

Off that album, titled A Strange Arrangement, a song that struck out to me is Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out with its jazzy funk sound and soulful singing.

Stones Throw has been able to continue to move forward with new and updated sounds from the past, which is perhaps their best quality and shows just how wide-ranging their music catalog is.

6. Meat Grinder – Madvillain (2004)

How could we not feature more than one song off of Madvillainy? A transitional track from Accordion, it quickly changes up to a more, dark, track with a heavy base.

Stones Throw is very experimental with their sound and this is another prime example. DOOM basically goes off on how amazing he is and how powerful his persona is.

Nothing can stop him and you’ll be fed to the meat grinder.

5. I Need a Dollar – Aloe Blacc (2010)

Aloe Blacc and Stones Throw don’t have the best post-breakup relationship. Even though Stones Throw basically planted his seed of a career, it doesn’t mean nothing good came out of their partnership.

The track I Need a Dollar was a huge hit and continuous of Stones Throw’s new interest in soul and bringing it back to the masses.

The song features a piano riff and trumpets in a great modern soul song that really brings to fruition Stones Throw’s ability to find talent no matter the genre.

Helped by Blacc’s strong vocals the song is a modern neo-soul classic that was topping charts in the UK and US alike.

4. 1Question? – 7 Days of Funk ft. Steve Arrington (2013)

7 Days of Funk, a group consisting of Funk producer Dam-Funk and rapper Snoop Dogg, were a match made in heaven for Stones Throw.

Bringing elements of Snoop Dogg’s laid-back west coast delivery and vibe and Dam-Funk’s mastery of funk and funktronica, they released the self-titled collaborative album to much praise for its sound and production.

The track has a great mellow beat mixing 90s G-funk and 00s electronica to create a truly chill song. That and Steve Arrington’s singing really make it the ultimate funktronica song.

3. Rhinestone Cowboy – Madvillain (2004)

One more time! Madvillainy gave us many hits but none more so than Rhinestone Cowboy, a simple yet catchy track.

Featuring a very expressive siren sound and audience ambiance with clapping and cheering the song is like a mini performance in your ears.

With DOOM’s slowed down, articulate delivery and rhyming lyrics he details just how badass Madvillain is and how dangerous they are.

2. Faden Away – 7 Days of Funk (2013)

The funktronica is alive and well in this song. Plain greatness in Snoop Dogg’s melodic singing and rapping throughout the track on top of Dam-Funk’s great beat.

House meets the hood in this song about a girl getting you so high you are literally fading away. The song is just so catchy and perfect for a laid-back weekend or getting high.

This is Stones Throw again showing how it can recreate classics from the 90s to modern times. Bring on the funk!

1. Donuts – J Dilla (2006)

There is no way in hell Donuts was NOT going to be number 1 on this list. Yes, it’s not a track like the rest of the list, but the reason for that is you can’t like just one specific track more than the others.

This album is full of short masterfully produced beats considering the condition he was in (being in the hospital during the whole process) and being limited production wise.

Dilla delivered an album of epic proportions – a whopping 31 tracks of multi-instrumental beats all perfectly mixed with one another and having a very smooth transition between tracks.

Having aspects of many genres such as soul, neo-soul, folk, jazz, and electronica, it is the pinnacle of Stone Throw’s legacy and impact on the hip-hop scene.

Having someone of J Dilla’s knowledge and ability to mix all these sounds and release it as a hip-hop album speaks volumes of Donuts.

The praise doesn’t end on the album’s production; the inspiration it had on many of hip-hop’s greatest stars is perhaps its everlasting mark on the industry as a whole.

From Drake, to Talib Kweli, Nas, Big Sean, Lupe Fiasco, and many more, so many artists have re-used beats from Donuts in their own music.

From production, to sound, to influence, and importance, Dilla’s Donuts had it all.

Stones Throw deserved to have this album under their label, cementing their place, truly, as one of hip-hop’s iconic labels.

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