The West Coast imprint Stones Throw Records has evolved dramatically since its indie rap origins in the mid-'90s. After Chris "Peanut Butter Wolf" Manak got out of a bad record deal with Disney-owned Hollywood Records that he had signed with his late partner, the rapper Charizma, the producer started the label out of his San Jose, Calif., bedroom in 1996. (He relocated to San Francisco shortly afterward, and then Los Angeles in 2001.) He initially used Stones Throw to spotlight talented locals as well as his own music, but the arrival of Oxnard producer Madlib changed that. For a while in the early 2000s, it seemed as if every new Stones Throw release was a Madlib production, such as critically acclaimed best-sellers The Unseen (from Quasimoto) and Madvillainy (from Madvillain), the latter made with metal face-masked emcee MF Doom.
But this playlist focuses on Stones Throw's present, not its well-documented past. In recent years, the label's output has become extremely unpredictable. Dam-Funk's electronic funk symphony and the retro-inspired soul of Mayer Hawthorne and Aloe Blacc seem like logical extensions of its crate-digging aesthetic. But what to make of Chrome Canyon's Giorgio Moroder-like synthesizer soundtracks, Anika's post-punk covers, or James Pants' lo-fi pop weirdness reminiscent of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti? Even Madlib is (technically) no longer around, having launched a separate Madlib Invazion imprint (albeit with some help from Stones Throw).
Stones Throw hasn't cut its ties to the rap world, though: One of its more promising artists is the Queens lyricist Homeboy Sandman. But if your lasting impression of this popular indie label is Madvillain and J Dilla's Donuts, then here's your chance to survey its diverse and musically audacious roster in the new decade.