DIGGING IT: Chris Manak, better known as Peanut Butter Wolf, specializes in finding little-known gems and polishing them.
Not long after Chris Manak moved to Los Angeles to live with underground hip-hop producer Madlib, Metro reached out to the founder of Stones Throw Records and asked him to share highlights from his youth growing up on San Jose’s East Side.
By the time of the article’s publication, Manak—better known by his DJ stage name, Peanut Butter Wolf—had already made a name for himself as a crate-digging extraordinaire and curator of off-kilter hip-hop, soul and funk artists. Fast forward more than a decade, past the acclaimed 2013 documentary on Stones Throw, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, and we find Manak still on his game.
In addition to helping bring greater attention to legendary Detroit producer J-Dilla and raise the profiles of weirdo emcees like MF Doom, in recent years Manak’s label has also championed the retro-future sounds of Dâm-Funk and Mayer Hawthorne—as well as Tuxedo, Hawthorne’s latest project with Jake One. And along the way, Manak has made friends with some of hip-hop’s pioneers. Manak, as Peanut Butter Wolf, joins one such trail blazer at The Ritz this Friday.
“It’s kind of a special event for me, because I haven’t spun there in a long time,” Manak says over the phone from Los Angeles. He expects to reconnect with some of the old high school buddies he used to make mixtapes for while in town. But the show is also a testament to how far he’s come since founding Stones Throw more than 20 years ago.
Early hip-hop producer Egyptian Lover first broke out in the early ’80s—paving the way for such seminal West Coast producers like Dr. Dre by deploying synthesizers and drum machines in creation of hip-hop beats that sounded nothing like what his East Coast contemporaries were producing at the time.
Back then, Egyptian Lover—a.k.a. Greg Broussard—was a personal hero of Manak. In his 2002 contribution to Metro, Manak tells of getting dropped off at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in 1986 for an Egyptian Lover show. These days, the two are homies who sometimes grab drinks or pizza together and chop it up as peers. “Those are the moments that are important to me,” he says.
Manak grew up around music. His grandfather was a jazz bassist who played with some of the greats, including Dizzy Gillespie. “I think a lot of our music came from him,” he muses. His mother was a singer, who played the role of Maria in a production of West Side Story in college. His dad, who was in the military, also enjoyed singing and Manak says he was a background vocalist on a song that cracked the Top 40.
Being raised by a jazz musician father left Manak’s mother weary of the music biz. “She didn’t want to see me in the music industry,” he says. Nevertheless, both he and his brother—Jonny, leader of San Jose punk veterans Jonny Manak and the Depressives—ended up pursuing music seriously. The two actually played in a band for a while when they were very young.
“I was in a punk rock band with him,” Manak says of working with his younger bro, Jonny. “The band was actually called Peanut Butter Wolf and he was the singer—he was like 8 years old.”
In the years that followed those first PBW sessions, the elder Manak would go on to thoroughly impress the owners of Star Records in San Jose with his deep hip-hop knowledge. He later worked at the store.
All of these factors add up to a nostalgic homecoming for Manak, who says he wishes he could play more shows and book more Stones Throw artists in San Jose—and with the way things have been going downtown, he’s optimistic that he just might. The show, promoted by local record shop and boutique label Needle to the Groove, is another example in a string of choice concerts to land in downtown San Jose in recent months.
Peanut Butter Wolf
Apr 21, 8pm, $22+
The Ritz, San Jose