Stones Throw Records, an indie hip hop label based in Los Angeles, California recently made its Toronto stop on the "Chrome Children" tour on Monday night. Run by an eccentric musical genius named Chris Manak (also known by his DJ alter ego Peanut Butter Wolf), Stones Throw Records has been releasing some of the most cutting edge hip hop, soul, R & B and avant-garde music during its decade plus existence.
The label is home to numerous intriguing artists such as Madlib, Madvillian (with MF Doom), the late production wizard J Dilla and Peanut Butter Wolf himself. This recent tour to promote the release of their CD/DVD entitled "Chrome Children" (which was made with the help of the Adult Swim portion of programming on the Cartoon Network) was a tour that was highly anticipated by all of those in attendance. I checked out the Madlib/Quasimoto show back in June 2005 and based on that blunted performance I wasn't expecting a pyrotechnics-filled display with spot-on renditions of Quasimoto's "The Unseen" and Jaylib's (Dilla and Madlib's side project) "Champion Sound"; however I definitely was surprised at the quality of the show that myself and hundreds others forked out $30 + GST for!
First off, this tour was dubbed the "Chrome Children Tour" which lead one to believe the show would feature artists whom had dropped gems on that album. Everyone from Wolf, Madlib, Dudley Perkins, Roc C, Oh No (Madlib's younger brother) and Dilla protege Guilty Simpson were expected to perform. The gig started with a warm-up set by J Rocc, followed by a confusing and disjointed performance by world music/MC Aloe Blacc. After that we were treated to some solid throwback hip hop courtesy of underground New York legend Percee P (who I might add could not be found at the beginning of his set as J Rocc yelled at him from the stage to "Stop trying to sell your damn CDs and get your ass on stage!"). Local Toronto-area hip hop mainstay Maestro Fresh Wes also stopped by during the concert to drop a better-than-expected freestyle. Is it just me or can we now refer to Maestro as "The Original Hip Hop Vampire"? I have seen Maestro at almost every hip hop show I have been at since 2000 and he always seems to get himself up on stage to try to remind us all about who he once was. Maybe we could call him Maestro Fresh WAS....just some food for thought.
After Percee P, Wolf spun a brief set of typical Stones Throw mish-mash. Some old cuts with the deceased but not forgotten rapper Charizma, who Wolf originally started making music with ages ago; some Dilla and other oddities that he dug deep out of his crate. In between sets, J Rocc kept the flow going with snippets of unreleased Dilla tracks which I personally CANNOT WAIT to hear in their entirety, once (if ever) they are released.
Finally, Madlib took to the stage for the finale. He came on wearing a wacky baggy, blue checkered suit with matching kicks; to a chorus of yelps and shouts (myself included) yet he never really seemed to deliver. Madlib is often referred to as "eternally-blunted" and this description proved fitting as he laboured through Jaylib standouts like "The Red" and "The Official" with a lukewarm and sloppy mic presence. Madlib is one hell of a producer, but he definitely needs to ante up on the mic skills. After roughly 30 minutes of this, the show concluded with J Rocc shouting at us "That's it folks, they're kicking us out of here!"
As I shuffled out of the Phoenix, I wondered to myself what this show would have been like had Dilla been there. One can only dream. If the Stones Throw crew could duplicate live, the sounds they put on wax, then this show would have truly been something. Hopefully this show didn't disappoint J Dilla, like it did me.