I can’t explain “My Vinyl Weighs a Ton” without stating that this album is HELLA Cali underground. Peanut Butter Wolf hails from San Jose and works out of L.A., so he’s California for life. The label he released this album on is his own imprint — Stones Throw Records. If that name sounds familiar you’re damn right it should. It could have just been a one off for Wolf to release his own projects as a deejay and producer, but over the last quarter century it has gone on to release some of the most important underground rap albums of all time. “Madvillainy” would not exist without Stones Throw. Need I say any more than that?
“In Your Area” sets the tone immediately when Planet Asia says “Nine two seven oh six in your area” and to inform you that he’s “here to set it on ya, direct from California” after shouting out more Cali cities and locales. By no means am I telling you how singularly left coast Wolf’s album is to discourage you from checking it out. Not even. I’m just letting you know that this is a celebration of the styles and sounds that Wolf is a fan of. It’s where he’s from, it’s what he likes, and he’s curating the best of the best as he sees it. That’s what a good deejay should do. The fact he’s producing it too adds an extra layer of personality. He’s not just telling you “I think the Lootpack is dope,” he’s crafting the sounds on songs like “Styles Crew Flows Beats” and letting them do their thing on it.
A side note for the newcomers — if you’re not already familiar with rapper/producer Madlib, you may wonder who the high pitched emcee on the track is. That’s his alter ego Quasimoto, who features prominently in the aforementioned Madvillain (MF DOOM x Madlib) project as well as albums in his own right. It could be argued that this album is “insular” in that a lot of it makes sense if you’re already familiar with the participants, but that’s also weird to say given this album predates a lot of them going on to greater heights of fame. The 1999 release of “My Vinyl Weighs a Ton” was a budding Cali hip-hop artist/entrepreneur planting his flag in the soil and proclaiming to the nation “This is our thing, but I give it to all of you.”
No song makes that point more than hearing his late friend Charizma on “Keep On Rockin It.” It’s a double twist listening to C pay tribute to the old school while Wolf is paying tribute to him with its inclusion. The sound is straight up throwback to the early 1980’s, microphone sound echoing off the walls of the dance halls, which for me makes the point I’m about to better than I could. Look — this record might be hella Cali, but the rappers, emcees, deejays, graffiti artists and beatboxers there grew up on the sound the five boroughs of NYC gave birth to. I get that for a time in the 90’s people wanted to take sides and make it an “East coast vs. West coast” thing, but if you love hip-hop you love hip-hop. Styles may vary regionally but the seeds planted in New York bloomed worldwide. In turn Wolf reached right back to the birthplace, which is why Kazi is heard on “Breaks Em Down.”
And even more so “Tale of Five Cities” features fellow turntablists from all around the world — A-Trak (Montreal), Rob Swift (Queens), Z-Trip (Phoenix) and so on. Greatness is greatness anywhere and everywhere. Peanut Butter Wolf is hella Cali and he celebrates that, but he’s hella hip-hop and he celebrates that too. This album is where both forces collide.
I can’t help but love an album that manages to handle both without managing to short change either goal. How can I not appreciate Wolf showing love to underrated and underappreciated rappers like Rasco with songs like “Run the Line” here? Wolf scratches and produces while Ras does what he does beautifully, dropping bars like “you ain’t had this much milk since you was breastfed” and “let me show you what I claim/I’m doin my thang/but everybody out in Cali don’t gangbang.” Say WORD.
There are times an album feels too short if it’s under 30 minutes, or too long if it’s over 60 minutes, but somehow at 67 minutes “My Vinyl Weighs a Ton” is just right. From little known emcees like Grand the Vis on “Competition Gets None” (superb Rakim scratches by Shortkut here to boot) to major figures like DJ Babu showing off what they can do on “Casio,” everything is well chosen and expertly delivered. The regard for this album seems to be universally high among those in the know, and I’m certainly no exception to that group, but my thing here is to ensure that “My Vinyl Weighs a Ton” isn’t some “best kept secret” or “hidden gem” of hip-hop. You should ALL hear it.