The reggae scene in the Virgin Islands has grown a lot over the past ten years and is today a powerful force on the global reggae arena.
VI trailblazers Midnite are pioneers, even though reggae has been played on the islands since the 70s. Midnite’s socially conscious and take-no-prisoners style of roots, with extremely sparse arrangements and a dreader than dread approach, has paved the way for loads of other artists and bands from the Virgin Islands, including Bambú Station, Pressure, Army, Dezarie and Reemah.
French production company Reggaescape has produced a documentary about the roots movement in the Virgin Islands. Escape to St Croix VI dives deep into the culture, the history and the musical movement. It features music and interviews with several key artists and drops on September 15.
For a few years I have been a regular reader of U.S. music magazine Wax Poetics. But when I started to read this excellent publication I didn’t know half of the hip artists they wrote about. After watching the fascinating documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, about California-based underground label Stones Throw, I realized that several of the artists that I have been reading about – like Madlib, Dam-Funk, Mayer Hawthorne and the late J Dilla – were all based around the same label. You guessed it – Stones Throw Records.
The story about this independent label is an inspiring one and starts in 1996 when it’s founded by Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf. For about ten years it was largely a hip-hop label, but from around 2006 they went into a new direction and started to put out a plethora of genres, including rock, punk, soul and funk. Soul singer Aloe Blacc’s acclaimed Good Things, with its infectious single I Need a Dollar, is the best-selling album yet.
But selling records is not Peanut Butter Wolf’s primary focus. He goes beyond music and releases what he likes rather than what actually sells. Being commercial and successful comes second. Music and creativity come first. And that’s an honourable and admirable approach.
With lots of highly successful albums – of which several are hip-hop – Stones Throw has grown into an independent empire, much like punk label Epitaph. Today Peanut Butter Wolf does almost the same thing he did in 1996, but in a wider scale and in an industry that is completely transformed thanks to Internet and file sharing.
Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a moving and impressive story about a pioneer that has overcome several challenges – both personal and commercial. He has been fighting the unpredictable music industry and has also managed to make change over these 18 years.
Being anti-establishment and against the grain spark change and originality. That’s a fact after being overwhelmed by his story and energy. Unfortunately – for us reggae-heads – there is nothing on Stones Throw’s recent venture into reggae territory via excellent releases from Tom Chasteen’s Dub Club.