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O-Dub’s Top Rap Reads

O-Dub's top 5 rap books

Oliver “O-Dub” Wang has been contributing to the written world of rap  and hip hop for around 20 years, writing for magazines, academically, and books including his latest offering Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He took some time out for an interview with us last week, and after that kindly agreed to drop us this list of is most significant books in hip hop:

For me, studying hip-hop means first understanding its early history and evolution into the global behemoth it is now. That means starting with Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, especially his chapters on hip-hop in New York of the 1970s. Not just a crucial part of that history but also absolutely fascinating.

top 5 hip hop booksI grew up thinking of hip-hop as being something that “started” when “Rapper’s Delight” became a hit but as Jeff’s book suggests, hip-hop’s roots begin long before anything was ever recorded. Likewise, I think Dan Charnas’s The Big Payback is indispensable as a history of hip-hop as a business because it’s through labels and radio and other forces that rap music was able to spread, first regionally, then nationally, now globally. Those two histories complement one another well.

Next, I’d recommend Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. For one, Joan puts a personal spin on understanding the rise and evolution of hip-hop, not just as a music, but also in her own position as a critic trying to make sense of all of it. And certainly important is her approaching it as a feminist as well…gender politics can often be a huge blind spot in how other people talk about hip-hop and Joan centers that conversation rather than letting it fade to the margins.

I’d also highly recommend Brian Cross’s It’s Not About a Salary even though I know it’s out of print. To this day, it’s still the best thing that anyone’s done on the history of hip-hop in Los Angeles and a lot of people, including me, have bugged Brian to, at the very least, get the book reissued but better yet: update it! I also think Brian’s book is a great model for how to put a regional focus on a music scene by mixing interviews, photographs and framing essays.

top rap readsLast but hardly least would be Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists which I think is a glorious, uber-nerded out love letter to hip-hop from so many angles. The guys who wrote the book and were behind the magazine mix incredibly knowledge, passion, insight, and of course, humor in how they approach their various taxonomies of hip-hop. Easy to pick up, hard to put down.


To hear more from Oliver, check out his Gift Rap interview or find him via the following channels:

You can pick up Legions Of Boom on Gift Rap Here

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Bay Area represent: The O-Dub interview

Oliver O-Dub Wang

The Bay Area is well known in hip hop and rap, particularly for it’s contributions to the battle DJ scene (see: Triple Threat DJs, Beat Junkies, FM20/Invisibl Skratch Piklz), and in his new book Legions of Boom, acclaimed DJ/Collector/Journalist/Scholar Oliver “O-Dub” Wang, explores the history of this community’s movement and evolution from the mobile DJ scene to the cutting edge of the turntablism/battle scene and beyond.  He took some time out to speak to Gift Rap and give some more insight into himself and the book.

Hi Oliver, hope you are well.  Could you tell the readers a bit about yourself and where you’re at currently/what you’re doing?
I’m an associate professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach. I also write about music, arts and culture for NPR, KCET’s Artbound, KPCC’s Take Two, the Pop Rocket podcast, amongst others.

Oliver O-Dub Wang
© Copyright – Eilon Paz –

What was your first experience of hip hop culture, and what was it that you were attracted to?
I was introduced by a classmate to Run DMC and the Beastie Boys around 1986/87 but it was when I first discovered De La Soul in the summer of 1989 that hip-hop became a lifelong inspiration/obsession. First and foremost, it’s the very sound of hip-hop, the way in which it manages to both sample the past yet sound very much of the present if not the future, that attracts me. And then you get into the layers of lyrical artistry, social messaging, etc. There’s so much to enjoy and unpack.

Growing up in a village in Northern England in the 90s, there was little to no exposure to hip hop.  Growing up in The Bay Area, what media outlets were there to keep you up to date with hip hop?
Definitely alternative weekly newspapers like the San Francisco Bay Guardian but I was also reading magazines like The Source and Rap Pages and URB (this was before I began to contribute to them).

How long have you been DJing, and which DJ’s inspired you to take up the craft?
This Bay Area DJ, Beni B, who would eventually found ABB Records, was one key person. We both volunteered at KALX, the college station at UC Berkeley, and he’d bring down his own turntables and mixer to do a mix show. He looked like he was having so much fun, in 1993, it inspired me to go and get my own decks. But beyond Beni, I learned how to mix from DJs Double O and Oni One. Matthew Africa (RIP) and Beni helped put me on sample digging. And DJ Joe Quixx on KMEL’s Wake Up Show always had me in awe. To this day, Joe is one of the nicest, most real dudes I know.

What brought you to the mobile DJ scene as a point of focus for a book?
I knew about the importance of the scratch DJs in the Bay Area and so many of those guys were Filipino American. When I had a chance to interview folks like Q-Bert, Shortkut, etc. what I learned was that all of them came from different mobile crews first. While the scratch scene was well-covered, I couldn’t find much at all on the mobile scene. That told me there was a good story to be researched and written about.

Bay Area DJs Beat Junkies
Bay Area legends The Beat Junkies (L-R Babu, Melo-D, Rhettmatic)

Do you feel that the art of the battle DJ has lost something, in that the current battle DJs tend to largely be bedroom DJs rather than working DJs who know/have learnt how to play to a room?
In the end, battle DJing has become about who can put on the best performance and I don’t know if a bedroom vs. working DJ has an inherent advantage there. Rocking a party is a very different kind of skill set from battling even if both require an audience. To me, battle DJs these days are more like concert pianists going head to head. I don’t know if having experience playing a honky tonk is relevant.

Who are your favourite DJs and why?
I have a ton of respect for DJ Cut Chemist in terms of the amount of thought he puts into his sets and the kind of creative energy he brings to them. I’ll always listen to whatever new project he’s working on.

With regards to recent articles posturing hip hop as the new dad rock, have you any thoughts on this?
I thought it was an entertaining article, humor-wise, but ‘90s hip-hop nostalgia has always been intense so it’s not like 40 somethings suddenly discovered hip-hop or anything. What I do think is interesting is how you have “classic hip-hop” radio stations now and tours of older rap stars targeted towards the 40-50 audience. Hip-hop, to me, has never aged that well because it’s such a youth-oriented genre but I think we’re beginning to see how a generation raised on hip-hop are changing various aspects of the music business.

You’ve managed to make a successful career out of your passions, which is a fairly rare achievement – do you have any advice to help other people in acheiving this?
The easy, cheap answer is “just do it” but I’ve been incredibly fortunate because I managed to carve out an academic career that’s allowed me to pursue my interests as part of the job itself. I’ve never been in a position where I felt like I had to choose between different options; I realize that’s a privilege that not everyone is able to enjoy.

Hip Hop DJ Cut Chemist
O-Dub’s Number One: Cut Chemist

How did you get into writing for the magazines?
By 1994, I was starting out as a freelance writer and Jeff Chang gave me my first opportunity to write about music, specifically, when he linked me up with T-Love who, at the time, was helping to edit the hip-hop 12” review section at URB Magazine. I think I started writing for them around 1995 and sometime around ’95, ’96, I began writing for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Those two places – URB and the Bay Guardian – are where I basically cut my teeth as a music writer before I expanded into all manners of other publications by the end of the ‘90s

This book ties in your interests in hip hop and sociology – are there any other pieces of your work where you have been able to tie in the two things so well?
I should begin by saying: to me, Legions of Boom isn’t about hip-hop. I even include a footnote that explicitly states that. Hip-hop enters into the story but only by the latter half of the overall scene’s history. For most of the early, pioneering crews, hip-hop was a genre they spun but it wasn’t how they identified. I think people tend to assume that the book is about hip-hop because it’s about DJs and our public imagination today associates the two almost interchangeably. But I try to make it clear: these are parallel stories that, at times, intersect, but by and large, the history of the mobile DJs is unique unto itself rather than serving as a a subset or facet of hip-hop’s own remarkable history.

To get back to your question: I’d say one of the pieces that does the best at applying a similar kind of methodology was something I wrote a few years back about retro-soul music and how labels and artists developed its audience, which many perceive as being predominantly white. Rather than chalking that up to something as amorphous as “audience taste,” I researched how the music itself is marketed via a series of institutional decisions that are more likely to put it in front of white vs. black audiences. I’m not suggesting there aren’t other things at play (and I talk about some of the alternate theories out there) but as a sociologist, I like trying to probe the structure of cultural phenomena and how human decision-making plays a role in how we, as audience members, experience particular phenomena. It’s published in the anthologyPop When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow of Doubt (

Read more about Oliver’s work or get in touch with him through the following outlets:

You can pick up Legions Of Boom on Gift Rap Here

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Celebrities Representing Hip Hop

celebrities representing hip hop

Actors are born entertainers.  As are rappers, DJs and B-Boys.  And sometimes people walk a different path before settling on what they really love.  And so here are some of the celebrities who have represented hip hop culture in some way or another, on a journey to fame.


Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood has had a very successful career in film and television, but has had music and vinyl as a passion alongside his career.  Now, along with his partner Zach Cowie, they are Wooden Wisdom, a dj partnership covering soul, hip hop, disco, nu wave, afrobeat and everything inbetween.  With mixes now starting to surface, they appear to be a revelation.  Check their Soundcloud for further evidence.


MistajamMinty The Chef Mistajam

This is more a case of a musician doing some TV to make some extra cheddar rather than being part of a career  trajectory.  BBC 1xtra’s Mistajam played Minty The Chef in ITV’s 2001 remake of Crossroads.  Needs must, and it’s done no damage to his career – with shows on 1xtra and a healthy gig calender, I remember being blown away by his warm up set for Nas at Glastonbury a couple of years back.
Scott Caan

Way back before the days appearing in films like Oceans Eleven and Gone In 60 Seconds, Sonny Corleone’s son was in a group with one of the biggest names in present day hip hop.  Whooliganz was an LA rap group featuring Scott aka Mad Skillz and Alan Maman fka Mudfoot and now known more familiarly as producer The Alchemist.   They did enough to impress Cypress Hill’s B-Real to the point that he invited them to join the Soul Assassins collective.  Unfortunately however, following the limited radio support of their debut single, Tommy Boy shelved their album.


Brian Austin Green

Back in ‘96 when Beverly Hills 90210’s shining light was starting to fade, lead actor Brian (Austin) Green released a hip hop album, One Stop Carnival.  Produced by Slimkid 3 from The Pharcyde, you can’t front on the beats.  Lyrically, it’s not the strongest material out of LA in the 90s and it was badly received both commercially and critically.  Based on the beats alone, I’m not angry at it though…


Tom Green

Back before he was a chat show host and comedian, Tom Green was rooted in hip hop in his native Canada. His group Organized Rhyme was nominated for the 1993 Juno award for best rap recording, and won the Muchvibe best rap video award in 1992.   Throughout his career he’s kept in touch with rap, releasing another album in 1998, and freestyling on his chat show like so:


Honourable mentions for the B-boys:

Vin Diesel:

Alfonso Ribeiro:

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Instrumental hip hop albums to listen to at work

instrumental hip hop to listen to at work

We all like hip hop – you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t – but in the office or on the shop floor it can be hard to find many albums with no controversial language whatsoever.  So here’s a selection of instrumental hip hop albums to listen to at work THAT AREN’T DILLA BEAT TAPES – they still won’t melt your Jansport though….


Urbs & Cutex – Breaks Of Dawn (BUY LINK)

I first stumbled upon this when it was heavily reduced in the local record shop so I thought I’d take a punt.  This was one of the first records I bought in my DJing infancy, and has been on heavy rotation since.  Borrowing a lot from Tribe Called Quest (including the artwork) and Beatminerz, this is full of rich filtered bass with boom bap drums and jazz samples.


The Stuyvesants – The Finer Things Vol. 2 (Algorythmusic)

Brooklyn duo The Stuyvesants started off as a project between a record digger and a producer, and developed a very soulful sound through their array of beat tapes, coming to my attention after they produced a track for Jaden Smith.  Any of their beat tapes would have worked on this, but Finer Things Vol. 2 has the strongest soul sound for me.

RJD2 – In Rare Form (The Unreleased Instrumentals) (BUY LINK)

Seen as a natural successor to DJ Shadow based on his Deadringer album, RJD2 never quite managed to produce another project of the same critical success or popularity.  However, In Rare Form contains hip hop instrumentals from the period up to the release of his second solo album, which expand on/reinforce, the sound which won him the plaudits of many.

Dug Infinite & No ID – The Sampler Vol. 1

Chicago legends Dug Infinite & No ID are probably most well known for a) teaching a young Kanye West the nuances of hip hop production, and b) producing the majority of Common (Sense)’s early work.  This joint album, however, celebrates the two producers in their own right rather than as side men for others.  Bringing a very MPC jazz choppy style, this is one for fans of DJ Premier, Beatnuts, and DITC.



Thes One – Lifestyle Marketing

People Under The Stairs production whizz Thes One presents a project which is remixing and flipping the commercial jingles of composer/engineer Herb Pilhofer into instrumental hip hop beats.  Whilst it doesn’t have as much repeat play appeal, there are some great bits of production on this, and it wouldn’t go amiss on a sunny day in the office.


There are plenty of bits to choose from out of the collections of Dilla, Madlib, DOOM, Flylo and others, but this is just to give some alternatives from the obvious choices.  Hopefully there are some bits you may have not been up on,  and I know a lot of others were missed (9th Wonder, Apollo Brown, Mr Dibia$e, Ayatollah etc) – leave any suggestions in the comments!

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