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.
I 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.
Last 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