Oliver Wang, aka O-Dub, a well-regarded writer (and the mind behind soul-sides.com) took time from his activities to answer questions about his varied output. Aside from freelancing for esteemed publications, Wang also teaches courses at Long Beach State University, curates exceptional music compilations, DJs when called upon and, probably most importantly, is also a daddy. As busy as he may seem, he was kind enough to humor us here at NERDTORIOUS— a site that is admittedly indebted to O-Dub for the precedent he’s set and the advice he’s given.
Below is a short Q&A where O-Dub gives advice to aspiring writers, explains the historical cultural significance of Boogaloo, talks about his Bay Area roots, and responds to other random queries. Thanks for your time, kind sir.
What would you tell aspiring writers who want to get published in music publications, blogs, journals and the like?
Find a new line of work! Abandon ship! Ok, seriously…the advice I’ve always given is that start by asking. People don’t realize how relatively easy it can be to get a foot in the door simply by asking. Obviously, you also have to deliver – meet your deadlines, turn in good copy, be flexible (the last is key, especially when freelancing). What you ideally want to do is show yourself to be – at the very least – competent and dependable. Most editors would kill to have someone be at least one of those things. Be both and you’re golden in most editors’ eyes. The reason: at the end of the day, editors have pages to fill and even if you aren’t the next coming of Lester Bangs or Greil Marcus, if you can meet deadlines and turn in solid copy, that’s someone they can depend on. It’s those relationships that can help you build toward steady work (as well as bigger/better opportunities).
Wax Poetics is a well-known publication that you’ve been involved in. How did that occur?
I knew some of the guys who helped start it and was very excited by what they were trying to do and wanted to get involved. I had already been writing on the kind of topics the magazine focused on as well.
As someone who runs a well-known music blog long before they were ubiquitous: do you see any negatives to the amount of music blogs currently? What are the positives you see?
I think like anything that’s unregulated, there’s a lack of quality control and an abundance of sites that are so thick that all those voices can merge into static. That’s not unique to music blogging of course – one could say that’s modern media across the board. That said, I think it’s amazing how people have stepped up and embraced the possibilities. The kind of discussion and sharing of music in a public space is really unprecedented. The Internet has turned into an Encyclopedia Galactica for music content in ways that I doubt anyone could have foreseen 20 years ago.
Talk about an interview(s) you’ve conducted that were extremely meaningful to you?
Over the last two years, I’ve been interviewing Latin soul singer and bandleader Joe Bataan quite a bit. It began with a SF Bay Guardian story, then a Wax Poetics cover feature but I continue to find new excuses to talk to him, especially as I deepen my nascent knowledge base around Latin music. To me, he’s a living legend – ahead of his time with boogaloo, salsa and even hip-hop. And as a performer, he’s still got it; just an amazing voice and presence.
As a knowledgeable authority on boogaloo, and a purveyor of it: what has the audience’s reaction been to boogaloo been like when you play it out? What about boogaloo’s context do you think makes it so unique in terms of its cultural narrative?
In general, boogaloo goes over great – it’s a very easy dance rhythm to get into. It doesn’t require you to master salsa steps or anything like that and many boogaloos have English lyrics which helps broaden its appeal to non-Spanish speakers.
As for the music’s cultural history, it’s a surprisingly underappreciated as this important bridge between New York’s Latin and African American communities. In many ways, it predicts the emergence of hip-hop a generation later – both were lead by young, NY teenagers trying to come up with a new style that they could leapfrog their elders with.
What are you currently listening to right now?
Everything from Alton Ellis covering Jr. Walker to an alternative version of Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band’s “Express Yourself.”
How often to you put together mixtapes?
It’s been a minute, only because I’ve been incredibly busy elsewhere but I have a few weeks off from school this summer and I want to use it to knock out at least 2-3 mixtapes, fingers crossed.
Talk about your connection to the Bay Area, for those that don’t know.
I lived in the Bay Area from 1990 through 2006, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere. I didn’t exactly grow up there (that’d be Boston + Southern California) but it’s where I grew up as an adult certainly and everything from my writing to DJing to academic careers began there so I have nothing but love for that experience. Plus, it has my favorite record store in the world: Groove Merchant. That’s reason enough.
Are there currently considerations for a Soul-Sides vol. 3 comp? Or are you considering organizing any another projects?
If a Vol. 3 comp happens, it will probably be in the form of a self-made mixtape rather than an official release, mostly because the music market is just tough for official commercial releases. A Vol 3 on my own won’t sell as much, of course, but in some ways, having full creative control is its own reward too.
Take us through a typical day for you.
Ha – it’s pretty conventional. I’m usually woken up by 6:30 by my 3-year-old daughter. Either me or my wife get her dressed and fed and ready for school. If it’s a day I’m teaching, I’m off to campus by 8am (parking at Long Beach fills up by 9, so it pays to be on time and early). If I’m not teaching, I’ll usually either work from home or go to a cafe and try to get writing done (professional, not blogging, per se). In the afternoons, I’m usually the one who picks up my daughter so I bring her home, have dinner, get her ready for bed. By that time, it’s usually around 9pm and if I’m feeling really productive, I’ll put in 1-2 hours of music-related work, including blogging, but many evenings, me and my wife just want to chill – watch some TV, read some, etc. – and whatever blogging time I have left, comes very late at night, 11pm or even after midnight.
I had a lot more time to focus on “outside” projects before I was a dad, but hey, that’s what comes with the territory. Maybe once my daughter is old enough, I can put her to work helping me by digitizing my vinyl or something, ha.
You’re an assistant professor of Sociology. Do you ever get to incorporate hip-hop (or your interest of music) into your classrooms? Do you have students that go on Soul-Sides?
I always have one or two students who mention they’ve discovered my blogs but I don’t advertise it to class. It’s not something I actively hide but at the end of the day, I want my students to respect what I do as a teacher and scholar rather than assign me cool points because I know how to mix or have a record collection larger than their MP3 libraries.
I teach the sociology of popular culture, as well as race/ethnicity, so hip-hop definitely fits into my curriculum at times though I try not to use hip-hop as some kind of universal cipher to apply to every topic we discuss. I do discuss music when appropriate, especially since I think making and listening to music are incredibly formative in how we create identities and communities.
One of these days, I may try to teach an entire semester-long course on hip-hop but I’ve never had a huge compulsion to do so. As I was just alluding to, I think hip-hop can be a useful window to look at the social world, but it’s only one of many.
Now an entire class on boogaloo? Heh heh heh.
***For more info on Oliver Wang and his work, visit his “Ozone” at www.o-dub.com for his thoughts and findings on music, culture and politics, cinema, and much more.