Oliver Wang's vinyl collection spans three walls of his converted garage. Arranged alphabetically and by genre, the jam-packed shelves leave just enough room for a desk chair and a turntable station. That we had entered his most intimate of spaces was clear. The variety of soul music, boogaloo, jazz and hip-hop traces a personal journey of his beginnings as a hip hop DJ to his present-day status as a music scholar and writer.
Oliver is an expert on all things that groove and is a contributor to such publications as Spin, The Source, NPR, the LA Times and is currently a faculty member at CSU Long Beach. As someone who can put words to his excellent taste in music, it's hard to say which is more valuable, his physical collection or his thoughts and revelations from twenty plus years of collecting.
Fortunately, he illuminated us on both subjects during our visit to his South Pasadena home. Shuffling through his top picks, Oliver said, "collecting records is about collecting the object in a way that transcends simply just the music, and understands that the record is many different things." Records are like time capsules, preserving the efforts of communities within cardboard cases and a grooved disks. When recalling his first encounter with the 7" of Sugar Billy Garner's "I Got Some" he made no mistake in using the phrase "in the flesh." Collectors see the stories behind the records, and recognize that they have personality all of their own.
Oliver's collection seemed to grow as he talked. After all, the time it would take to listen to each record is minuscule when compared to the biographies of each artist and label. But discovering lost tracks and the stories behind them is exactly what interests him, and for that we should all be grateful.
Keep up with Oliver's latest writings and tunes at o-dub.com and at soul-sides.com.
By Jonathan Shifflett