Oliver Wang

Oliver Wang is a music writer, scholar, and DJ based in California. Since 1994, he's written on popular music, culture, race, and America for outlets such as NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, Scratch, The Village Voice, SF Bay Guardian, and LA Weekly.

Wang begins work as an assistant professor in sociology at Long Beach State this fall; He also hosts the renowned audioblog soul-sides.com. For more information, visit o-dub.com.

At some point in the 1960s, steel drum (a.k.a. pan) music became the Caribbean equivalent of cheesy Vegas lounge tunes: something only an ill-dressed tourist might fancy during a cruise ship port o' call. And true, there's probably a thousand bad pan covers of "Yellow Bird" out there, but the tradition is unfairly maligned.

The names James Brown and Apollo Theater have practically become synonymous; it's hard to think of one without the other. Beginning in 1963, Brown released three albums recorded there. But there was a fourth — recordings from Sept. 13 and 14, 1972 — that has been buried ever since. Now, Get Down with James Brown: Live At The Apollo Vol. 4 is finally out on vinyl, with a CD to follow this summer.

In the mid-1980s, Schyl Perry toiled as mortgage broker in a Bay Area real estate market that was still a generation away from going stratospheric. His million dollar dreams were less concerned with amortization tables and more obsessed with analog synthesizers as Perry built a small studio in his North Oakland garage. In 1987, Perry unleashed what he hoped would be his magnum opus, Million Dollar Ecstacy [sic], an album that 's best described as an outsider boogie funk new wave disco fusion project. Or something like that.

With its doo-wop harmonies and slow-grind rhythms, Charles Bradley's "Things We Do For Love," has the surprise charm of an overlooked jukebox ditty you used to save your extra change for. Bradley (a.k.a. "the Screaming Eagle of Soul") is usually known for his fiery funk sides and jagged, heart-rendering ballads, but with "Things We Do," his vocals are more restrained, easing into the pocket of the groove rather than thundering over it.

I'm not sure there's ever been a record release as confounding as the one for Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo. He's changed its title and track listing several times in as many weeks, and even up until the very moment I'm writing this, it's not 100 percent certain what will be on that final album, whenever and wherever it comes out.

When Kendrick Lamar released his major label debut in 2012, he vaulted onto pop's leaderboard as one of the best rappers of his generation. He wasn't just a skilled lyricist, but a vivid storyteller able to create scenes with vivid detail and intrigue.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In title and concept, the new tribute album Dionne Dionne is a great gimmick. But if you've followed the career of Dionne Farris, having her record an entire album of Dionne Warwick covers isn't an obvious move, names aside. It's an idea that took root some 20 years ago: Farris met guitarist Charlie Hunter while the two were on tour as members of hip-hop groups, she with Arrested Development and he with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

Under most circumstances, the release of a new Mobb Deep album would be notable in and of itself. This veteran rap duo from Queens had a short-lived but very public falling out in 2012, casting any future collaborations into question; as it is, their new The Infamous Mobb Deep is the group's first joint project in eight years which, in rap years, might as well be eighteen years.

About 10 years ago, a disgruntled pianist in Los Angeles named John Wood began a popular bumper sticker campaign with the slogan, "Drum Machines Have No Soul." Not everyone was convinced, including producer Eric Sadler.

"Drum machines don't run themselves," Sadler says. "It's the people who put into the drum machines that give the drum machines soul, to me. I've definitely given some drum machines some soul."

This isn't the first time Shuggie Otis' masterpiece, Inspiration Information, has been reissued — but that's OK. It's an album that absolutely deserves to be rediscovered every decade or so.

The very first notes on Laura Mvula's new album feel like a powerful invocation. You're not sure for what, but the moment is awesome — with an emphasis on awe.

It's tempting to describe the voices of Charles Bradley and