A few years ago, a friend introduced me to William Onyeabor's infectiously feel-good early synth-funk song, “Fantastic Man.” I was equally intoxicated by the electric organ solos that seemed to go on a little too long and Onyeabor's elusive backstory: he emigrated from Nigeria to New York in the late 1970s, self-produced a series of recordings that influenced the burgeoning underground hip-hop scene, and later rejected music altogether to become a pastor in Nigeria. I searched used record store bins for one of his long-lost self-made pressings, grooved along to a low-definition MP3, and felt cool. A real, authentic cool—not like those hipsters a few chairs down from me in the...

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