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Podcasts. Everyone is either listening to, making, or evangelising about their favourite one. They range from cute to challenging; informative to inspiring; educational to escapist. The best ones might do the lot. With so many voices in the space vying for your attention, it can feel overwhelming. That’s where we come in, with a curated selection of the finest listening material for your ears and brains.

Dissect, by Cole Cuchna, is our first recommendation. Dissect is a serialised music podcast, picking one contemporary album per season and analysing one song per episode measure by measure, word by word. The anatomy of an album. Cuchna orients the series as existing within “a world creating and accessing more content than ever before... a scrolling culture, hurriedly swiping through this infinite swath of content that seems to replenish without end.” Dissect was created with a mind to counter this cultural shift.

While it hasn’t yet received the same level of cultural ubiquity as the now infamous Serial podcast series, Dissect is nevertheless acclaimed. Featured in the iTunes Best of 2016 Podcast List, named Best Podcast of 2017 according to Quartz, appearing in Time Magazine’s and The Guardian’s Best Podcasts of 2018 lists and topping the New York Times’ Best of 2018 list, Dissect has certainly earned your attention.

Music nerd

From humble beginnings in 2016 as a self professed music nerd’s passion project, recorded late in the evening after a full day of work and once his wife and newborn daughter had gone to sleep, Dissect has fulfilled a niche for lovers of music, lyricism, poetry and cultural anthropology. Over its life, Dissect has illuminated the artistry and cultural impact of contemporary musical masterworks including To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, Blonde and Channel Orange by Frank Ocean, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Ms. Lauryn Hill, and most recently Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator.

In interviews, Cuchna has estimated that he spends around 20 hours on each 30-something minute episode, meticulously researching artist biographies, influences, past interviews, and deconstructing lyrics and musical production techniques. Cuchna has described the format of this niche undertaking as modelled off The Great Courses university standard audio and video lecture series. In an interview with The Fader magazine, Cuchna makes the case for placing recent great works on par with the great works of history; Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. “What I’m trying to do with Dissect is reframe people that we don’t think about on that level yet,” he said.

“I’m trying to fast forward that historical process . . . here’s my best guess at what albums are going to stand the test of time, and why they’re going to stand the test of time”.

I also think hip hop and urban music in general is not seen as a form of high art.

Hip hop insight

Cuchna has a degree in Music Composition and Theory from California State University and uses his considerable knowledge of music, and personal passion for contemporary music to infuse his analysis with depth, accuracy and most of all, accessibility. Unpacking these great hip hop records (and they are all hip hop records so far) with college lecture authority and insightfulness, Cuchna makes a case for the contemporary sounds of hip hop to finally receive serious academic spotlight and acclaim.

In the same Fader interview, Cuchna reflects that “I also think hip hop and urban music in general is not seen as a form of high art. Like to our parents or something. And me basically applying the same analytical skills that I would to a Beethoven symphony to To Pimp a Butterfly is me showing the merit of hip hop in general, on the same level as symphonic works”.

The musical landscape has shifted, and hip hop has risen to surpass rock as the world’s most popular musical genre, and its stylistic influences are ubiquitous. In 2018, Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music, indeed he was the first musician from outside the classical or jazz worlds to win the award.

Recognising the artistic brilliance of his work, the judges of the award described his 2017 album DAMN as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

The idea of culturally relevant teaching, “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings 2009) has been widely accepted in educational discourse but is often put into practice infrequently or improperly. When properly deployed, hip hop literature can be “a powerful tool for helping students to develop skills in critical analysis… recognis(ing) their power as creative, poetic, valuable, instructional, and cultural texts, worthy of academic study.” (Kelly 2013)

Even if you’re not a ‘hip hop head’, Cuchna’s deep analysis including musical theory, artist’s perspective context and critical input will appeal to teachers, students and music nerds alike. It’s worth a listen.

Angus Hoy Online journalist IEUA NSW/ACT Branch


Kelly, L. 2013 ‘Hip-hop literature: The politics, poetics, and power of hip-hop in the English classroom’ The English Journal, vol. 102 iss. 5, pg.51-56

Ladson-Billings, G. 2009 ‘The dream-keepers: Successful teachers of African American children’ p.20

‘I think about Beethoven like I would think about Beethoven’ 2018, The Fader, 19 June, viewed 6 August 2019, .

Stutz, C. 2018 ‘Spotlight: ‘Dissect’ podcast host Cole Cuchna on what he’s learned studying Kanye, Kendrick & Frank Ocean’, Billboard, 18 May, viewed 6 August 2019,