Rap and hip-hop music have been through a lot in American culture. They have been dragged through the mud and they’ve also been given awards. In high school, I had an English professor include Tupac in our poetry unit and it made a lasting impact. The music I listened to, even the stuff my parents weren’t always crazy about, had real literary merit.
In my adult life, nothing has driven that point home more than the Dissect podcast on Spotify. Host Cole Cuchna takes listeners on a journey through many of the biggest rap, hip-hop and R&B albums in music, often going week-by-week through an album, with each episode analyzing – or, dissecting – one song.
He has seasons that look at some of the biggest titles from Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Childish Gambino, and of course, the Pulitzer Prize-winner himself, Kendrick Lamar. Listening to Dissect brings that feeling of an English teacher considering Tupac one of the great poets back, and warms my soul a bit. It’s refreshing to hear genres of music so often blamed for leading kids astray and promoting a delinquent lifestyle instead taken seriously for what it is: an intense artistic outlet, painstakingly poured over to provide both poetic lyrics and incredible production value.
And it’s so much more than just a line-by-line analysis. I’ve been listening to the season dedicated to the music of Frank Ocean lately, and Cuchna spends about 20 minutes analyzing a harmonic section in the song “Solo” where Ocean hums and vocalizes without saying any words, and it was really worthwhile. The Dissect pod looked at why such a section could be so emotionally resonant, diving deep on the concept of frisson, or aesthetic chills, the concept of being moved to a positive state due to your reaction to art.
Sometimes the episodes are dense and sometimes they are a little breezier, but Cuchna always finds something interesting to talk about. Fans of rap and hip-hop should definitely give the Dissect podcast a listen, but I’d say some naysayers should give it a shot, too. It may just help explain why rap, hip hop and R&B mean so much to so many of us.
Dissect is now streaming on Spotify.
I’m Evan Rook.