The Casties: Quartz’s awards for the best podcasts of 2017

The Casties in your ear.
The Casties in your ear.
Image: Elan Kiderman
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It’s 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night and I’m doing laps around my block, smoking a cigarette, listening hard. The feral cats are comfortable approaching me by now. I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m crazy. I’ve stopped reading books or watching TV, and I’ve spent the hours between 6 pm and 12am pacing the lightless streets of Oakland. I’m in charge of the Quartz awards for best podcasts of 2017. And I’m listening to every damn one.

Maybe this wasn’t necessary, but I’m a completist who can’t bear the idea of having missed something amazing. Also, there are more great podcasts today than any one person can possible keep up with. Even if you’re a dedicated narrative-audiophile, you likely overlooked one or two (or 10) excellent shows in 2017.

After listening to audio episodes about everything from Afrofuturism to McDonald’s french fries, I can say that podcasting has been a diligent student; it’s taken and developed its own essential character out of some of the best aspects of radio, feature reporting, newspapers, and television. Thankfully, it’s also become a platform that is far more diverse than any of its influences, available and welcoming to a range of voices that extend well beyond traditional media.

With the help of some of my colleagues at Quartz, I’ve compiled a list of the best shows and individual episodes that aired the past year. We considered any show with new, original episodes that aired in 2017—whether the podcast itself was new, or a veteran of the airwaves. Here are the 2017 Quartz Casties:

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Best podcast episodes, by category, in 2017

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💸 Best business/economics episode

Podcast: Planet Money

Episode: “We’re Going to Space

Commerce is pretty straightforward: a buyer does some research to select a product and supplier, money is then exchanged, and the product is delivered. It’d be easy to think that buying and launching a satellite would be more complex than that, but as Planet Money shows in its trademark slightly-too-excited style, the space business has flourished to an extent where buying off-the-rack is now not only possible, but relatively mundane. The multi-part episode (ok, we’re cheating a little on the “episode” category) brings you around the world to show you exactly what it takes to launch your own satellite, from building the orbiter to selecting a rocket and lighting it up. — David Yanofsky

🎨 Best culture episode

Podcast: This American Life

Episode: “We Are in the Future

Afrofuturism has been described as a porous concept that’s both a philosophy and an aesthetic form. Its music, novels, and fashion involve aspects of science fiction—a genre in which black people have long been absent—and incorporates magical realism and African history. Rather than lay out academic definitions of Afrofuturism and its time-traveling, narrative-bending promise, however, TAL producer Neil Drumming allows listeners to experience it vicariously. We meet a woman running for mayor of Detroit on an Afrofuturist platform, and hear the bone-chilling account of writer Azie Dungey’s summer acting as  Caroline Branham, a slave owned by George Washington, in a living museum in Virginia. The entire third act is an Afrofuturist song, “The Deep,” by the hip-hop group Clipping, commissioned by TAL, and based on a recently invented mythology about black, pregnant women thrown overboard from slave ships, whose babies survived, asleep in the ocean depths, until awoken by seismic air cannons. In the final part of the episode, Drumming deconstructs two online videos featuring black teenage boys walking home from school, a time and place where they’re supposed to—but do not—feel free and safe. Afrofuturism, Drumming says near the top of the show, reminds him of what he loves about being black, saying, “You know, we can get through this.” By the end of the podcast, that note of hopefulness is more deeply felt and richer with complexities. Lila MacLellan

⌛️ Best history episode

Podcast: Hardcore History

Episode: “The Destroyer of Worlds

If you were born or became conscious after the fall of the Soviet Union, you need to listen to this episode of Hardcore History. It’s ostensibly about the Cuban missile crisis, but Dan Carlin, the non-academic history podcaster with a cult following, characteristically takes his time getting there. It’s a “quick” six-hour episode, and you won’t get to the crisis until something like hour four. First Carlin has to set the stage by describing  the US and Soviet leaders who preceded JFK, to help us understand why it was so significant to have that specific person, a wealthy playboy, a civilian leader, in charge of so much nuclear power. Carlin describes the Cold War nuclear-arms race  as “4D chess,” and characterizes life in that time as barely maintaining balance while walking the precipice of all-out destruction. It’s fascinating context on something that less than one generation ago was the predominant fear for Americans. And after listening, you’ll see Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un’s posturing in a new light. Thu-Huong Ha

🍻 Best interview episode

Podcast: Pod Save America

Episode: “Obama’s Last Interview

Many on the American left have lauded Pod Save America and its siblings in the Crooked Media family as a bold progressive response to the rise in influence of conservative talk radio in the past decade. The show, originally known as Keepin’ it 1600 and hosted by The Ringer, was founded in 2016 by a group of ex-Obama administration staffers, Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor. So it’s no surprise that they were able to land Obama’s last media interview as US president. What’s maybe a bit more surprising is how at ease Barack sounds in the company of his former colleagues. He starts off the interview ribbing the political-operatives-turned-podcasters, exclaiming, “I can’t believe anyone listens to you!” The discussion remains relaxed, which allows Obama to open up in ways he never had before in a public interview. — Elijah Wolfson

⚖ Best law & institutions episode

Podcast: More Perfect

Episode: “Sex Appeal

In the good old days, federal appointees to court benches tended to have years of litigation experience behind them. Long before she was the Notorious RBG, for example, Ruth Ginsburg was an ACLU lawyer who got her hands dirty in some of the most important gender-rights cases in US history. In “Sex Appeal,” More Perfect—a spinoff of Radiolab that has Jad Abumrad’s trademark baroque editing—showcases Ginsburg’s legal acumen, telling the story of how she brought cases where men were the victims in order to convince the courts that gender equality required their intervention. Somehow, Ginsburg’s fight for women’s rights turns on a case where Oklahoma frat boys were denied the right to buy beer, a right granted to their female undergrad counterparts. It’s a fascinating window into how the legal sausage gets made in the US, and into the unique mind of the irrepressible woman who would go on to become only the second female Supreme Court justice, and one of the most important players in recent legal history. — Elijah Wolfson

🏛 Best politics episode

Podcast: This American Life

Episode: “White Haze

In 2017, politics dominated conversation at offices, classrooms, bars, and dinner tables across the US like they hadn’t in decades. It’s no surprise that public radio’s most august show, which has been exploring American offices, classrooms, bars, and dinner tables for over 20 years, also broke political this past year. An unusual number of This American Life episodes in 2017 were about US politics, and included some of the podcast’s best work of the year. “White Haze,” about a a liberal, black man who unwittingly helped Gavin McInnes establish and propagate the “Proud Boys,” a far-right “men’s group” that has since become one of loudest voices in the racist, nationalist movement in the US. The news these days can feel like an onslaught; TAL’s approach humanizes the issues and works as a sort of balm for the emotional fatigue of following politics in 2017. — Elijah Wolfson

🔬 Best science episode

Podcast: Revisionist History

Episode: McDonald’s Broke My Heart

Journalist Malcolm Gladwell thinks the McDonald’s french fries sold today are but pale, limp imitations of the golden fries he grew up eating. In this episode, he tries to find out why McDonald’s would dare to change the recipe. The episode is part history, kicking off with a chronology of events that explains how a Nebraskan magnate’s heart attack wound up leading one of the world’s biggest fast-food chains to make a change that deprived a generation of french fries as they’re meant to be. But Gladwell’s ode to the original McDonald’s french fry is really about science. At the core of this episode is a visit to the food science lab, where Gladwell learns why exactly the old fries tasted so much better—and why the change may have been in service of misguided health science. — W. Harry Fortuna

❤️ Best sex episode

Podcast: My Dad Wrote a Porno

Episode: “Vagina 101

A footnote episode to the funniest podcast of all time is devoted to a gleeful conversation about that oh-so-crucial but rarely discussed area of women’s bodies: the vagina. The usual focus of My Dad Wrote a Porno, as the name suggests, is to read out explicit and inadvertently funny erotica written by the father of one of the co-hosts. This episode takes a tangent to address another co-host’s many, many questions about the vagina. Can you tell them apart? Is there a physical sign of a female orgasm? It’s not sex ed and it’s far from perfectly informative, but the 25-minute discussion is quite delightful and shows why vaginas should be a topic of conversation far more frequently than they are now. Most importantly, though, it’s hilarious. — Olivia Goldhill

💬 Best roundtable episode

Podcast: Still Processing

Episode: “We Grieve Charlottesville

Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, the two hosts of “Still Processing,” are both culture writers. But the scope of their podcast—which they call their “confession booth”—is wide, taking on issues of race (both identify as people of color), gender and sexuality (both identify as queer), and politics, in addition to film, music, television, and fine art. “We Grieve Charlottesville” was an emergency episode—the podcast was on vacation in August when violence broke out over the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Virginia. As they try to make sense of the overt racism of the far-right protesters and resulting senseless violence in Charlottesville, Wortham (who went to college there) and Morris do an expert job of analyzing the events within the context of the long history of the South. The two hosts also fearlessly share their real feelings about what went down in Virginia and the current state of the country. It’s heartbreaking. — Elijah Wolfson

🏀 Best sports episode

Podcast: The Bill Simmons Podcast

Episode: The Kevin Durant Interviews

For the most part, sports podcasts remain stuck in orbit around the weight of sports-talk radio. The Ringer media outlet founded and run by Bill Simmons is one of a handful of outliers. Simmons’ own eponymous podcast can be hit or miss, but its highs are as high as any interview-based pod out there. In 2017, the apex was a series of refreshingly candid interviews with Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors. In conversation with Simmons, the NBA superstar offered insight on the business of professional sports, spoke movingly about his personal fears and regrets, and effectively sparred with Simmons over classic basketball debates. In a media landscape where athletes are trained from age 12 to respond to questions with platitudes, the Simmons-Durant conversations were a shock to the system. — Elijah Wolfson

🔌 Best technology episode

Podcast: Reply All

Episode: “Long Distance

By now, after the conclusion of its third season, Reply All has been canonicalized as one of The Podcasts You Should Listen To. However, it still is able to surprise, delight, and move listeners. The series’ two-part “Long Distance” episode displayed everything PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman can bring to the podcast medium. Nearly every one of us has gotten a phone call from someone claiming to be from the US government’s tax-collecting agency, or a major US bank chain, or some other vaguely threatening financial institution—but for some reason, the caller had a foreign accent and didn’t seem to know much about you. And nearly all of us simply hang up and forget it happened. Reply All, however, tracks the individuals and the organization behind one of these calls, all the way to Delhi, India. In the process, the show lays bare the complex relationships forced on individuals in far-flung, socio-economically disparate communities by late-stage capitalism. — Elijah Wolfson

😶 Best episode on the human condition

Podcast: Radiolab

Episode: “Oliver Sacks: A Journey from Where to Where

Radiolab’s hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have long acknowledged neurologist, historian, and author Oliver Sacks as a sort of patron saint of their podcast. Throughout his life, Sacks was a regular guest on Radiolab, and his inquisitive, exploratory, and literary approach to the sciences has been a huge influence on the show. In 2015, Sacks passed away at the age of 72. Two years later, Radiolab aired an episode that was a bit out of the ordinary. Instead of tackling an intriguing area of scientific understanding, “A Journey from Where to Where” took as its subject the end-of-life experience, seen through the eyes of one of the most incisive observers of our era. Almost entirely composed of recordings Sacks made in the last few months of his life as he and his partner navigated the difficult realities of a shrinking existence (along with selected readings of Sacks’ last few published works), the episode is a moving tribute to a person who meant the world to so many lovers of science and humanity. — Elijah Wolfson

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Best podcasts of 2017, by category

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💸 Best business/economics podcast

Winner: How I Built This

How did Chipotle get started? Lyft? Spanx? The answers are more compelling and strange than you expect. That is the premise of How I Built This, NPR’s terrific podcast on the journeys of entrepreneurs, hosted by Guy Raz. How I Built This stands out among interview podcasts for its beautiful editing. The discussions are cut down to their essence, and at crucial moments in the narrative, like when Rent the Runway’s Jenn Hyman describes the massive bump her company experienced after getting featured in a New York Times story, music swells. Capitalism never sounded so good. — Dan Kopf

🎨 Best culture podcast

Winner: Binge Mode: Game of Thrones

At this point in the year—with the last episode aired four months ago and the next season still entirely TBD—Game of Thrones feels like an artifact of a different time. By the time Season 8 does air, it’ll have been even longer—which means you’ll be in even greater need of Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion’s tour de force, “Binge Mode: Game of Thrones.” Binge Mode legitimately broke the “recap” genre; it’s so much more ambitious, well-researched, and well-produced that it’s like a 25-year-old playing basketball against a bunch of third-graders. Rubin and Concepcion combined a Talmudic attention to detail with the fervor of the acolytes of The Seven to the pod; each episode of Binge Mode is longer than the episode of GoT that it analyzes, but—I swear—equally, if not more, enjoyable. — Elijah Wolfson

⌛️ Best history podcast

Winner: Mogul: The Life and Times of Chris Lighty

Nas, Ja Rule, Missy Elliott, L.L. Cool J, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, Sean “Diddy” Combs. Odds are high you know all of these names, and there’s a pretty good chance you can sing along to most of their hits. You probably don’t know the name Chris Lighty. But you should—Lighty is music industry exec behind all of those superstars. In Mogul, Reggie Ossé takes us through the life and times of Lighty, who died in 2012. The one-season podcast series is addictive; Lighty was an erratic talent who seemed to have a knack for involving himself in all of the most exciting and important hip hop moments of the 1990s and 2000s. Ossé is the perfect guide to the Lighty story: he was born and raised in Brooklyn, and was an entertainment lawyer for Jay-Z and Capone-N-Noreaga, among others, before becoming managing editor of The Source and then starting his podcast career. Sadly, “Combat Jack” (as Ossé was known) passed away earlier this month, at the age of 53. — Elijah Wolfson

🍻 Best interview podcast

Winner: Fresh Air

There are no standout newcomers in this field, and there’s no reason to get cute. This year marked the 30th anniversary of Fresh Air, and Terry Gross remains a virtuoso, with unparalleled range. She seems equally comfortable wading through thorny contemporary geopolitics as she does debating, say, the merits of various French New Wave directors; she can banter raucously with comedians and then gently pull candid (and usually grateful) confessionals from the most reserved guests. Her preparatory diligence and humane touch combine to make for the most consistent interviews available on any medium. (N.b.: this doesn’t pertain to Gross’s Fresh Air co-hosts, who are in no way her equal.) — Elijah Wolfson

⚖ Best law & institutions podcast

Winner: Ear Hustle

San Quentin State Prison is one of the most famous penitentiaries in the world; it’s California’s oldest, holds the largest death row in the Western Hemisphere, and has been featured in countless songs, films, and TV shows. But you don’t know San Quentin—and you don’t know the American penal system—until you listen to Ear Hustle’s 2017 season, its first. Ear Hustle is created, hosted, and produced primarily by San Quentin inmates, and the intimacy that imparts is unparalleled. The podcast humanizes the incarcerated in a way no prison TV show or movie has even come near, and is by turns moving, infuriating, and hilarious. As inmate Earlonne Woods tells his non-incarcerated co-host Nigel Poor in the fourth episode, “You’ll never be able to wrap your mind around this, because you’re going home.” The exceptional work of Woods, and fellow San Quentin inmate and Ear Hustle creator Antwan Williams, get those on the outside as close as possible to understanding what it’s like inside. (For the nerds out there: the Magic: The Gathering/D&D crew is the one place in San Quentin where racial lines don’t exist.) — Elijah Wolfson

🏛 Best politics

Winner: The Global Politico

You couldn’t ask for a better guide to the new world order heralded by Trump’s “America First” doctrine than Susan B. Glasser. The former editor of Foreign Policy and longtime Washington Post foreign correspondent probes an impressive selection of top politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats, think-tankers, and journalists with a subtle, revelatory questioning style. Discussions range from the nitty gritty of Washington politics, to thoughtful historical insights, and foreign perspectives from the likes of Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, dissident Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, and exiled former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. A wide-ranging discussion of Putin, Trump, and the Cold War with outgoing Brookings Institute director Strobe Talbott is a particular delight. — Max de Haldevang

🔬 Best science podcast

Winner: Invisibilia

NPR’s podcast about the “invisible forces that control human behavior” went extra-meta this season, and it was fantastic. Invisibilia co-hosts Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel described the season’s theme as “The world you think you’re living in—it’s not real.” Throughout the year, they unveiled a few mind-boggling ways our confidence in our reality is mostly just a coping mechanism. One episode tries to answer the timely question “How is it that two people can look at the exact same thing and sees something different?” by traveling to a town in Minnesota bear country where half the residents see the bears as gentle friends, and while the other half see the animals as deadly menaces. The show also probes the notion that visualizing success might be enough to bring on success itself by going to North Port, Florida, where a principal resorted to widespread hypnosis of his students to make them dream bigger. Did they actually achieve more? You should probably listen to find out. — Zoë Schlanger

❤️ Best sex podcast

Podcast: Guys We F****d

Society is in dire need of more honesty about sex. On Guys We F****d, comedians Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher host unflinchingly frank and consistently hilarious discussions about sexuality, piercing the usual cloak of secrecy around such topics as anal sex, pubic hair, periods, fantasies, penis aesthetics—to name some of the less risqué subjects. The hosts interview people they’ve slept with, chat with other comedians, answer listener questions, and discuss topical sex-related issues in response to the news. It’s funny, but also a healthy antidote to the misogyny and shame that permeates so much of our conversations about sex.  — Olivia Goldhill

🏀 Best sports podcast

Winner: The Poscast

If you take your sports seriously, The Poscast might not be for you, because its hosts assuredly do not. The Poscast is less an analysis of games and transactions, and more of an overheard bar conversation between two extremely funny and erudite writers who know a heck of a lot about sports. Joe Posnanski, a decorated sports reporter and author, is joined weekly-ish by Michael Schur, a television producer (Parks and Recreation and The Good Place) who formerly authored a baseball blog, “Fire Joe Morgan,” under the pen name Ken Tremendous. The pair are united by a love of baseball, their bemusement of the human condition, and a shared hatred of the New York Yankees. The show is organized around set pieces—in which for example, they commiserate about the Yankees’ recent success, or in which Posnanski makes another futile attempt to lure Schur into following the Cleveland Browns. But those devices mostly serve to keep the pod from going completely off the rails. In a year when much of sports journalism felt like politics, and politics felt like pro wrestling, The Poscast is a low-calorie lark, a chance to catch up and BS with the smart friends you never knew you had. — Oliver Staley

📖 Best storytelling podcast

Winner: S-Town

In 2012, This American Life producer Brian Reed received an email from a man named John B. McLemore, alleging murder, corruption, and intrigue in his small hometown of Woodstock, Alabama. Reed traveled to Woodstock to interview this charismatic correspondent, and came back with one of the year’s most original and unexpectedly moving pieces of storytelling. Told in a seven-part series released all at once, S-Town unfolded as seductively as a Southern Gothic novel, with a gripping, can’t-stop-listening narrative energy unmatched since the first Serial podcast. — Corinne Purtill

🔌 Best technology podcast

Winner: The Butterfly Effect

If you’re looking for a show that reviews the latest consumer tech or breaks Silicon Valley news, this isn’t it. If, however, you are fascinated by the myriad ways technology is changing human culture and behavior, The Butterfly Effect should be on your listening shortlist. In a seven-part series, Jon Ronson, a long-time journalist (he’s most famous for his 2004 book The Men Who Stare at Goats), investigates economic, cultural, and public health impacts of one of the most important technological changes of the past 10 years: the rise of streaming pornography. It’s a subject easy to dismiss because of our cultural resistance to openly discussing sex, but Ronson shows why this is a mistake. The Butterfly Effect isn’t shocking because it’s about sex and porn; what is surprising is how moving it is to hear the stories of lives changed by a technology built to deliver pornography. — Elijah Wolfson

💬 Best roundtable podcast

Winner: Two Dope Queens

For half of every Two Dope Queens episode, comedians, actresses, and writers Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams do nothing but talk. No Supreme Court analysis, deep psychological research, or expert entrepreneurial hacks. Just two close friends—who happen to be deeply hilarious—honestly chatting about their work, relationships, sex lives, families, and perspectives as black women within all of these realms. Mixed in are absurd abbreviations, fantasies about Bono from U2, and bountiful rosé. Every episode makes me break into gut-wrenching laughter (even on the subway). After their catch-up, Robinson and Williams invite a guest comedian and celebrity interviewee onto the show, using humor to explore today’s most prescient racial, ethnic, religious, and gender-based issues. At once intelligent, self-effacing, playful, and informed, Robinson and Williams’ Two Dope Queens is the dopest educative entertainment. — Leah Fessler

😶 Best podcast on the human condition

Winner: The Hilarious World of Depression

In The Hilarious World of Depression, one of the funniest and most charming podcasts of the year, host John Moe sits down with comedians, journalists, and artists to talk about mental illness. Moe and his guests are at turns funny, observant, vulnerable, and honest about depression, in conversations that always come back to a reminder that depression isn’t something that you are—it’s something that you have. THWOD posits that depression can be managed, and that getting the help one needs to do that is one of the smartest and bravest things a person can do. “Don’t think of any form of mental health medical procedure as an admission of weakness. If your leg is broken, you put a splint on it. And nobody says, like, ‘Hey, pussy, what are you wearing that splint for?’” said Andy Richter in a January episode. “You broke your leg. You need help. And there’s nothing wrong with accepting help that you need that will keep you going.” — Corinne Purtill

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 Grand prizes for best podcast of 2017

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📽 Best podcast miniseries

Winner: The Heart, “No”

This spring, months before sexual harassment became mainstream news, Kaitlin Prest and the brilliant team at The Heart produced a four-episode series that probed the question of consent. The episodes are a chronological telling of Kaitlin’s own journey through the thicket of sexual becoming, beginning in her girlhood when she first learned to say “no” (and what happens when “no” is ignored). The series takes on coercion, power, desire, and Prest’s own evolving sexual selfhood. Each episode is brimming with honesty and the sort of intimate, thorny, unapologetic storytelling that has earned The Heart a cult-like following. The third episode in the series, “Answers,” is especially powerful. It includes an extremely candid conversation with Prest’s own father, and another with a former male friend who transgressed her boundaries in the past. The podcast included just a few minutes of each of those conversations, but in that short time, it captured a universe of feeling that underpins gendered sexual power dynamics, and which is often so difficult to explain outright. — Zoë Schlanger

👶 Best new podcast

Winner: The Daily

The New York Times’ The Daily was the podcast we needed in 2017. A typical episode centers on host Michael Barbaro interviewing New York Times reporters on the major issue of the day for about fifteen minutes, before ending with a brief roundup of other major news. That doesn’t sound especially novel, but Barbaro’s unpretentious curiosity, clarity, and humanity made The Daily a uniquely qualified guide for the current events of an especially tumultuous year. Rebecca Mead, in a paean to Barbaro in the New Yorker, aptly calls The Daily a “twenty-minute update murmured in your ear by a well-informed, sensitive, funny, modest friend.” Barbaro’s empathetic approach brings sanity to what feels like an increasingly irrational world, and we all leave more informed because of it. — Dan Kopf

🌟 Best podcast of 2017

Winner: Dissect

It’s entirely reasonable to be skeptical of Dissect. In its second season, the podcast spent about 11 hours breaking down every song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a seven-year-old album by Kanye West, the poster child for media overexposure. What more could be said about the album, and did it really need 640 minutes to say? But Dissect is special. Host and producer Cole Cuchna finds an astonishing variety of ways into Fantasy, bringing historical context, musicology, literary theory, philosophy, recent politics, fairytale, business and economics, hip-hop mythology, and more all into the conversation. There’s also something uniquely … podcast-y … about Dissect. Its structure wouldn’t work in a written piece, or as a TV show, or even as a radio show. It’s a fully auditory experience that is so immersive it really only works as on-demand audio.

Cuchna—who does everything himself—has said that he wants to bring more academic-style analysis to hip-hop, and Dissect proves how valuable that approach can be. As Quartz’s Dan Kopf wrote earlier this year, it is revelatory: after listening to Dissect’s second season (where Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are used to explain the power of “Runaway”), it’s hard to imagine that Fantasy won’t be part of the academic canon moving forward. That said, Cuchna is no ivory-tower isolationist. He ends the season by compelling his listeners to consume art more actively and with greater empathy; listener donations this season will go to Donda’s House, a non-profit named for Kanye’s mother that supports young aspiring artists in Chicago. After all, Cuchna points out, both Herbert Marcuse and Tupac agree: the purpose of art is to inspire empathy and action. — Elijah Wolfson

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ressgie Ossé was 48 years old at the time of his death. In fact, he was 53.