Dissect podcast is a beautiful construction of musically analyzing some of the most prolific hip-hop albums in the last decade. Cole Cuchna has created a podcast that merges hip-hop heads and music nerds together as he breaks down every song from selective albums from a musical theory standpoint, the artist’s perspective and critical input. Debuted in 2017, the first season its focus was on Kendrick Lamar’s captivating sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly and in the second season, Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Last week, Cuchna announced his partnership with streaming service Spotify and the topic of season three is Frank Ocean.
We spoke with the creator of the phenomenal podcast about why he decided to pick Frank Ocean’s discography as his focus point, why hip-hop deserves an academic spotlight, and who’s in his top five.
This season is a little different from the previous, Frank Ocean is the subject. How did you decide, he was going to be your muse for this season?
He was always at the top of the list. His music is incredible and he was also very popular among Dissect listeners. The decision was more about what album I would choose: Channel Orange or Blonde. In the end, I decided on a hybrid, which is a bit of a change for the Dissect and should be a fun shake up of the show’s structure.
You decided to divide this season into covering Channel Orange in a miniseries and then an entire season to Blonde, what impressed you so much with his catalog that you needed to investigate the cultural and social implication of Frank’s music?
Both albums are incredible and while I initially decided on Blonde, once I started digging deep into Channel Orange I knew I couldn’t do it justice in just one episode. Even six is cutting it short in my book. But to understand Blonde, I feel like you have to have a good understanding of CO because the evolution of his sound between the albums is pretty remarkable. Plus CO was what created the anticipation of Blonde, which is inseparable from the album itself. The release and build up of Blonde was such a cultural moment -- a moment not possible without the success and general appreciation of CO.
With a degree in Music Composition and Theory from California State University in Sacramento, you have clearly used your immense knowledge of music into the podcast; did you ever worry that you could get too technical for the average music fan to understand?
Yeah, definitely. I didn’t do much theoretical analysis in Season 1 for just that reason. I worked it in early to Season 2, just to see how listener feedback would be. Turns out those theoretical segments got the most positive feedback so I worked it in more and more. I hope I explain it in a way that’s accessible to all. That’s my intent. I pretend I’m explaining it to my mom. She’s not musically inclined but she’s smart and interested, which I feel like is the case with a lot of Dissect listeners. Music isn’t hard to understand if it’s explained correctly.
I believe you have a classical background; it’s interesting that you’d pick Hip-hop as your main focus and clearly you love the genre, where did your love for hip-hop come from?
Well, I listened to hip-hop and contemporary music most of my life starting when I was 12 or so. I didn’t study classical music until I went to college in my mid-twenties. One reason I started Dissect was to bridge those two worlds together, so I applied classical music analysis to contemporary music. I chose hip-hop specifically because I feel it’s generally overlooked academically and artistically speaking. I want to help prove and validate its merits as an art form.
Can you briefly explain the process that goes into creating this podcast?
Lots of research! I research the artist as much as possible before starting the season so I feel like I know the overall narrative of the artist. Then it’s just about studying the lyric sheet and listening over and over. I write a script, which takes about 15-20 hours per episode, then record, edit, mix. It’s a lot of hard work, but I have a system so the process is pretty standardized now
How long does it take to create a full season? And was there ever a time where it got too difficult and you wanted to give up on the entire show?
Hard to say how many hours, but it took about two weeks on average for every episode during Seasons 1 and 2 because I was also working full time. Season 1 was 22 episodes so it took something like 44 weeks plus preliminary research. It’s always the most difficult toward the end. I don’t give up easily so that wasn’t really ever a consideration. But this season I’m producing Dissect full time so it’s likely not going to be as exhausting as seasons past.
Out of each album you have covered, what’s the most surprising fact you’ve learned?
To Pimp A Butterfly: I would say how the history of Compton is really embodied in Kendrick’s life and story. He represents an entire community, which is told so eloquently through his music.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: The album in many ways is pretty tragic when you get down to it. Despite its external bombast, Kanye’s struggles at the time really come through. I didn’t realize that until I really dug deep and paid close attention to the lyric sheet.
Channel Orange: That Frank wrote the album in two weeks! Wow.
Blonde: Not sure - I’m just digging into the album now (I produce the show as I go). Ask me in a few months!
Will you ever cover a female lead album?
Who are your top five favorite rappers of all-time?
Hm….the impossible question. I’ll go non-traditional and list a few that don’t often get mentioned in this conversation. In no particular order: