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Hip Hop Podcasts, Ranked

Podcasts have absolutely exploded in the past 4 years, and for good reason. They're perfect for passing the time while performing menial tasks, like long distance travel, 3 hour cycling expeditions, and meeting your second cousins. It's arguably hip hop fans who have benefited the most from this new format, as it allows interviewers to spend 3+ hours with a guest asking questions and gathering stories that radio shows might not be interested in. 

But who is the best? N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN rule the roost with their Drink Champs podcast, which boasts millions of listeners and outstrips all competition in terms of numbers and popularity of guests. But there's a lot more to it than popularity. Joe Budden has his own podcast, personalities like Taxstone and Charlamagne Tha God both have platforms, and then there's hip hop heads like Shawn Setaro and Elliot Wilson who boast encyclopedic knowledge of their guests and aren't afraid to go deep into the history of an artist.

I've ranked them on simple criteria: how entertaining is it? Obviously bigger guests will provide more interest, but they're not always the best. Some of the podcasts rarely feature guests, and rely on current events to carry the conversation, which is fine too. But in the end, how quickly does that 60-180 minutes pass, and how much did you learn? Did you laugh along with them? Did the stories shock you? Did their conversation make you think, or change your viewpoint?

13. I'll Name This Podcast Later

The premise for this podcast is really appealing. Hip hop heads sit around and discuss whatever transpired in the previous week. Appealing, except for Joe Budden... His opinions are inflexible, he's incredibly defensive and short-sighted when it comes to his own talent and the moves he has made, he speaks as though he believes he's more intelligent than most others, and he has this weird laugh after defending himself. During the Drake beef he was all over the place, criticizing him one second then praising the next. His beef with Taxstone was interesting but difficult to palate. Maybe Joe should stick to spitting incredible bars.

12. Snoop Dogg's GGN

Remember the last time you hung out (sober) with your mates while they got high? How much fun was it? I'm sure they had an absolute blast, but sitting around listening to stoned people talk about all the places they've gotten stoned, or laugh uncontrollably when one of them discovers a new way to hold their blunt isn't good unless you're stoned as well. If you like to get high, this podcast might be for you. But as someone who cannot smoke marijuana because I need to drive places without losing my licence for 6 months every time, this is, without a doubt, the most boring podcast available. I love you Snoop, so stick to making boundary-pushing music and dope pop collabs.

11. Angela Yee's Lip Service

Legit reminds me of high school sleepovers, where you stay up late with your friends talking about gross stuff. I just clicked onto a random part of the Wiz Khalifa episode and Angela said "Can your dick get hard if her pussy stinks?" Yee's guests are incredible (50 Cent!) but unless you're interested in sitting around talking about the sex life of rappers (something they're not shy about in their music anyway), don't bother.

10. Microphone Check

Interesting podcast, run by NPR music. Some brilliant guests, and they utilised the "play music in between thoughts" formula, which I actually don't like but I can see the appeal. It sits so far down the list because it's no longer operational, but there's a few gems you should listen to from the back catalogue, notably Mac Miller. 

9. The VLAD Couch

Lil B claims VLAD is a snitch, and his interviewees are "marks". The only snitching going on during the interviews (I can't speak for behaviour behind the scenes) is by the artists themselves. There's a quality to VLAD that seems to encourage rappers to open up more. Most of the time he isn't even in the room, which makes his job significantly harder, especially when you consider there's a delay between him asking the question and the interviewee hearing it.

The VLAD Couch is a relatively new addition to the podcast game, VLAD traditionally deals with shorter interview segments. His podcast episodes are limited at this point, but considering the trust capital he seems to have built up, especially in Philadelphia, it's not a stretch to think this podcast could grow into something incredible in the future. VLAD gives air time to artists well and truly on the come up, some of the time with both feet still in the street. It's not like he can't secure the big interviews though, working with Nicki Minaj, Future, Dipset, Russell Simmons, Stevie Wonder, and Snoop Dogg, among many others.

Watch this space. If his VLAD Couch series pops off, he could compete with the top dogs.

8. The Brilliant Idiots

Love him or hate him, Charlamagne Tha God doesn't apologise for his opinions, and he doesn't pull punches. Paired with Andrew Schultz, who is a typical comedian, and you get an unfiltered view of current events in America. Their conversations about hip hop are diverse, and because they both have such different backgrounds, it's good to get some quality discourse in. Understandably, their focus has shifted of late to politics, and while their conversations on Donald Trump and the American political system are interesting, they do tend to drag on and re-tread the same ground week after week.

While their debates are healthy, a lot of the time they are founded on miscommunication or misunderstandings. Sometimes they'll fight for half an hour, merely because they're not listening to each other. It can drag on.

7. A Waste of Time

Badly slept on. Two comedians, but these interviews are serious, and seriously good. They managed to get Lenny S, and their embrace of 2nd-5th tier artists makes them an underground fans dream: Theophilius London, Dave East, Harry Fraud, Bas, A-Trak. Most podcasts out at the moment are just interviewing anyone doing the media rounds. Here, we're getting people who aren't trying to promote a new album or movie, so the conversations can go off on interesting and informative tangents.

6. Juan Epstein

I genuinely dislike Peter Rosenberg. He has beef with two of my most respected voices in hip hop, Charlamagne Tha God and Combat Jack, and he seems more intent on speaking about himself, and his achievements/opinions/actions etc rather than those of his guests. During the Jay Z episode, Rosenberg was hell bent on claiming he was on to Jay-Z pre-Reasonable Doubt, and this is a pattern he follows often with guests. Cipha Sounds is a genuine legend though, and it's impossible to deny the importance of this podcast. As yet, Jay Z has never appeared on another show. And there's absolutely no doubt both Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds know their stuff, more so than any other podcast host in the game (including Elliot Wilson, sorry mate). They also have epic throwback episodes: Easy Mo Bee, Lord Finesse, Marly Marl, Mister Cee, and Kid Capri are just some of the legends from the golden age of hip hop. Half good, half bad.

5. Tax Season

We're all out here praying that Taxstone comes home soon. His podcast is the perfect example of the power of hard work and dedication, and how an uncompromising, honest viewpoint can connect with thousands of people. Not every episode is hip-hop based, which is why it doesn't rank higher, but the interviews he does are legendary. He got the best yet out of Memphis Bleek, he managed to get Meek Mill to admit "Back to Back" was a hot song, and he was the one Beanie Sigel called at the height of his recent issues. 

I think the fact that the more hardcore rappers genuinely respect him and the way he moves helps them to open up more. Like Drink Champs, he's not a naturally talented interviewer, but he has deep street knowledge, which makes episodes with The LOX, Casanova, Meek Mill, Beanie Sigel, Jeezy etc incredibly authentic and informative, especially for someone who has no first-hand experience with that side of hip hop. The more violent nature of the rap world is a mystery to me, so it's enlightening to hear someone who has actually lived it their entire life speak honestly and openly about it.

4. The Cipher

The guest list for The Cipher rivals any other podcast in existence, including Drink Champs. Un. Bel. Ievable. Ras Kass, Stretch Armstrong, Salaam Remi, Tech N9ne, Jerome Harmon, Joe Budden, Jermaine Dupri, Elzhi, Paul Wall, Skyzoo, Jake One, Denaun Porter, Scarface, No Malice, Sage Francis, Rittz, Rakim, KRS-One, Roc Marciano, MC Serch, Styles P, D-Dot, Jean Grae... It's unbelievable for a true hip hop head. For fans of these less mainstream artists, it can be really difficult to find quality interviews with them, but Shawn's taste is so diverse we get an incredible mix of guests. And regardless of the obscurity of guest, Shawn's knowledge is so deep, he was speaking to Styles P about tracks and lyrics that even SP couldn't remember!

The only criticism is the format. I'm not a fan of playing music during the podcast, unless it's to get the artist to specifically speak about a lyric or beat. I also don't particularly like the linear nature of the questioning. We get a lot of back story. It's great to know Salaam Remi's family had a large collection of 45's if you're a super fan, but for casual fans it may drag on a bit. Still, a high quality podcast.

3. The Combat Jack Show

Reggie Ossé is a hip hop historian, and an integral part of the legal side of a number of artists from the 90s and 2000s. His (and Premium Pete's) podcast reflects the respect that he holds in the hip hop community, with some dope interviews from Memphis Bleek, LOX, and Cardi B, as well as a high level of input from the legendary Just Blaze. He's also not afraid to rub people the wrong way, and the collab with The Brilliant Idiots is a classic lesson in discourse. The episode that stands out to me is with Young Guru, who spent 3 hours breaking down his history and telling incredible stories about some of the greatest hip hop songs of all time. There's no filter and no time limit on an episode of this podcast, and Reggie is a very very good interviewer, keeping it linear and on-track. If ever there was a podcast for the culture, The Combat Jack Show is it. 

2. Rap Radar

It's easy to criticise Elliott Wilson (that laugh...), and Rap Radar is far from the perfect podcast, but he manages to get very very good interviews out of difficult candidates. Metro Boomin' was more open than he's ever been, N.O.R.E. revealed more than he maybe would have liked, and the Cortez Bryant episode will surely go down as a classic. They also grab  newer artists like 21 Savage and 6LACK where other podcasts (notably Drink Champs) will shy away from showcasing the flavour of the month (although Desiigner didn't get a look in). There's no shame in Wilson's approach, he'll fly to the city Drake is performing in and chase him around with a pen and paper if required, DJ Khaled style. He rarely gets ruffled or loses focus, and B. Dot lends a calming influence and a deep hip hop knowledge when pressed. Rap Radar tries to do everything by the book, and they succeed 90% of the time.

1. Drink Champs

No-one has ignited the interest of the culture like N.O.R.E. has these past 12 months. He was never the most gifted rapper, but he knew exactly how to entertain people, and with a few tiny exceptions, Drink Champs has been entertaining listeners non stop since March 2016. The guest list is the most star studded affair in the podcast game, and unlike Elliot Wilson, Charlamagne Tha God, Combat Jack, in fact anyone else on this list, N.O.R.E. was on the front line of the rap game with his guests. He was on the private plane when Memphis Bleek told Dame Dash Roc-A-Fella was going to eventually disband. He once saw Funk Flex and Ty Ty have an argument in a club, that may have led to the infamous Big Pun-Jay Z bottle incident.  He once turned up looking for Tragedy only to be stymied by Memphis Bleek, who was protecting him. N.O.R.E. was there, and even if he wasn't, he knew everyone involved in the story personally.

As you would imagine of a podcast where guests are encouraged to drink heavily, it gets sloppy. The episode with DJ Envy and Angela Yee turned into a complete wash, as N.O.R.E. became almost incomprehensible, and Angela snuck off before the end. The 2 Chainz episode featured the most geeked Tity Boi you're ever likely to see. And N.O.R.E. is constantly talking over guests, interrupting them, and leading them in directions they don't particularly want to go. He imposes himself on every interview, but it doesn't appear to be ego-driven, rather he's just interested in getting the best stories. And 9 times out of 10 he's incredibly successful with this.

I have to thank DJ EFN and N.O.R.E. for their incredible entertainment these past 12 months. Many previously mind-numbing tasks have been transformed into the highlight of my day thanks to their stories and industry connections. Listeners are voting with clicks too, regularly pushing Drink Champs into weekly platinum status. Let us hope for many more interviews to come.

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