There’s been some real talk on Twitter, the radio waves and even around your favorite internet website lately about how white the public radio world is (RIP,Tell Me More). Despite having fewer steps between the microphone and your earbuds, podcasting is just as bad (or worse, though exact numbers are hard to come by).
There are tons of people of color of all ethnicities doing amazing things in the audio world; here’s a list of podcasts that bring black voices to the mic. And if these aren’t enough for you, keep your eye on BuzzFeed’s own Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, whose podcast Another Round drops in March and will blow your damn face off.
1. The Read
What it is: A hilarious comedy podcast hosted by Kid Fury and Crissle that talks about black culture but doesn’t really care if you “get it” or not, and is better for it.
You should listen if: You aren’t afraid to spill tea, throw shade or laugh along with these extremely smart comedic voices. There will be “truth, shade, and fuckery” in your podcast feed. You want that. Trust.
Where to begin: If you want to hear what pure joy and surprise sounds like, start with the ever-popular “Beyoncé Holiday Spectacular” episode (it’s a throwback, but it’s so worth it), where Crissle’s complete shock at the arrival of the Beyoncé album will give you life. Or try a more recent episode, like the show’s 100th episode (linked above), where everybody’s a little drunk and giving even fewer fucks than usual.
What it is: On the surface, it’s comedians W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery making DenZealots of everyone by discussing one Denzel movie each week, sometimes with guests.
You should listen if: You want to listen in on a conversation between two smart, funny friends where there’s really no topic — funny or real — that is off-limits.
Where to begin: The podcast is going alphabetically through Denzel’s movies, so if order is your thing, you can start at the beginning. The “Twitter Chat” episode (linked above) is a good example of how a wacky podcast concept is a ruse for a much deeper conversation. In that episode, W. Kamau Bell talks about his experience getting kicked out of a café in Oakland, which leads to a meaningful discussion of how racist the U.S. still continues to be.
What it is: A gorgeously produced storytelling show that makes movies for your ears, hosted by Glynn Washington. As he says at the end of each show, you might hear it on NPR, but it’s in an entirely different galaxy from the news.
Where to begin: In the spirit of Black History Month and all the things that have yet to change every single month, start with a story from performance poet Sonya Renee about her hair (it’s in the episode linked above). Or follow the unexpected and beautiful story of love between Genesis and Lady Jaye.
What it is: “Long-distance besties” Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow get on the mic to break down what’s new in menstruation, feminism, shine theory, and other important topics that will teach you how to live your life better.
You should listen if: I’ve been through this before: This podcast should be obligatory listening. Furthermore, if you listen and this podcast is not your thing, you might as well get used to Amina and Ann, because one of them is going to be your president/overlord one of these days.
Where to begin: You can probably stand to learn something from the “Impostor Syndrome” episode; and if you’re looking for some proof that these ladies run shit, know that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is listening, too.
What it is: A loose, laid-back conversation about hip-hop, news, and culture hosted by Reggie Ossé, aka Combat Jack, and his co-host, Premium Pete.
You should listen if: You want to hear from folks like Ice Cube, Common, and Spike Lee in a morning-show format that isn’t afraid to get real. It’s a bit of a bro-fest, but the interviews are honest and the guests are comfortable being honest, which makes for great interviews.
Where to begin: The “Best of 2014” episode (linked above) has the story of Jessica Rosenblum, who was a regular at Studio 54 as a teen (!!!!) and a bunch of snippets that give you a good sense of the show. Or you can start with whichever big-name guest piques your interest (and there are a ton of them).
What it is: A show where comedian and host Marina Franklin takes some space and time on the mic with guests, without apologizing for killer wit or brutal honesty.
You should listen if: You have ever complained that there aren’t enough women-hosted podcasts (FYI, you should be complaining about this) and you’re not afraid of real talk from women about culture, comedy, race, and whatever else comes to mind.
Where to begin: You can hear a recap of the best of 2014 (linked above) or listen to the real discussion and truth in the “Light Skin vs. Dark Skin” episode.
What it is: A frank, open, thoughtful conversation between four women of color about culture, race, and all kinds of hashtag relevant topics. The four hosts, Alesia, Fatima, Aurelia, and Ramou, complicate and deepen the understandings we have of women of color across various kinds of media.
You should listen if: You yearn for a more complex and intersectional representation of women in general and women of color in the media you consume. (Hint: You should.)
Where to begin: The episode linked above will lead you to their favorite episodes of 2014, which is a great place to start to get a sense of the show. And Janet Mock fans will appreciate the truth she drops about respectability politics when she was recently a guest. In its second year, they’re looking to take the podcast on the road, so keep an eye out for that.
What it is: A podcast and public radio show where a bunch of talented, eclectic, and openhearted producers and host Al Letson show you a little bit of life in a U.S. state.
You should listen if: You’re not afraid of an accent and you haven’t taken as many cross-country trips as you would have liked. Seriously, from trans families to the American justice system, this is a show that takes its time exploring stories big and small across the U.S.
Where to begin: The episode linked above, “The Hospital Always Wins,” is the result of nearly a decade of dedication to a single story. One fun way to jump into the show, though, is to find a place where you’ve never been — or maybe where you grew up — and listen to the voices you’re waiting to meet, or those you already know.
You should listen if: You’re looking for a gabfest that’s rooted in real-world reporting. There’s riffing and jokes, sure, but the voices you hear are sharing from a place of knowledge and journalistic rigor.
Where to begin: To get a sense of the show, you can start on the newly relaunched site, where Gene and other contributors have posted everything from a dance battle between Baryshnikov and Lil Buck to a meditation on the idea and history of “black pathology” arguments from Slate writer Jamelle Bouie. Or click on the episode linked above to hear BuzzFeed’s own Joel Anderson talking about his big BuzzFeed feature on Michael Sam.
What it is: A more revealing, straightforward version of RuPaul than you see on TV, who hosts with Michelle Visage, RuPaul’s friend of many decades. They talk about the kinds of things you’d expect from Drag Race divas such as themselves — fashion, style, mugging for the camera — but the show and the medium make it easy to hear how real their friendship is.
You should listen if: You’re a closet fan of Drag Race, you’re living in any kind of closet, or if you want to learn some serious business savvy and self-confidence lessons from people who definitely know more about it than you do.
Where to begin: For fans of Drag Race, keep an eye out for guests you particularly like. For everyone else, there are some smart image lessons to be learned from reality TV (seriously), so if you find that interesting, the episode linked above is a good starting point.
11. Desus vs. Mero (RIP)
What it is: Technically, Desus vs. Mero is a TV show produced by Complex until their last episode aired in December 2014, but it works just as well as a podcast. It’s still on this list because the backlog of 46 episodes hosted by Bronx boys Desus and Mero is entirely worth listening to.
You should listen if: You’d prefer incredibly sharp, subversive humor and self-described “educated ignorance” that depart from the hot takes on pop culture.
Where to begin: You can take your time and explore the backlog with this one since their podcast feed won’t be uploading anything new, but it’s worth starting at the beginning so you can keep tabs on the myriad running inside jokes. If you get completely hooked, watch out for them on MTV2’s Guy Code and follow their hijinx on Twitter.
What it is: A long-running radio show and podcast that highlights music and stories from the African diaspora all over the world, in communities big and small, hosted by Georges Collinet.
You should listen if: You want to be leagues ahead and know the stories behind the rhythms that will eventually likely be Columbused. And also, if you are sick of the U.S.-centric world of Spotify and iTunes.
Where to begin: If you’re looking for a history lesson with a soundtrack, the episode linked above will tell you all about Black Swan, the first black-owned record label in the U.S. But there’s much more to this show — from the gigantic metropolis of São Paulo, Brazil, to a music festival you arrive at by canoe in French Guiana.
13. Rembert Explains
What it is: A podcast (and Youtube show) where Grantland writer Rembert Browne sits down with smart black Twitter stars and writers from across the internet to talk about a few salient topics.
You should listen if: You’re looking for a gabfest-style podcast that isn’t unbearably white, as many (most?) of them are and you want to sound smart when you hang out with your friends.
Where to begin: The true place to begin, really, is by following Rembert and his guests on Twitter and around the internet so you know what’s up before you jump in. From there, listen and watch for the voices that intrigue you — they all will. I guarantee it.
Is there a podcast that’s bringing black voices to the mic that should be on here? Tell us in the comments!
If you’d like to read further, check out this reading list put together by the lovely headphone-heads at the Association of Independents in Radio and an accompanying playlist that’s also full of great, diverse voices.
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