Best podcasts of the week: Guantánamo gets the Serial treatment | Podcasts

Picks of the week

Widely available, episodes weekly
The OG of podcasting returns for an excellent fourth season, with Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvis’s history of Guantánamo. It’s a story they have been wanting to tell for years, but until now haven’t been able to get too far beyond the official line. Today, staff and detainees are ready to talk: while the former report partying their “asses off”, the latter – who each cost $13m a year to accommodate – discuss their fears. Hannah Verdier

To Die For
Widely available, all episodes out now
The mention of seduction and “sexpionage” sounds like the stuff of male fantasy, but Neil Strauss gives one Russian woman the chance to tell her story of surveillance and love traps. First, he must work out if she is genuine, as she claims she was “a victim, brainwashed that I was a hero”. HV

History’s Secret Heroes
Widely available, episodes weekly
It doesn’t get much lovelier than listening to Helena Bonham Carter (pictured below) tell the story of Ida and Louise Cook. In an archive interview with Sue MacGregor, Mills & Boon novelist Ida talks about romance, before Bonham Carter explores the lives of the two sisters who specialised in socialising with opera stars and helping Jewish people escape Nazi Germany. HV

Helena Bonham Carter. Photograph: Theo Wargo/FilmMagic

Widely available, episodes weekly
Listening to Katie Kershaw, Tien Tran and ER Fightmaster talk about “all things queer, trans and woman-forward in the world of sport” is a workout for your gossip muscle. The trio of friends are funny and outrageous as they talk about bad coaches, being called dykes by a rival team and the sporting moments that made them gay. HV

Murder in the Hollywood Hills
Widely available, episodes weekly
Kristi Johnson was 21 years old when a man spun her an irresistible pickup line in an LA mall: he said he was a movie producer looking for the next Bond girl. He drove her in his sports car to a supposed photoshoot, and she was never seen alive again. This series hosted by NBC’s Keith Morrison tells the story of the women who banded together to find and lock up the smooth-talking predator. Hollie Richardson

There’s a podcast for that

Questlove. Photograph: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust

This week, Ammar Kalia chooses five of the best podcasts on hip-hop, from a Roots founder’s interview with rap stars to Romesh Ranganathan’s ode to the genre

Questlove Supreme
Founder of hip-hop group The Roots and Oscar-winning director Questlove has become something of an authority on rap. While his Instagram profile contains a treasure-trove of tributes to lesser-known and often recently deceased artists, his podcast series interviews living greats about their career highs and lows. Steering clear of the aimless chit-chat of other hip-hop celebrity podcasts, Questlove Supreme gets academic without losing an enthusiastic flair that always brings choice anecdotes out of its guests. Highlights include a deep dive into LL Cool J’s superstardom, writer Dan Charnas on the genius of producer J Dilla, and DJ Marley Marl on 80s hip-hop.

Louder Than a Riot
Alongside its reputation for excess and controversy, hip-hop has existed for the past 50 years as a vital means of social and political expression. Louder Than a Riot explores in detail how this energetic artistry from some of America’s most neglected communities has been policed, coincided with the rise of mass incarceration and even expressed prejudices within its own ranks. Hosts Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden mix engaging reporting with interviews to explore how rappers have often fallen foul of the criminal justice system before analysing the misogyny and homophobia within hip-hop.

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The Blog Era
Brothers Jeff and Eric Rosenthal host this fascinating series that analyses a niche but crucially important few years in hip-hop history. After the birth of the internet and before the streaming age took off, blogs could make or break rap artists and some argue that their fevered write-ups even began to influence the type of music being made itself. On The Blog Era, the brothers Rosenthal unpick music made between 2007 and 2012 (after which SoundCloud became the dominant force), featuring the rise of everyone from J Cole to Kid Cudi, as well as profiling the fate of the editors who ran the sites.

Stepping away from wholesale histories of the genre, this long-running series from host Cole Cuchna homes in on hip-hop one album at a time. With each series unpicking the lyrical, musical and contextual information of a different record, Cuchna employs his training in composition to explore the specifics of how artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West flow over their beats, as well as explaining their lyrical intent. Having already covered everything from Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly to West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Tyler the Creator’s Igor, Dissect is an exhaustive but essential listen for existing fans, as well as an ideal entry point for casual listeners.

Hip-Hop Saved My Life
Hip-hop might have started out as a distinctly American genre but 50 years on from its birth, it has a legacy that spans the globe. Taking a joke-filled but equally encyclopaedic approach to hip-hop fandom, this series from comic Romesh Ranganathan explores his love of the genre while interviewing fellow British celebs and artists. Episodes to start with include grime star Kano talking about his distinctly British twist on the genre, Mercury prize winner Little Simz on her rise as a woman in hip-hop, and the late Jamal Edwards on his founding of the pioneering grime platform SBTV.

Why not try …

  • Chameleon: Gallery of Lies is a six-episode romp into a world of deceit, fraud, and the potential for redemption.

  • Inbetweeners actor James Buckley and wife Clair discuss the nitty gritty details of marriage and relationship non-negotiables In Sickness and in Health.

  • Professional wrestler Ashley Massaro died by suicide in 2019. Ashley vs WWE, follows events leading up to her death and examines allegations of abuse while she was with the company.


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