What are the best podcasts of 2020? My pick of the podcasts that have meant the most to me in the first six months of 2020, featuring: Steve Silberman; David Crosby; Richard Herring; Michael Palin; Shereen Daniels; Rosey Jarvis; Scott Adams; Naval Ravikant; Moodie Black; Myke C-Town; and Chief.
I am sure that for anyone and everyone these first six months of 2020 have been something of a rollercoaster. The world is in flux. Change, they say, is the only constant. That feels especially true for 2020. Everything has changed (or is changing, or is burning) before our eyes. With so much up in the air, listening with intent is more important than ever. Voices must be given the freedom to breathe. Listening to podcasts has been a constant for me so far this year. The spoken world helps make sense of the world in these especially tumultuous times.
Here, gentle reader, I present my first round-up of the podcast episodes that have truly spoken to me in 2020, focusing on the first half of the year. My selection is highly subjective. As you’ll see, my current preference is for longform conversations between two or more humans. I am always eager to discover more of what the world of podcasts has to offer. I’d love to know what podcasts have spoken to you most profoundly these past few months. What are your favourite podcasts of 2020?
My top 5 podcasts of 2020 (Part one)
5: MOODIE BLACK/MYKE C-TOWN/CHIEF
The Moodhouse Podcast is my latest discovery – and I am impressed. I came to this podcast through a mention by Myke C-Town in the Dead End Hip Hop review of Run the Jewels’ excellent and chillingly timely new album RTJ4.* In this Moodhouse Podcast episode (entitled America on Fire), three US-based people of colour – host Moodie Black and guests Myke C-Town and Chief – share their thoughts on the chaos of the modern world. No answers here. Just three souls – three good friends – looking at the world and expressing their anger, fear, bemusement – and occasional amusement. They discuss the complexities of the Black Lives Matter debate and the coronavirus pandemic. There are striking parallels between how they perceive the response of parts of US society to these issues, as I noted in my previous blog post, Breaking the silence. I also loved listening to Myke C-Town talk passionately about Killer Mike’s recent speech to the citizens of Atlanta, Georgia, following the initial post-George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests.** He moves on to speak about Killer Mike’s band Run the Jewels and RTJ4. He is full of praise for how Killer Mike and El-P have chosen to use the voice and the reach that they now have to the best of its potential:
“You know what? They really didn’t have to do this. They really didn’t have to make a protest album, which I feel like this is. They’re like: ‘No. We’re at the height of our popularity, we’re getting money, we’re getting fame. But you know what? There’s still people dying. So fuck that shit. We’re going to write a whole fucking record about how people are pissed off.'”
Amen. As I wrote in my last post:
“The silence is ending. This is no time for impatience. This is a time for some of us to speak. It’s a time for others to listen with compassion and empathy. It’s a time to learn.”
- Moodie Black/Myke C-Town/Chief Download the MP3.
4: SCOTT ADAMS/NAVAL RAVIKANT
What could be more 2020 than a Zoom conversation about coronavirus? It’s always a treat to get to tune into the ongoing conversation between Messrs Adams and Ravikant. Their February 2019 conversation was my favourite podcast of last year. This latest instalment in their dialogue is just as engaging, wide-ranging and thought-provoking. Here, they discuss how the coronavirus pandemic is transforming our world. “I think essentially the coronavirus is going to push us to do things that we should probably already be doing as a society”, says Ravikant. He believes that the pandemic is hastening the pace of change, forcing us toward destinations that already lay ahead of us. I particularly love this line:
“Robotics, automation, telepresence, VR, remote work – all those things are coming anyway. I mean, let’s face it, most of white collar jobs are just LARPing, right, you’re just running around pretending like you’re doing work in meetings, and I think this will expose a lot of that.”
I eagerly await next opportunity to hear what is on the minds of these two gents.
- Ready to imagine another world My recent blog post inspired by this podcast.
- Scott Adams/Naval Ravikant Download the MP3.
3: ROSEY JARVIS/SHEREEN DANIELS
“This is a time for us to show our empathy, it’s a time for us to show our compassion.”
This is Shereen Daniels, from her powerful and moving video interview with Rosey Jarvis of The Happiness Index. Shereen discusses the deep emotional impact of the killing of George Floyd on her, and on black people in the workplace. Her advice to any non-black person who would like to be an ally is simple:
“Ask some questions with the genuine intent to listen.”
Listening is vital. Now more than ever. This video allows Shereen the space to speak her truth. It also gifts us a perfect example of what it is to listen with genuine intent. Throughout, I was struck not only by the raw emotional power of what Shereen has to say, but also by the simple power of what Rosey does not say. Rosey asks Shereen just three questions, then gives Shereen’s words the freedom to breathe. A few days after the interview, Shereen wrote the following about what Rosey brings to this conversation:
“Without realising, she delivered a masterclass in what it means to listen with compassion and empathy.”
Please take some time to watch this interview and listen closely to Shereen’s words, and allow them to sink in. If what she has to say resonates with you, please share her words with someone else.
2: RICHARD HERRING/MICHAEL PALIN
The podcast that so very nearly wasn’t. Lockdown abruptly put a halt to what was shaping up to be a particularly strong run of Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP).*** But I am delighted – and the world is extremely lucky – that this outstanding episode made it in under the wire. The last night (for the time being) of the live-in-front-of-an-audience incarnation of RHLSTP saw Herring fulfil his lifelong ambition to chat to Michael Palin – his number one dream guest for RHLSTP. Herring has long felt that he has followed in Palin’s footsteps. It is lovely to see such a satisfying example of someone getting to meet their hero. This is a beautifully warm and good-humoured conversation. The twinkle in Palin’s eye and his extraordinary wit and charm are undimmed. Palin is a seasoned interviewee. So it is also delightful to see Herring throw some true curveball questions, putting the spotlight on parts of his epic career that likely no interviewer has ever even touched upon previously. So much has gone wrong for the world this year. But nothing could be more right than this podcast. I am so glad that this conversation happened, and that the evidence has been so generously shared with the world.
- Richard Herring/Michael Palin Download the MP3.
1: STEVE SILBERMAN/DAVID CROSBY
“The only credit I would give my self is for being such a lucky son of a bitch. And also I’ll give myself that I was open…”
David Crosby speaks these words in Freak Flag Flying, an epic podcast conversation in five parts (well, four plus a coda) with his close friend Steve Silberman. Freak Flag Flying is a masterwork of podcasting. A remarkable and brutally honest biographical work, offering as complete a picture of and insight into the man and his music as one could ever hope for. Crosby’s charm – the permanent twinkle in his eye – radiates from every episode, as does the warmth of his friendship with Silberman. Freak Flag Flying is a beautiful gift to humanity. I would urge you to listen to it, to bask in the warmth, wisdom and wonderful music that it so generously shares. Thank you, David Crosby. Thank you, Steve Silberman.
- David Crosby: Fighting darkness, shedding light Read more of my thoughts on Freak Flag Flying.
Listen to or download the MP3 for each episode of Freak Flag Flying via the Osiris Media website:
- Episode 1: Set a Course and Go
- Episode 2: Ghost Prints on the Tape
- Episode 3: Only a Child, Laughing
- Episode 4: Time is the Final Currency
- Episode 5: Coda: Dust Off Those Rusty Strings.
* Here’s the Dead End Hip Hop review of Run The Jewels’ RTJ4 album, of which Myke C-Town opines: “Rappers – just quit. […] I cannot tell you how happy I was after the first listen of this album.”
** I seriously thought about including Killer Mike’s speech in as one of my top 5 podcasts of 2020 (so far). It is clearly not a podcast. But it is one of the most powerful and moving pieces of oratory you will ever hear. Without preparation or notes, Killer Mike speaks with an eloquence, authority and passion that would and should shame most political leaders in our current era. If you have yet to watch this speech, please spare a few minutes to view it right now.
*** I am delighted to report that RHLSTP has continued through lockdown, transforming into Richard Herring’s Live Streaming Twitch Podcast (aka RHLSTP – why let a good acronym go to waste?).
- MJCarty and David Crosby drawings by MJCarty.