Song Exploder is Hrishikesh Hirway's wonderful podcast (and now Netflix show) in which a well-known musician guest on each episode breaks down a song bit-by-bit, reverse engineering the story of its creation through sound and story. In this week's New Yorker, the brilliant music critic Amanda Petrusich explodes Song Exploder and its lasting appeal. From the New Yorker:
One of the more visceral pleasures of "Song Exploder" is how it makes plain certain enigmas of music production. Hirway wrangles control of an artist's digital recording files—often called "stems"—and some of the best episodes reveal the earthly source of every single piece of audio on a record. One entry [below] takes on "Shook Ones, Pt. II," a 1995 single by the Queens-based Mobb Deep. The rapper Prodigy, who made up half of the duo, died in 2017, but the remaining member, Havoc, walks Hirway through how he constructed the song in his bedroom, in the Queensbridge projects, using records borrowed from his father and equipment purchased by Prodigy's grandmother. Havoc extracted the song's beat by pitch-shifting two seconds of a scratched copy of Herbie Hancock's "Jessica," created the bass line by manipulating a single piano note, and took the track's signal sound—a bright, rising, atonal wail that appears before the chorus—from an old Quincy Jones record. For an interested listener, the episode can feel like briefly putting on a pair of X-ray specs.