‘Dissect’ Podcast Explores the Reclamation of Black Culture in Beyoncé’s ‘Black is King’

In April 2020, Cole Cuchna and Dr. Titi Shodiya (Dope Labs) came together to examine Beyoncé’s 2016 masterpiece Lemonade as the hosts of the Spotify Exclusive podcast Dissect. This week, the pair returns to the podcast for a surprise seven-episode miniseries that celebrates Beyoncé and commemorates her prolific summer 2020 project, Black Is King

In this series, Cole and Titi dive into an in-depth academic exploration of the lyrical metaphors, historical anecdotes, and nods to African spirituality embedded all throughout the project—as well as the verbal and visual commentary on the reclamation of Black culture in Black Is King. For the Record spoke to Dissect host Cole Cuchna on the creation and impact of the surprise series.

Why did you want to dissect Black Is King?

Having learned so much from our analysis of Beyoncé’s Lemonade for Season 6, I think we were all very eager to unpack Black Is King for that same reason: education. Through the many symbols, themes, and lyrics of the film, you really get a substantial history lesson paired with a practical life philosophy. We originally planned to do just one bonus episode, but it ended up being seven episodes, just because there was SO much to discover in the film. It really is a work of art.

Given the landscape of 2020, can you elaborate on Black Is King’s impact?

For me, it provides important historical context to issues still affecting the world today and puts them into a narrative form that has incredible emotional impact. Stories and music are two of the most transformative forms to communicate and to inspire human beings to act. In an ugly time in our history, Black Is King was a refreshing presentation of the beauty, glory, and rich history of Africa—the place every human being can trace their lineage back to. It’s that sense of global and humanitarian unity that is desperately needed right now.

How long did it take to create this season, from listening to dissecting the lyrics to writing the script and recording?

We began working on the series the moment Black Is King was released on July 31, 2020, and we worked on it all the way up until the week of releasing our series. So almost six months. We had a great team on this, including writers Maggie Lacy and Femi Olutade. We were also able to speak directly to the film’s creatives, including co-director Kwasi Fordjour, stylist Zerina Akers, and music director Derek Dixie. That’s a first for Dissect, and they were able to lend incredible insight to the themes and process behind making the film.

What were some of the images, scenes, or songs that resonated with you most that you were excited to dissect?

For me, it’s the entire last act of the film, because that’s when many of the symbols and images from the beginning of the film show up again, creating this full-circle effect and tying directly into the “circle of life” theme that centers the film. Just the thought and execution of that kind of structuring shows how much attention to detail was given to this project, where seemingly everything we see and hear has an intended meaning, message, or purpose.

What was something you learned through dissecting Black Is King that surprised you or gave you an ah-ha! moment?

I think the biggest ah-ha moment comes when we see the basket floating down the Nile river in the song “Otherside.” It falls down a waterfall, and then the film cuts to adult Simba falling underwater. It’s there, underwater, that we see Simba grab the king chess piece that he lost earlier in the film as a child—symbolizing that he has rediscovered the kingship inside him from birth. That fact that this occurs underwater implies that this is a kind of baptism, a rebirth, which is the first thing that we saw in the film’s opening scene. So it comes full circle. It’s also during this moment that Beyoncé says the word “Bigger,” which is the first song we heard in the film, too. The layers! The connections! Ah!!

Black Is King is similar to Lemonade with the visual component. Did this have an impact on breaking down the music?

Yeah, I would say we actually spend more time dissecting the visuals in this series than the music. It’s really brilliant the way the music and visuals interact to tell the story. That’s what we tried to focus on most: how Beyoncé and her team were really creating a new storytelling medium where we see this unique interaction between not only the music and visuals, but also the ensembles, dances, set pieces, and colors. Everything contributes to the storytelling and theme. It’s really spectacular.

Stream the Dissect special series Black Is King below.