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Handpicked by icons like JAY-Z & Beyonce, Diddy, President Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey to rock various parties over the years, DJ Cassidy is well-versed in the art of creating a joyous atmosphere that leaves dance floors at their capacity. A native of New York City, Cassidy has spent the better part of the past two decades making his rounds as one of the most sought-after DJs on the globe, jet-setting from city to city around the globe, while building relationships with entertainers across all mediums and genres. That network of creatives came in handy earlier this year when Cassidy launched the first installment of his series, Pass The Mic, which finds him rounding up musical icons in Hip-Hop and R&B to perform their biggest hits from the comfort of their own homes, for the world to see.
Having amassed over 20 million views across various platforms, Pass The Mic has become a massive success, to the point where BET took notice of the buzz surrounding the first three volumes and tapped DJ Cassidy to premier the fourth as part of a holiday special in conjunction with the 2020 Soul Train Awards. Cassidy, a longtime fan of Soul Train and its legacy, considers the opportunity as one of the highlights of his career, one which comes with expectations he plans to live up. “To be contributing something to Soul Train Award night is really an honor and I don't take that responsibility lightly,” he shares with VIBE, via phone. “When BET asked me to produce this special for Soul Train night...I really, really felt a weight on my shoulder, in a good way. I felt a responsibility to put the legacy of Soul Train on as high of a pedestal as I possibly could and I wanted the music on my show (and) the artists of the show to really reflect the spirits of Soul Train.”
Taking place on November 29th, DJ Cassidy’s Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition (7 pm PST / 10 pm EST) will feature some of the most popular artists from the first half of the 1980s, which Cassidy says is his personal favorite era of dance music, a realization he came to while putting the initial pieces of the puzzle together for Volume 4. “Nearly all of my favorite dance records of the 1980s, particularly the first half of the decade, he explains. “When I started making a list of potential songs to include in this edition, I realized very quickly that the mass majority of songs on my list were songs that were released in the 1980s and I put them in chronological order. And then I noticed something even more specific, I realized that the majority of the records were released in the first half of the decade and formed a conclusion. My favorite dance records of all-time were the R&bB records released in the first half of the 1980s. And it became clear at that moment that that was the era that I wanted to celebrate with BET Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition. And what greater era to celebrate all that is Soul Train than that era?”
VIBE spoke with DJ Cassidy about the runaway success of Pass The Mic, partnering with BET, the influence and legacy of Soul Train, and much more.
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VIBE: With over 20 million views across various digital platforms, Pass The Mic has become one of the more popular live performance series to take the world by storm. How has it been seeing a project that stemmed from a phone conversation take on such a life of its own?
DJ Cassidy: Well, watching Pass The Mic transform from a living room pandemic-era one-man show into a primetime BET Holiday Special has been truly surreal. Never in my wildest imagination, in late April, when I conceived the idea, did I ever think that I would have an entire production company backing my efforts. And never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be taking part in such an iconic award show night as The Soul Train Awards. 2020 has continuously brought on surprise after surprise for everyone across the world, in so many ways, but I do believe behind the many stormy clouds have been some breaks of sunshine. And I'm really honored that so many people across the world have reacted so emotionally to these few episodes.
In the last edition of Pass The Mic, you focused on the R&B music of the late '80s and early '90s, with legends like Keith Sweat, SWV, TLC, En Vogue, Full Force, Bell Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, Teddy Riley, and Boyz II Men all performing their greatest hits. What are some moments from that volume of Pass The Mic that stand out as your favorites?
This is always the hardest question because each interaction that I have with an artist is personal, each interaction is intimate, and each interaction is special in its own way, but I will tell you a couple of stories.
I had a particularly fun time with Full Force. I was really excited by the fact that all three brothers in Full Force, Bowlegged Lou, B. Fine, and Paul Anthony, in addition to their cousin, Baby Jerry, all wanted to take part. Now, the story of Passing The Mic to Full Force dates back to before I even started filming. I had asked DJ Chill Will of Doug E. Fresh fame to help me in recruiting some of the artists for Volume 2 and when I started recruiting in Volume 3 I asked Chill WIll if he knew anyone from the group Full Force, and he said, 'Of course.' So, about an hour later, I got a call from Bowlegged Lou and Bowlegged Lou's personality jumped out of the phone. He was the same guy you saw in House Party that said, 'I'm gonna kick your fu**ing aaaaas*****.' But instead of being a bully, he was the sweetest, warmest, most endearing person that I had ever met on the phone. He said, 'Consider Full Force in and let me know if you need helped recruiting anybody else.' From that point on, Bowlegged Lou became my unofficial captain's coordinator the same way Chill Will had been on Volume 2. Bowlegged Lou and I became best friends very fast and by the time I recorded my segment for the show with him, his brothers, and his cousin, we had already grown close. His brothers, B. Fine and Paul Anthony, all live on the same block as him and they all went to Lou's house and one at a time, they filmed their part and it was really exciting for me. It was all three members of Full Force, the iconic R&B group, the iconic characters from the House Party films and they were right in front of me. And they were doing this iconic record that was the soundtrack to this iconic scene in House Party, and it was really a great moment.
Another really special moment was Teddy Riley. Teddy really laid the musical foundation for this era, so to have Teddy take part was not only very special, but was very necessary. I'll never forget the feeling of going back and forth with Teddy Riley and kind of rapping the parts of the song ["Rumpshaker"] with him. And we're going back and forth, lyric for lyric, phrase for phrase and the 11 year-old in me couldn't believe what I was doing and I feel the same excitement as an adult that I would've felt as an 11 year-old going back and forth with Teddy Riley on the lyrics to "Rumpshaker."
With the growing popularity of Pass The Mic, I'm sure many more artists have been receptive to participating in the series. Has it become difficult to be able to fit all of the artists into the lineup and if so, how do you curate and decide which acts and songs are most important to showcase?
Well, in producing Volume 1, 2, and 3, I had no time limit, parameters, guidelines, or restraints. I simply decided on a category, an era, or a genre and I made a master list of my favorite records from that era. And then, I went down that list, one at a time, and reached out to every artist on that list. I was so lucky and so fortunate that the mass majority of the artists I was able to get in touch with right away and they wanted to take part. That reaction was partly due to the fact that they had seen previous episodes and I didn't need to explain the concept or educate the artists, they were already informed and enthusiastic about the show. As I continued to produce these episodes I did start to hear from artists unsolicitedly expressing interest to be a part of future episodes and I must say that that has been one of the greatest feelings.
With this fourth installment, BET Soul Train edition, for the first time, I had parameters. I was producing a thirty minute special for a television network in which there would be commercial breaks. I learned quickly, that when all was said and done, I would have nineteen-and-a-half minutes of airtime that had to be broken up into four segments. Now, for someone that's used to creating episodes with no boundaries regarding time and with no breaks or pauses. This was going to be a new process and I had to figure out early on in that process how to not let momentum simmer for one second in those breaks. I knew it was possible, but I knew it depended on the music. The music, the songs, the artists all had to share a relentless quality, they all had to literally knock you down with excitement, to the point where every time we broke, you were left on the edge of your seat. And that was my goal and I think I achieved it, but I guess we'll know on Sunday [laugh].
Let us know how the opportunity to partner with BET come about?
About a week after I premiered Volume 3, I got a call from BET and they said, 'We absolutely love what you've been doing and we'd love to be a part of it, when is your next episode?' I said to them, 'I haven't left my house in six weeks, I haven't begun to think about it.' And they said, 'Well, could you think about it and could you think about it fast, because we'd love to premier your fourth installment as a holiday special after the 2020 Soul Train Awards on the network on November 29.' Well, I nearly fell off my chair because I was not expecting this call. I knew Pass The Mic was growing, I knew Pass The Mic was becoming something greater than I had envisioned, but I wasn't yet thinking about here or how it could live on another type of platform, particularly television. I said, 'Yes,' immediately, and soon realized that if all went according to plan, I would have less than 21 days to produce the entire show, from conceptualizing the playlist, to recruiting the artists...to passing the mic, as I call it, to editing, to post-production, to delivery. I was used to taking four, five, to six weeks producing this show, again, with no parameters, with no guidelines, with no delivery specs. So I knew that I was heading toward unknown, unchartered territory for myself, but I was ready for it, and 21 days later, I delivered DJ Cassidy's Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition.
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Being that this is the Soul Train Edition of Pass The Mic, what are your favorite memories of watching Soul Train and what influence did that have on you as a music fan and a creative?
I'm gonna tell you about two things you might not expect me to talk about. So growing up watching Soul Train, as we all did, I would say the most influential part of that experience, to me, was the Soul Train Line because the Soul Train Line went on to affect my experience as a DJ.
I can't begin to count the number of dance floors in which I've been responsible for instigating a Soul Train Line. Taking that a step further, I can't begin to count the number of iconic dance floors that I've instigated a Soul Train Line, and what I mean by iconic dance floors, there have been so many legendary nights that I've had the honor of DJing in which Soul Train Lines have formed. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at Barack Obama's second inauguration at the White House. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at Oprah Winfrey's school opening in South Africa, on New Year's Eve. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at JAY-Z and Beyonce's wedding. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at so many iconic parties, on so many iconic dancef loors, and that brings me back to those early days in my bedroom watching Soul Train, seeing the Soul Train dancers come down that line.
The second Soul Train memory I wanted to discuss involves the Soul Train theme song. Now, everyone remembers when the Soul Train theme song was "The Sound of Philadelphia," by the Philly soul group MFSB. So, MFSB, "The Sound of Philadelphia" is this iconic Philly soul/dance record produced by Gamble and Huff. But, as a kid growing up in the early '90s, I remember when that transformed into a theme song that was performed by Naughty By Nature, and at the time, Treach was my ultimate hero. I thought Treach was the coolest man to walk the face of the planet, so the evolution of the Soul Train theme song has always been an interesting evolution to me and kind of an evolution that kind of reflected the times of Hip-Hop and R&B. And that Naughty By Nature theme song really speaks to my memories as a child watching Soul Train.
With this edition of Pass The Mic taking place on a holiday, where many viewers will be tuning in with family members across various generations, does that make this particular Volume of Pass The Mic even more special?
For sure. I wanted every song on this edition to be a song who's words everyone knew. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what year you were born, you know the words to these songs and that was really important to me. The show is airing on Thanksgiving weekend now, even though the world is still in quarantine. I'm sure many people are still getting together in small numbers with their immediate family and maybe some close friends. And even if you're not celebrating with friends and family in person, you might be celebrating with friends and family on FaceTime or Zoom, so I wanted this show to speak to everyone in your living room. I wanted these songs to transcend a decade, to transcend era, to transcend category, to transcend genre. And I believe they do.
Being that Pass The Mic has made the transition from online to network television, how do you see the series evolving moving forward and what can fans of the series look forward to moving forward?
Well, I think the sky's the limit and I think the opportunities are endless. As I mentioned earlier on in our conversation, I would've never imagined back in April that I would be premiering my first episode on television. And certainly never on BET and certainly never on their last award show night of the year, and that can only make me believe that the journey is just beginning. And I don't know where the path is leading, but I know it will continue to lead me into more homes of people around the world.
New Music: Dirti Diana Dominates, Benny The Butcher's Even More Famous, Flee Lord Blesses Us, BWLR's Pink Range Rollin' & Statik Selektah Balances The Game
Dirti Diana ft. Euro GotIt - "Self Made"
It had to be around 2017 or so, I attended a show at the now-shuttered Times Square New York favorite B.B. King's performance bar. If memory serves me correctly, Dirti Diana was one of the opening acts for the legendary Juice Crew reunion show. While all in attendance were waiting for the main event, we were all thoroughly shocked by the superfly fitted, curvy brown-skinned MC with the strong voice, blazing bars of fury, and sparkly smile.
I was so impressed by her stage presence and powerful punchlines, I ended up texting a few record label execs a video clip of her performance and suggested they grab her up. This is without knowing a single thing about her other than her name. It is a rare feat for me to do such an act without any backstory or other music, but I just knew she was dope and needed to be on bigger platforms. So it makes me smile to see that D.D. the Diva (I just made that up, haha) has linked up with AB Butler (formerly of Chris Lighty's Violator management company) and his Back in the Game Entertainment and the Imperial Records crew to release her new music.
Get with her and new talent EuroGotit, as they shower you with that luxurious, lavish talk on "Self Made." You are sure to see more from the fly boss of body and bars.
Benny The Butcher - "Famous"
Buffalo, New York builds a different breed. Conway the Machine survived gunshots before his days in the limelight and now his family member Benny the Butcher can claim the same, but the twist is Benny is well known as he recovers from a recent attempt on his life. Earlier this month, while out shopping in Houston, Texas, Benny and his boys were approached in a Walmart parking lot and the scene ended with Benny being shot in the leg. He's been posting his progress after addressing the situation through a few Instagram posts.
This situation bookends a big year for the Griselda crew member as his stardom has come into focus in 2020. His second studio album, Burden Of Proof, musically conducted entirely by red hot producer Hit-Boy, showed a new side to Benny's usual dark yet dope feeling tracks. Hit took Benny in a new space which you can hear on his latest single, "Famous." On this track and the video to match, we find Benny contemplating his newfound celebrity against his thoughts of still being Benny from the block.
We wish him a speedy recovery and to continue to shine against those that wish him otherwise.
Flee Lord - No More Humble Fashion
You aren't familiar with Flee Lord, the street God? Where you been? Damn, homie...catch up with the hardest working rap word pusher who has dropped a project for each of the last 11 months of the year. It's a huge feat for an MC that rhymes on the gutter side of the game. He's a frequent collaborator with the mighty Griselda team and on his newest release, No More Humble Fashion, he boasts heavy heat from Conway and Westside Gunn. Both tracks are worthy of your time, as is the whole project.
Flee has the voice of the dude you'd imagine tell you to, "Take all that shit out your pockets! Right now!!" Yeah, his style is that grimy. A co-sign by the late great Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) a few years ago, put Flee on the radar for a few in the know, but he didn't rest on that accolade alone. Overworking, doing shows and having fire artwork for his music has garnered the attention that is bubbling to the surface.
Be sure to give the Lord 32 minutes of your time this weekend, you won't regret it.BWLR - Pink Range Lyrics that lyricists love is all that flows from Rugz D. Bwlr. I've been listening to the Harlem native for many years now and this project shows his ever-evolving skills at mastering words on beats. Speaking of beats, how crazy is it that an ill MC in his own right with Passport Rav, did all the production on Pink Range. The laid back melodic mood music takes both of their statuses to the next level of dope, especially on the floating measure of "Harlem River Drive." There is a certain bop that Harlem cats carry...it's something that's known by cats from all over NYC. BWLR goes on to explain this and the meaning behind the album's title in this Instagram post: "In the late '80s, the Range Rover established a rugged symbol of wealth for the classy roaming the concrete jungle. In the late 2000s, the Pink Range represented the flamboyance of the Harlem dope boy. This mythological piece of machinery stood for something and the streets that it drove on spoke the trials and tribulations of Harlem. With that BWLR adds his stories with a personal and sometimes dark side of the family going to jail, friends dying and the spoils of gentrification. " That pink Range really was it back then...ask Cam'ron and Lala Anthony. In the meantime, spin the block with this blasting out your own cool whip.
Statik Selektah - The Balancing Act
There really is much to say about how ill Statik Selektah is...like, insanely sick with the rap game beats. I mean, early in the quarantine Statik rocked an IG Live DJ set for our VIBE account and it was scheduled during an East coast shutdown where none of the social media platforms were working. None of them. But, Statik found a way to fool the ISPs and transmitted from Brooklyn, by way of Hawaii! Yep, don't let that go over your heads. It just shows how he is an under pressure, high-level performer, on that all the real hip-hop artists want to work with. Just check his album line up...
Where most of the careers of boom-bap lane producers seem to stay right there, for the underground heads, Statik made the supreme effort to expand his sound with more melodies and bridges and chord switches. It's refreshing to hear our greats go beyond their comfort zone and challenge both themselves and the artists they collaborate with.
The Balancing Act album art cover finds Statik looking directly at us with his young daughter in tow. When hearing the themes of this album you'll see why he choose this heartfelt moment to freeze for our own contemplation. Listen to "Time" with Jack Harlow, "The Healing" featuring Black Thought, "America is Canceled" showing Jadakiss, Styles P, Termanology, and the album in full for the harsh lessons of life wrapped in love and light of the current state of the world.
Much respect Stat.
What can't Taraji P. Henson do? The actress, philanthropist, and new podcast series host kicked off the American Music Awards 2020 with an energetic opening number many of us didn't know we needed. Live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, Henson hit the stage with The Wiz's "A Brand New Day" and danced through other classics like Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder, and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage."
By the end of Cardi B's "W.A.P.," Henson's outfit changes a gold bodysuit and a slew of masked dancers by her side, let's just say Ms. Henson did that as this year's host of the annual music award show. After completing her performance before America (and a small socially distanced audience), she got powdered up and got right into it. Alright, Taraji!
You betta @tarajiphenson! #AMAsWithUs #AMAs pic.twitter.com/tVEH4bpHvC
— LaTonya Holmes (@LaTonyaHolmes) November 23, 2020
ICONIC: @tarajiphenson dancing "WAP" to open up the 2020 #AMAs. pic.twitter.com/co5EylXJ2n
— Cardi B Stats (@CardiStats) November 23, 2020
Okay @tarajiphenson I see you baby 😂🥰🔥#AMAs pic.twitter.com/W49Zle6xqO
— YA FAV ♓️ (@Yafav_Petty) November 23, 2020
We just hope to make 2020 a little brighter with our show tonight! ❤️ #AMAs pic.twitter.com/qfHrwBxZ8Z
— American Music Awards (@AMAs) November 23, 2020