It’s been one year since the global shutdowns and quarantines in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the anniversary sparked moments of reflection, with people across the world sharing how their lives, as well as the ones around them, evolved in the aftermath. In addition to tragic stories of loved ones lost due to the virus, and the air of uncertainty that engulfed us, were memories and recollections of how the pandemic brought us together as a people, albeit virtually and from the comfort of our homes. In times of crisis, music is often the calm that helps us weather the storm, which was the case last year, when various DJs, musicians, and artists banded together to help entertain the public and add some levity to the grave conditions that were upon us.
One figure whose contributions during the quarantine proved immeasurable is famed spinner DJ Cassidy, who unveiled the first volume of his virtual series, Pass The Mic, this past July. Rocking from his California home, the New York native curated a performance featuring some of the greatest Hip-Hop and R&B acts of the late ’70s through the ‘90s performing their greatest hits, inviting each to “Pass The Mic” from their homes to the next, live, for the world to see. The first volume, which was born out of a conversation between Cassidy and Earth, Wind, & Fire member Verdine White via FaceTime, was a massive success, leading to a partnership with streaming platform Twitch to air the second and third volumes. That added exposure helped turn Pass The Mic into a phenomenon, amassing over twenty million views across various platforms, making the series one of the hottest shows within the culture.
As the frenzy surrounding Pass The Mic continued to grow amongst fans and artists alike, BET stepped into the fold, recruiting Cassidy to produce the fourth volume of the series for the after-party of the network’s annual Soul Train Awards show. Trending on social media and bringing the series offline and into the homes of millions of viewers, DJ Cassidy’s Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition was a massive success, prompting BET to partner with Cassidy, who signed on to produce six new episodes which will air before year’s end. “I absolutely loved participating in the Soul Train Edition of DJ Cassidy’s Pass The Mic, says R&B legend Chaka Khan. “It was intimate, it was innovative, and ‘Ain’t Nobody’ like DJ Cassidy! Congratulations to him for his new partnership with BET.”
With kudos coming from all angles, the series has a solid foundation for future growth. “Seeing the journey of Pass The Mic has been incredible, but not surprising. My friend DJ Cassidy’s talent, passion and ability to unite the music community is the heart of the series,” states music icon Sheila E. “Pass The Mic is a celebration of togetherness during times when that was (and is) hard to find. I can’t wait to see how the series grows from here.” The road that Cass’ creation travels now has a home with the team that believed in it and his vision. “BET is excited to expand our relationship with DJ Cassidy and continue to unite people through music across our platforms,” said Executive Vice President of Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy, Connie Orlando. “We look forward to creating a one-of-a-kind experience with Pass The Mic that connects generations and combines musical genres. We hope that these specials continue to uplift and entertain viewers, bringing together our favorite musical heroes in a unique way.”
DJ CASSIDY’S PASS THE MIC: THE BET AFTER PARTY, the first special under the new partnership, will premier directly after the 52nd annual NAACP Image Awards on BET, Saturday, March 27. With a mix of musical legends including Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Sister Sledge, Kool & The Gang, New Edition, Boyz II Men, Teddy Riley, En Vogue, LL CoolJ , Run DMC, Public Enemy, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and Salt ‘N Pepa having all appeared on Pass The Mic on previous volumes, this special is primed to be jam-packed with numerous surprises, with DJ Cassidy rocking the party like never before.
VIBE spoke with DJ Cassidy about his new partnership with BET, the creative process behind Pass The Mic, and what the viewers and listeners can expect next.
VIBE: Your last edition of Pass The Mic received a resounding reception and really took the series to a higher level of recognition. Can you describe the feedback you received from your peers and the general public and your reaction to it?
DJ Cassidy: When I conceived Pass The Mic back in May 2020, on a FaceTime call with Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire I would’ve never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be watching the show from my living room couch on BET. I grew up watching BET. I grew up watching Video Soul, I grew up watching Rap City, nearly all of the artists who have participated in Pass The Mic, I was exposed to for the first time on BET. It would not be an overstatement to say that these artists became my musical heroes on BET. So to answer your question, watching the show on my living room couch with my girlfriend, live on an iconic network that I’ve watched for my whole life was truly surreal. It’s surreal interacting with my musical heroes on such a personal level to begin with and then to be watching that interaction on television, primetime, was a very surreal experience and I felt a real sense of pride, I guess you can say. I was proud of that show and I was proud it was on BET and I was proud to be surrounded by such legends on BET.
You recently announced your new deal with BET to air multiple specials of the series, which partners the series with the most iconic hub for black music in the U.S. How did you and BET come to the agreement that BET was the appropriate home for Pass The Mic.
Well, producing Pass The Mic: BET Soul Train Edition was such a great experience, to continue that relationship was a no-brainer. It really makes sense. It makes sense for me, I imagine it makes sense for BET, and it makes sense for the celebration. At the end of the day, Pass The Mic is a celebration; it’s a celebration of Hip-Hop and R&B music, heroes, icons, legends, records, musical heroes. It’s a celebration of our favorite songs of all-time, artists of all-time. And if you think about BET’s most important programming over that time, so much of what the network is founded on is celebration. [It’s a] celebration of the very things we celebrate on Pass The Mic. So the decision was, to put it simply, a no-brainer. And I couldn’t be more excited for that partnership, I couldn’t be more honored by that partnership and it couldn’t feel more organic, it couldn’t feel more natural.
Before I ever premiered Pass The Mic: Volume 1, I sent it to Steve Rifkind, who’s a legendary music industry executive [and] the founder of Loud Records. He brought us Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Big Pun and Steve Rifkind’s contribution to hip-hop culture is massive and Steve and I have a long history and are close friends. I sent Pass The Mic: Volume 1 to Steve, at the time, I didn’t know what I was gonna do with it. I didn’t know how to premiere it, I didn’t know how to share it with the world. Steve called me and said, ‘This is gonna change your life.’ I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but he was right. It did change my life, it enabled me to inspire, uplift and touch people like I hadn’t before. And Steve’s next call was to super producer Jesse Collins. Now Jesse Collins, in the beginning of 2021 alone, has produced the Super Bowl Halftime Show, the Grammy’s, and is now producing the Oscars. He’s also known for producing all of BET’s award shows. So Steve called Jesse and said, ‘I have to share something with you,’ and he sent volume one to Jesse, and Jesse lost his mind and said, ‘We need to do something big with this.’ And that was the beginning of the relationship between BET and myself and that was the beginning of the partnership we’ve now made for 2021.
Will Pass The Mic be airing live, moving forward or will it be pre recorded?
Well, producing [the show] requires a scientific process that I’ve developed and I produce each episode over the course of many days, in some cases, several weeks. And it’s a methodical, meticulously thought out process and I could only best equate it to putting together the pieces for a very large puzzle and it requires foresight, it requires planning, and it also requires spontaneity. The planning and spontaneity can sound like they contradict each other, and in many ways they do, but when you put them together, I think that’s what’s responsible for the magic of the show.
With the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled-out and hopes of the pandemic ending in the foreseeable future, is there a possibility that any of the new episodes could incorporate a live audience and is that something that’s been discussed?
I don’t think we’re going to incorporate a live audience on this round of episodes, the possibilities for Pass The Mic live are endless and this is really just the beginning. Pass The Mic is founded on the spirit of celebration, celebrating our musical heroes, celebrating the everyday heroes around the country and around the world and celebration has always been at the heart of what I do. No matter where I play, no matter when I perform, I always strive to turn it into a celebration, that’s always been my goal. And I believe that through Pass The Mic, I have found a new way to create celebration, a new way to bring the celebration and as the world begins to open back up, slowly but surely, the sky’s the limit when it comes to bringing Pass The Mic to live audiences.
You’re signed on to produce six episodes, which will air periodically throughout the rest of 2021. How long will each special be and do you have an idea of when they will air?
Each special is a thirty minute show and while I can’t say yet specifically the dates of each of the shows. I can say that each of the shows will center around a major night on BET or a special night in the country. So each night will be special, [and] will harness the spirit of a special occasion and each night’s music will reflect the energy of those nights.
I have ideas for all six episodes. Although I’m known to write a script and rip it up so only time will tell, but yes, I have plotted out ideas for the year. And as I produce each episode, I’ll have to see if my inspiration remains the same or if I decide to follow where the wind blows.
The first installment of the six specials, DJ Cassidy’s Pass The Mic: The BET After Party, premieres Saturday, March 27, following the 52nd NAACP Image Awards. Can you tell us about the theme or anything else the viewers can expect?
Well, I can’t say what the theme is. Pass The Mic is founded on the element of surprise and I never announce the theme and I never ever announce the artists, but I can say that this edition will pick up from where one of the previous episodes left off and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Being that you’ve already covered various eras of black music on previous installments, what are some ways you plan to break up the monotony moving forward and keep things fresh?
Well, I must be honest with you, I have so many more artists and records to cover before I think I’ll even get close to feeling like I need to shift. When you look at the iconic music of the 1970s until the present, there are so many categories, genres, sub-genres and so many styles of music and so many types of artists that I literally could conceive up enough episodes to rock for the next five years, let alone one year. And the themes have been developing in my mind since I was 10 years old because as a DJ, when you play, you tend to play music in sets. Whether those sets are three songs long or thirty songs long, you tend to formulate your sets in thematic ways, and as a young DJ, I used to organize my record crates by theme. They were not organized alphabetically, they were not organized chronologically, they were organized by theme, by category, by genre, by vibe.
So if you think about it, each one of these episodes is really a record crate and I’ve been preparing these crates for over two decades. And I used to bring ten crates to every gig, I think most DJs brought four or five or six, I brought ten. So if you think about it, that’s ten episodes right there, but really, there could be two to three different categories in each crate. So in answer to your question, I really just need to think back to those crates. I really just need to just picture the 17 year-old me going to play at New York City hotspots, spending hours at my Dad’s house organizing my record crate and I need to channel that process. And if I do that, I think I’ll be ok.