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.