DJ Cassidy On "Pass The Mic" Vol. 2: "I Wanted To Unite My Hip-Hop Heroes"
By Stereo Williams
“I’ve thought long and hard since the premiere of Vol. 1 about why I received such an emotional reaction from people.”
That’s just how much DJ Cassidy is pondering what it means to be connected. The spinner who came up with the viral phenomenon “Pass the Mic” — the virtual mixtape that featured R&B legends like Earth Wind & Fire, Meli’sa Morgan, New Edition and Ray Parker, Jr. in a soulful livestream singalong of their classic hits — saw firsthand just how much this one-of-a-kind musical event meant to the people. And he’s amazed at just how powerful the connection is.
“I think, [the reaction] was derived from the emotional place in which I came up with the idea.”
Photo courtesy of DJ Cassidy
As America and the rest of the world grappled with the anxiety-filled early days of the global coronavirus pandemic, Cassidy reached out to a musical icon who also happens to be a close friend. “I was FaceTiming with my mentor, Verdine White of Earth Wind & Fire,” he explains. “He’s one of my mentors. I hold him near and dear to my heart. And we go to dinner about once a month; and of course we haven’t, because of the pandemic, and we FaceTime on each other to check on each other. He has such an indescribable spark in him, on a regular basis, that I always kind of feel a certain emotion when I see him and when I speak to him. But while I was FaceTiming with him, the Earth Wind & Fire song ‘That’s the Way Of the World’ came on my speakers in my house, by coincidence. And that song kind of gives me chills on a regular basis—on a normal basis, pre-pandemic. But seeing him and hearing that song and the world being where it is at the moment, it made me feel something. It struck an emotional chord. And I said to myself ‘How lucky am I? That I have relationships with many of my musical heroes. Many.’”
It was the personal observation that led to DJ Cassidy wanting to share his unique life experience with others; all in the name of bringing people together through music.
“Not only do I know [my musical heroes], but I have strong relationships and friendships with my musical heroes,” he shares. “During this really trying time in the world, wouldn’t it be incredible if I could find a way to share this feeling with other people around the world? And immediately, the idea came to me: What if I could somehow connect with my musical heroes from home-to-home and pass the mic to them, in a metaphorical way? And connect them with each other and celebrate them and their music, in an effort to celebrate the heroes around the world fighting for health? And of course, as weeks went on, the sentiment changed to celebrating the heroes fighting for health and freedom and justice.”
“The recruiting process was a little easier simply because many of the artists that I was trying to recruit had seen Volume 1 and loved it and were excited by it and shared in that emotional response. Because a lot of the artists I was trying to recruit for Volume 2 looked up to the artists from Volume 1. They came after those artists.
And with Volume 1 earning raves, new recruits were eager to be a part.
“The recruiting process was a little easier because I’m not explaining this crazy idea of mine,” DJ Cassidy explains. “I have something to show, even for those who had not yet seen Volume 1.”
Photo courtesy of DJ Cassidy
The roster of legends for Volume 1 featured some of the most heralded singers and songwriters of the post-disco era. DJ Cassidy notes that “post-disco” is really a broad, vague term for a host of artists who probably didn’t think of themselves as sharing the same stylistic space. But it was the DJs who brought the late 70s grooves of artists like Earth Wind & Fire and The Jacksons together.
“DJs – particularly Hip-Hop DJs – started playing those records together. We played ‘Never Too Much’ with ‘Rock With You’ with ‘Let’s Groove’ with ‘Before I Let Go’ with ‘Outstanding’ with ‘Give Me the Night’ with ‘Rising To the Top’ with ‘Stomp!’" he says. "I could go on and on and on.”
DJ Cassidy was led to that music by the DJs that were spinning those dance classics.
“That genre of music, I think the sweet spot of that music is 1978 to 1982. And I think that music is the greatest and most impactful dance music ever recorded. That music was not my first love, Hip-Hop was my first love. And Hip-Hop brought me to that music. It was idolization of Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa that brought me backwards to that music.”
“They were my Spider-Man, and my Superman and my Captain America,” he says of that iconic trio of pioneering Hip-Hop DJs. “They were my Michael Jordan, my Magic Johnson and my Larry Bird. When I saw the video footage of Kool Herc riding around the Bronx in a convertible with the speakers coming out, that to me, was like superhero shit.”
Having gotten such a powerful response from Volume 1, DJ Cassidy knew that he was going to push the next iteration of “Pass The Mic” to a different era and a different sound.
“I wanted to expand what ‘Pass The Mic’ was. I wanted to expand the [audience] who watched it and I wanted to give that emotional feeling to other people and I wanted to celebrate another era of incredible music that touched me and changed my life. So it was clear to me that I wanted to do it [with] Hip-Hop. I wanted to celebrate my Hip-Hop heroes and unite my Hip-Hop heroes and celebrate the heroes around the world again.”
With Volume 2, DJ Cassidy got to tap a who’s-who of Hip-Hop legends, a cross-section of all that was great about Hip-Hop’s Golden Age. But he was pleasantly surprised at how so many of his favorites were of that era.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to [stick to] a time frame,” says Cassidy of the unintended Golden Age theme. “I just made a list of my favorite, iconic Hip-Hop records of all time. I’m not saying the most iconic because that can be debated. These are my favorite Hip-Hop records of all time. I made the list and I went after every artist. And the years fell between 1984 and 1992, which many consider to be the Golden Age, but that was a coincidence. I noticed the years after I made the list, but I didn’t make the list according to the year.”
“Pass The Mic” is an ongoing love letter to music. With luminaries like Rev. Run, Naughty By Nature, Rakim and MC Lyte taking part in Volume Two, it’s a remarkable moment for anyone who loves classic Hip-Hop. For DJ Cassidy, it’s another realized dream. And working with LL COOL J, in particular, gave the DJ a chance to celebrate one of his favorite rap songs; “I Can’t Live Without My Radio.” The song is forever etched in Cassidy’s mind, thanks to LL’s unforgettable (and infamously brief) appearance in 1985s beloved Hip-Hop movie Krush Groove.
“That’s one of my favorite movie scenes of all time,” Cassidy says of LL’s film debut. “And that record to me, ‘…Radio,’ really feels like the beginning of LL COOL J and Def Jam and an entire era of magical Hip-Hop that continues to be the foundation of what Hip-Hop is today. Having LL do that record was a no-brainer. I was really honored. To start Volume 2 off with ‘Sucker MCs’ into ‘I Can’t Live Without My Radio,’ as a Hip-Hop fan, as a person who grew up idolizing these guys? It’s truly a surreal feeling.”
* Banner Image: Courtesy of DJ Cassidy