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DJ Cassidy: The Inside Story on ‘Pass the Mic’ & 50 Years of Hip-hop

Ahead of his “Pass the Mic Live!” show in New York featuring a who’s-who of rap all-stars, hear from DJ Cassidy about how the project evolved and what hip-hop truly means to him.

When Cassidy Podell — better known to youthful digital denizens and stay-true backpacker rap cats alike as DJ Cassidy — embarked on an experimental sort of Instagram Live hangout at the height of COVID-19, little did he know that he’d soon find himself connecting with a laundry list of his musical heroes.

A native New Yorker and immutably voracious hip-hop fan, he had rubbed elbows with big names in the rap game (and Barack Obama and Joe Biden) for nearly 20 years playing all manner of parties and hot-ticket events, but in relatively short order, something felt different about “Pass the Mic,” his music entertainment brainchild readymade for the lockdown dog days at the pandemic’s 2020 apex.

The concept was simple: spin some vinyl and don the master of ceremonies hat and pass the figurative microphone to as many rap luminaries of yesterday and today as he could possibly recruit. That eventually caught the attention of BET, who commissioned seven half-hour PtM specials for television.

Now, as the world spends the second half of 2023 ratcheting up its celebrations of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the man known for boater hats, golden microphones, and crate-digging is taking it all back home for “Pass the Mic Live!” at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on July 21 for a celebration featuring 25 all-time heavy hitters including Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shanté, Slick Rick, Brand Nubian, and EPMD.

To get the inside story on “Pass the Mic” ahead of its big night in NYC, Boardroom’s D’Shonda Brown spoke to DJ Cassidy about how the project evolved, the special endorsement he got from LL Cool J, what the transformative power of hip-hop truly means to him, and much more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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D’SHONDA BROWN: When did you realize that “Pass the Mic” had caught on and had a chance to be big?

DJ CASSIDY: There were many marquee moments that told me that something special was brewing. One of those moments was the discussion with LL Cool J — that conversation with LL took place live on Instagram immediately after I premiered “Pass the Mic” Volume Two, which I believe was on Aug. 15, 2020, that’s six weeks after I premiered Volume One.

So, just to back up a little, after I premiered Volume I, it was immediately apparent that there was a public desire for another one. I have no way of calculating what that public desire meant; I just felt from the reaction that there was a desire to see another one, and I knew right away what I was going to do.

Even before I premiered Volume I, I had a deep desire to do a sequel with my hip-hop heroes, and I knew if there was any kind of positive reaction, I knew the journey I would embark on right away. So, six weeks later, I premiere Volume II, and this, of course, was before the series became a series of specials on television, so this was still just me and an editor and the artist, camera crew, no one [else]; I assembled the show in six weeks. So, I premiere the show online, I promoted it myself, and I think about 20,000 people watched the first episode live and I think about a hundred thousand people watched the second show live, if I’m not mistaken, and it grew exponentially every episode until it became a television.

LL was obviously a part of Volume II, and after the show finished premiering, LL went on Instagram Live to talk about it. I had no idea he was going to do this. In fact, I was coming off of my high from the premiere, you know, my phone was blowing up, my friends were calling me, my family was calling me, and someone calls and says, ‘Go to LL’s Instagram right now.’ LL was on his own Instagram talking about the show and what is so — what’s the word? — It’s kind of chilling that the words he spoke in August 2020 still hold true to what the show means three years later.

I don’t know a more poetic way to put it; he nailed it. Like, he talked about what the show could mean, how the show could continue to represent for the culture of hip-hop and R&B, and his words were so beautiful. Then, his words made me emotional. You can see a tear in my eye if you watch the whole interview. Then, he brought on Doug E. Fresh, who just happened to join, and the two of them together ended up saying the most beautiful words that have ever been said about “Pass the Mic” and some of the most fitting words that have ever been said about “Pass the Mic” to the point where I edit a Reel three years later and still use that commentary to summarize what the show is.

And so, that was a moment where I don’t wanna say I knew I never knew anything, but that was a moment where I felt that this was really going to be something, you know, game-changing. I didn’t know game-changing for me personally or game-changing for others; I wasn’t sure. I just knew at that moment that this was feeling like it was going to be bigger than I ever imagined.

DB: How did you go about taking something that’s popular and making it even bigger for TV?

DJC: Well, in a sense, the process is exactly the same, and in a sense, it’s completely different. Producing seven primetime television specials for BET was kind of a step in between the two.

When I was producing the show [on IG] — which was only three episodes, by the way — I partnered with Steve Rifkind, Jesse Collins, and BET, but the first three episodes, I had no time limit. In other words, these episodes could be as short or as long as I wanted. When you produce a show for television, it becomes a 30-minute show. A 30-minute show is 19 minutes and 45 seconds [without commercials], and not one frame over. Suddenly, what was a very fluid process of assembling a playlist that included every artist in every song that I could possibly think of that would fit, I now had to assemble a puzzle that fit precisely into an exact number of minutes and seconds. Somehow, it always worked out, but that was kind of step two.

Now, I take the show on the road, which was always a dream of mine, and that dream was largely a result of also reading comments on Instagram and YouTube and seeing the fans ask for it. ‘When are we gonna see this live? You have to bring this on tour.’ Even before the pandemic [lockdowns] ended, people were asking for that. And then, of course, as it ended, it became even more of a common thing to see.

So, you know, it was always in the back of my mind, and as I was nearing the 10th episode it became clear to me that I wanted to put the show to bed at a nice round number, and so I decided that on the 10th episode, it would be the last, and I would take “Pass the Mic” to the next level and take it on the road.

Assembling the shows for kind of all three phases of the brand, in a sense, is very much the same. Every show, whether it’s a homegrown show, a BET show, or a live show, is really a manifestation of the DJ crates that I used to carry to every gig. You know, when I was in high school, I carried milk crates of vinyl. Then, after high school, I carried these kind of steel cases that held about a hundred records each — all the DJs out there know exactly what I’m talking about. These cases weighed a hundred pounds each; I used to take eight cases to every gig, and every case was organized by genre or era of music. In a sense, those crates that I’ve kind of been assembling my whole life, that then turned into a playlist on iTunes, those were all kind of the inspiration for the episodes of the series, and still remain very much an inspiration for the live shows.

The biggest difference between the homegrown show and the BET show and the live show is time limit, and a live show is typically three hours. It’s my goal to manifest the spirit and the energy of the series onto the live stage, and a lot of that spirit and energy has to do with the speed that we experience the artists and the songs. And so, with every show, I try to put together an experience that captures that energy, that spirit, that speed, that heart, that intimacy, and that’s kind of where I begin when I assemble the lineups for the live shows.

DB: Are you proud of what you’ve built so far? Taking another step back, how do you see your legacy taking shape?

DJC: Two great questions. I am beyond proud of what “Pass the Mic” has grown to be and beyond grateful that 220 iconic music superstars have answered my call. At the end of the day, I’m really just the messenger; “Pass the Mic” has been and will always be about the artists and their music, and I’m really just a bridge between the artists and the people.

I conceived “Pass the Mic” as a way to give people the feeling that I have when I interact with my musical heroes in a personal way, and to this day, I truly feel that it’s a privilege to be that messenger. What greater job on earth could I have than sharing stages, whether metaphorical or physical, with my musical heroes, with those music artists whom I’ve admired my whole life, whose music had been the foundation of my life as a DJ? So, I feel really proud of what “Pass the Mic” has become, but even more than that, I feel really grateful to the artists who have believed in the vision from day one and continue to do so, because at the end of the day, it’s all about them

What do I see the legacy of “Pass the Mic” being? At its core, I want people to remember DJ Cassidy as a bridge-builder who united people through the sounds of celebration, and I think “Pass the Mic” has been my greatest tool to do just that, to celebrate our musical heroes and unite people around the world through music.

DB: Tell us about the “Pass the Mic Live!” show in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

DJC: Well, first and foremost, hip-hop is my greatest inspiration. I became a DJ because of hip-hop. I am who I am today because of hip-hop, so it was a given that I would do whatever I possibly could to assemble a truly historic celebration of hip-hop’s 50th birthday. I thought it would be truly a one-of-a-kind experience to bring together the New York native icons of hip-hop’s golden era on one stage, and that’s exactly what’s going down at Radio City Music Hall on July 21: 25 hip-hop legends of the Golden Era, all representing New York on one stage in the world’s most iconic concert venue to celebrate this milestone birthday.

at the end of the day, I am just so truly honored that these 25 artists answered the call and are going to be sharing a stage on this epic night, and you know, I’m so honored to be sharing the stage with them. I would say ‘what a dream come true,’ but I don’t know that I ever dreamt that big.

DB: Describe hip-hop in one word.

DJC: Wow. That’s a tough one. I have to think for a minute. What a great question. One word — you know, one sentence would be difficult.


You know, I don’t know if I had 24 hours to think about it if I would think of another word, but in 60 seconds, that’s the word that popped into my mind that most represented hip-hop. I would say revolutionary. Why? Well, we could talk about this for hours, if not days, but hip-hop revolutionized the world, and I can’t think of something else in my lifetime that revolutionized the world in a more profound, concrete, measurable way. Yeah.

DB: How have you personally seen hip-hop be a revolutionary and revolutionize the culture and keep, keep our culture as Black folks, as minorities, as marginalized voices at the epicenter of what is today known as the culture?

DJC: Well, at its core, hip-hop gave a voice to the voiceless. Hip-hop exposed the world to the unexposed. Hip-hop has always been a megaphone. Hip-hop has always been a lens. Hip-hop has grown into global popular culture, that megaphone and that lens have multiplied and grown in immeasurable ways. I think hip-hop has really only just begun to revolutionize the world as the world continues to get smaller and smaller through technology.

DB: What are your hopes for the future of hip-hop?

DJC: Oh, wow. That’s also a very tough question. Well, I could answer it in so many ways. We could talk about, you know, the commercial future of hip-hop. There’s so many angles with which we could look at that question, but I think as hip-hop increasingly affects global culture, I hope that it continues to amplify the untold stories that made hip-hop what it was in the beginning and continues to be: the voice of people around the world who might not otherwise have a voice.

Because at its core, that’s the foundation, um, um, of the music and the culture.

Pass the Mic Live!” takes place on Friday, July 21 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Click here to learn more and get tickets.

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Boardroom Staff