DJ Cassidy’s popular “Pass the Mic” webcast series is going to TV on Thanksgiving weekend… and going totally ’80s. BET’s Nov. 29 broadcast of “The Soul Train Awards” will be immediately followed by a second prime-time special that will bring Cassidy’s all-star medleys, usually seen via Twitch and YouTube, to a network for the first time. And while the star DJ isn’t revealing any names yet, he is telling Variety that this edition of his mic-pass will bring together the leading lights of R&B from a decade that happens to be his favorite
Or maybe something more like just a half-decade, to get specific about it. “When I think about ‘Soul Train’ and the long legacy that spans decades,” he says, “I am immediately drawn into thinking about the 1980s. particularly the first half of the decade. The sounds of the R&B records that came out of the first half of the ’80s, the attitude and style and emotions of those records, all speak to the legacy of ‘Soul Train’ so powerfully, and I think those records exude the feeling of celebration. And so I immediately went into my playlisting cocoon and put together this master list of prolific R&B classics from that era and realized that the first half of the 1980s birthed the greatest dance records of all time.”
The bpm will fly by in a matter of mere minutes. “I just kept adding another and another and another, and could have filled a two-hour show,” Cassidy continues. “The fact that it’s a 30-minute special meant I need to hone in on the upper cuts. The Mike Tyson jabs to the face — that’s when I needed: every song a major blow, punching and punching and not letting up.”
Well, letting up a little. Unlike what DJ Cassidy did on the web with the previous three editions of “Pass the Mic,” there will be commercial breaks. But he says he resisted the temptation to think of those and cheat in a way he normally wouldn’t, by changing the tempo between gaps, and he has a nonstop cut of the show that will eventually live on the web sans advertising breaks.
“It’s different because it’s shorter,” he says; “the last two episodes were nearly 40 minutes without commercials. Otherwise this is exactly the same show, but because I have less time, I need this to hit in a very specific way. Particularly for people who have watched the first three, I think they are going to absolutely love this next installment.”
“The Soul Train Awards” air Nov. 29 on BET at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, immediately followed by “DJ Cassidy’s Pass the Mic: BET Soul Train Edition” at 10/9. (On the west coast, the shows can be seen live via the east coast feed on DirecTV or tape-delayed for prime time on cable services like Spectrum.)
DJ Cassidy previously told Variety about what led him to create “Pass the Mic,” the inspiration for which struck him while he was on a call with Earth Wind & Fire’s Verdine White, wishing he could share the feeling with other fans. The first, ’70s/’80s-themed episode featured EWF passing the microphone to Kool & the Gang, Ray Parker Jr., Cheryl Lynn, Shalimar and Deniece Williams, among others. A second episode brought together stars from the first golden age of hip-hop, like LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa and the members of Run DMC. Cassidy was back in an R&B mode but a different era when “Vol. 3” included singers from the late ’80s and early ’90s, with a special emphasis on New Jack Swing; that guest list included members of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe as well as Keith Sweat, Teddy Riley, Boyz II Men and Portrait.
For this trip back to the early and mid-’80s, Cassidy thinks he found the perfect network home for what he’s done up til now on the web because “I grew up watching BET. Particularly ‘Video Soul’ and ‘Rap City,’ those were the two main television shows I watched in which was exposed to not only my favorite music videos but interviews and artist performances” back in the day. To partner with BET and ‘Soul Train’ is really a full-circle moment for me.”
Although Cassidy has put together the three previous episodes almost entirely on his own, from home during quarantine — and still is doing all the assemblage himself and hosting the medleys from in front of his fireplace — he does have a couple of partners for the BET special. One is Jesse Collins, who not only produces “The Soul Train Awards” but is hard at work on the upcoming Super Bowl half time show, and who Cassidy says “understands the historical and cultural context of this music more than anyone.” The other is a big name in hip-hop history, Steve Rifkind, famous for discovering Wu Tang Clan and as the founder of Loud Records, who’s been essential in hooking Cassidy up with many of the artists not already in his R&B Rolodex.
“Everybody always asks me how I recruit the artists. The process is the most personal example of talent recruitment that you’ve ever witnessed in your life. For Volume 1, I only called artists whose numbers I had on my phone. Vol. 2, I started the same way, but became ‘Do you have a number for so and so?’ For example, DMC helped me with soliciting Chuck D from Public Enemy. Every kind of artist led to the next. Two people in the process of Volumes 2 and 3 became right-hand men.” One was DJ Chill Will, longtime DJ for Doug E. Fresh, who “turned into my unofficial talent recruitment partner.” The other is Bowlegged Lou from Full Force (“the guy in ‘House Party’ that says ‘I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ ass,’ Cassidy proudly points out). “I wanted Full Force to be in Vol. 3 and ended up on phone with Lou for 2 hours. He did same thing Will did on Vol. 2 for Vol. 3. They were helping me out just for the love. When I did the deal with BET, I said, ‘I need one thing. I need my two guys to help me out on the talent side — my talent coordinators.”
Says Cassidy, “I had to in many ways put the pedal to the metal on this. I haven’t left my house in 21 days. That’s how long this was, front to back, (from concept) to recruitment to filming. On the previous ones I’m used to locking myself in for four, five, six weeks — and that didn’t involve recruitment, just filming.” Going forward, he says, “Who knows what the future has in store; the sky’s the limit. But BET, ‘Soul Train’ and the spirit of celebration with the holidays — the three of those were so perfect, it was as clear as the blue sky on a sunny day to me. When I DJ live, I never dip — I’m not talking about tempo, more about the feeling — but this one is even more like a roller coaster ride that just keeps going and going up.”