DJ Cassidy and BET Make Deal for Six ‘Pass the Mic’ Specials to Follow Network’s Major 2021 Events (EXCLUSIVE)
DJ Cassidy, whose popular “Pass the Mic” all-star video jams were most recently part of the Biden/Harris inaugural programs, has made a deal with BET to produce six “Mic” specials during 2021, all of them set to follow the network’s annual awards shows or other major programming.
The first of the six, dubbed “DJ Cassidy’s Pass The Mic: The BET After Party,” is now in production and set to air immediately following the NAACP Image Awards on March 27.
“I’ll continue to be celebrating my musical heroes of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s through their iconic records of all eras and genres,” Cassidy tells Variety. “I grew up watching BET, and I was exposed to many if not all of my musical heroes through watching their music videos on ‘Video Soul,’ ‘Rap City’ or their many other shows. So to partner with the network to bring ‘Pass the Mic’ to the next level and to a wider audience is really a surreal experience.”
The audience probably actually can’t much wider than the one he already had in January when two different “Pass the Mic” mini-episodes were commissioned for presidential inauguration programming. One came during the afternoon “Parade Across America” segment and featured veteran soul artists Earth Wind and Fire, Nile Rodgers and Kathy Sledge; another was in the evening’s Tom Hanks-hosted “Celebrating America” prime-time special and had DJ Cassidy creating a more contemporary medley with Luis Fonsi and Ozuna.
Both of those inauguration day quickies were shorter-form versions of the typically half-hour-long editions of “Pass the Mic” that have R&B and hip-hop veterans of a certain still-vital age reprising their greatest hits for a verse or chorus, from home, over tracks before passing the mic to another hero.
The extended collaboration between the celebrity DJ and the network is an outgrowth of the success of a similar “after-party” that he did after BET’s “Soul Train Awards” on Thanksgiving weekend.
Among the artists who already participated in “Pass the Mic” specials since Cassidy started them shortly into quarantine — all of which premiered on Twitch and YouTube, prior to the deejay hooking up with BET for the “Soul Train” after-party — include LL Cool J, Chaka Khan, Boyz II Men, Teddy Riley, George Clinton, Morris Day and the Time, New Edition, Salt ‘N Pepa, Kool & the Gang, Lisa Lisa and Run DMC.
DJ Cassidy resists any suggestion that he might have already exhausted the cream of the crop of the great Black artists from the last third of the 20th century, which has been his focus. Although he says some of those who’ve already appeared on a “Pass the Mic” will return for this year’s BET specials, he’s mostly avoided much in the way of repetition, and insists there are still deep, untapped wells of legends as well as one-hit sensations for him to draw upon.
“In only four episodes, I have passed the mic to over a hundred iconic artists,” he points out. “Which, when I say that, it sounds like a crazy number, because it’s only been four episodes. And I often get asked, how do you keep going — is there another hundred? And my answer is: There’s another thousand. There is really a wealth of iconic R&B and hip-hop music that came out between the ‘70s and the ‘90s, and it’s that music and those artists that really gave me life, gave me inspiration, gave me style, gave me a signature sound. So, six episodes? Piece of cake.”
Cassidy’s partners as executive producers on the six forthcoming specials are Connie Orlando, EVP of specials, music programming & music strategy at BET; Jesse Collins, CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment, along with JCE’s Dionne Harmon; and music mogul Steve Rifkind.
“I’ve known Cassidy since he was 14 years old, picking up vinyl from Loud Records,” says Rifkind. “He was always a student of music. When he sent me ‘Pass the Mic: Volume One,’ I called him immediately and said, ‘Your life is going to change.’ Little did I know he would affect so many other lives around the world. I’m so happy to be partners with him on this epic show.”
BET’s Orlando says she looks 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.”
“I’m getting ready to hibernate in my cocoon on the hill and not leave my house for at least several months,” says Cassidy. “I’m finishing the recruiting process, sitting on the couch and at my desk all day making calls, putting the mix together,” though he declines to mention who he’s signed up so far.
“This really speaks to bigger issues of the past 12 months,” he says. “The music biz was flipped upside down, and I feel very grateful that I created something that not only kind of breathed new life into what I was doing in my career, but really inspired and touched people. I get emotional every time I read the comments on YouTube on the four episodes. The show has really seemed to strike a nerve, and so I’m really grateful that it’s affected people in past the way it has, and grateful BET wanted to partner to bring it to even more people.”
Cassidy is repped by WME’s Richard Weitz, whom he met when he was invited on to include excerpts from “Pass the Mic” as part of the agent’s ongoing private “RWQUarantunes” benefit series. “When Rev Run (of Run DMC) sent me ‘Pass the Mic,’ I thought it was the most groundbreaking music content I had seen connecting legendary artists to fans in a fun and unprecedented way, which is why I had to become friends with DJ Cassidy,” Weitz says. “He’s created a show that continues to surprise fans and remind them of the soundtrack of their lives.”
Some of the host’s heroes-turned-pals are quick to weigh in with support for the series and what it represents. “I love what he is doing with ‘Pass the Mic’ — it uplifts and strengthens our culture and reminds us all of its value,” says LL Cool J. And Rev Run says it’s “amazing mainly because it came from something organic. I think the way he DJs while the artists do their vocals is like being in a club and a DJ throwing on your song. (It’s) just smart TV.”
Teddy Riley calls the show “a reminder, an introduction and a closing, culturally refreshing and necessary. Introducing the kids to fall in love and to see and hear great music from great artists who paved the way. ‘Pass the Mic’ gives the legends their flowers right now.”
Cassidy had a full-circle moment while the inauguration special was happening, when he got a call from a key mentor, Sean “Diddy” Combs, who gave him the biggest boost of his career after discovered him as an adolescent DJ breakout.
“Puffy holds a very special place in my career and heart,” Cassidy says. “The story goes that when I was playing at a club in New York when I was 18, I was spinning the classic R&B music of ‘70s and ‘80s, and he danced till 5 in the morning. When I was 18, I looked like I was 8. He looked at me (incredulously) and says, ‘Who’s the DJ?’ That year I played at his 32nd birthday; last year I DJed his 50th.
“So that was one fun phone call I got (in January). When the night segment was over, I was scanning through my phone to see all the amazing calls and texts I had gotten literally in five minutes and I see there is a voice note from Sean Combs. I can hear Ozuna in the background. ‘Yo, I’m watching it on CNN. You made it; I’m so proud of you. The world is watching.’ You could hear the genuine excitement, passion and pride in his voice. ‘And you’re in pocket! You’re in pocket! You’re killing it!’
“He’s the king of all parties. I learned a lot about my mic-rocking skills from Puffy. I studied every word he said on the mic subconsciously at every party I ever did from him. I owe a lot of my ability to emcee on the mic to him So to hear his excitement that he had, to see me on CNN during this big night, was particularly surreal.”
Since making that impression on Combs, Cassidy has gone on to DJ events like both Barack and Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday parties at the White House, Beyonce and Jay-Z’s wedding and an Oprah Winfrey school opening in Africa, as well as touring as the opening act for Jay-Z and Timberlake.
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