The popular DJ and producer, who has become the go-to emcee for high-profile parties ever since he was discovered at age 18 by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, will present his Pass the Mic series in front of a live audience for the first time during the racing event with help from hip-hop heavyweights Ja Rule, Lil’ Kim, Mase, and special guests in the racetrack’s brand-new hospitality venue, the Carousel Club.
DJ Cassidy introduced Pass the Mic in July 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced musicians and DJs to go virtual as venues across the country shut down indefinitely. The feel-good, sing-along-format show, hosted, directed, and edited by the smooth-talking, dapper DJ, initially aired for free online via platforms like Twitch and YouTube to roughly 10,000 viewers. It didn’t take long for industry executives to take notice of Cassidy’s show, and the DJ soon partnered with BET for a television broadcast of Pass the Mic following the 2020 Soul Train Awards.
The show, which welcomes some of the biggest names in hip-hop, funk, soul, R&B, and rock to sing along with their well-known records with Cassidy as the host, continued to air on BET throughout 2021 and has since featured guest appearances by well over 150 artists. Cassidy, who’s been a student of popular music since he was given his first turntables at age 10, considers many of those artists to be his idols.
“Throughout my childhood, I strove to be an encyclopedia of music. I would go to record stores and study the back of the vinyl covers to see who produced that record, who wrote that record, which musicians played on that record,” Cassidy tells New Times in a recent phone conversation. “I always wanted to be the DJ that could be in front of any kind of crowd anywhere in the world and rock that crowd. And not only rock that crowd but still sound like something unique and still sound like DJ Cassidy.”
Cassidy’s penchant for studying the pioneers of hip-hop, R&B, dance, and soul music of the 1970s and ’80s paid off. In the two decades since P. Diddy singled him out, he has become one of the most in-demand DJs for artists, celebrities, and politicians alike. His DJ’ing résumé includes the weddings of Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z, in addition to Barack Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration ball. (Obama liked him so much he invited Cassidy to DJ his 50th and 51st birthday celebrations, followed by a gig emceeing the 2012 Democratic National Convention.) Cassidy was also tapped as the opening act for every show on Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake’s 2013 Legends of the Summer stadium tour.
Cassidy attributes his success and popularity to two main factors: diversity and showmanship. Growing up idolizing musical pioneers, he admits, made him “a very closed-minded hip-hop kid” before he discovered the then-new genre was far broader than he’d initially understood.
“I realized hip-hop was a hybridization of so many forms of music,” he explains. “It was the coming together of disco, funk, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and reggae. There were so many kinds of music that were put together to form the foundations of hip-hop, and that inspired me.
“I idolized Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Jam Master Jay. These DJs who came to prominence in the 1980s in the early days of hip-hop looked like superstars, and they carried themselves like superstars,” he continues. “They dressed like superstars, and they commanded the crowd on the microphone like superstars. So I always strove to have a persona on stage like the people I looked up to.”
He continued his education under the wing of P. Diddy, who took Cassidy’s fundamental appreciation for hip-hop a step further by teaching him how to set a party mood like no one else in the industry.
“I essentially grew up DJ’ing parties for Puffy, the greatest party host of all time,” he says of his mentor. “Puffy would come to me the second he walked in, grab a wireless mike, and he wouldn’t get off the entire night. I didn’t have to study it because it was just seeping into me. Whether I liked it or not, I was absorbing everything he did.”
Cassidy credits the late music executive Andre Harrell (whom he describes as the “forefather of hip-hop soul”), along with emcees like Doug E. Fresh and the late Frank Jugga, for teaching him how to emcee a room at the highest level.
“Here I am, a kid in his high teens and early 20s, DJ’ing parties with the four greats on the microphone: Puff Daddy, Andre Harrell, Doug E. Fresh, and Frank Jugga,” he says. “Those were my four teachers, and everything that came out of their mouths I absorbed. Not just what they said, but how they said it and when they said it. So much of what you see on Pass the Mic is a hybridization of Puffy, Andre, Doug, and Frank.”
Now 40 and considered a veteran of the industry, Cassidy has managed to pivot his live abilities and adapt to the virtual-focused format that emerged during the pandemic and looks to take his creation to the stage as the nightlife and live-music industries gradually reopen. Following the explosion in popularity of Pass the Mic, Cassidy’s mission to bring his hit series to the stage in front of a live audience later this month is just the start of his next chapter, as he plans on taking his star-studded show on tour starting later this year. His performance at the Pegasus World Cup will be the first taste of what is to come.
“I think Pass the Mic has been the greatest musical bridge building in the past 24 months,” he says confidently of his show, which has welcomed a who’s-who lineup of artists including Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Patti LaBelle, Melle Mel, Gladys Knight, Run DMC, Debbie Harry, LL Cool J, and Missy Elliot, to name a few.
“It’s 100 percent a testament to the songs,” Cassidy adds. “These songs are the greatest songs of all time, and they have spanned from the early ’70s to the late 2000s. Everyone knows the words to these songs, even if you don’t know who sings them. Even if you weren’t alive when they were released, you know the words to these songs. Seeing the artists who sing these songs in their own personal space, singing along to their most iconic records in the most personal way, captivates and inspires viewers in a way like never before.
“When I call an artist to recruit them for an episode, and I start pitching the show, and they stop me and say, ‘I’ve seen every episode,’ it’s the greatest feeling,” he continues, “because the show was always and still is about my musical heroes, celebrating my musical heroes, and the greatest records of all time.”
DJ Cassidy’s Pass the Mic Live, featuring Ja Rule, Lil Kim, Mase, and special surprise guests, will see the DJ and artists perform inside the trackside venue on a Hollywood Squares-inspired stage setup Cassidy himself designed. The performance will add to the ambiance of the posh new venue, which includes a retro-style carousel and trendy bungalow-inspired décor.
“The Pegasus World Cup has hosted some of the greatest performers of our time on their stage,” Cassidy says of the upcoming event. “The bar is high, and I have the utmost confidence that we’ll actually raise the bar. And I’m really excited to have Ja Rule, Lil Kim, and Mase by my side to unleash Pass the Mic Live to the world for the first time.”
Pass the Mic Live. With Ja Rule, Lil Kim, and Mase. Saturday, January 29, at Carousel Club at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino, 901 S. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach; 954-454-7000; gulfstreampark.com. Tickets cost $150 via tixr.com.