The first two “Pass the Mic” shows from DJ Cassidy counted as veritable mic-drops for fans of vintage R&B and hip-hop, bringing epic medleys that brought stars from Earth, Wind and Fire to Doug E. Fresh back to reprise a verse or two of their classic hits in a dance-music collage. “Volume Three” is premiering Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/6 PT on the Twitch platform, zeroing in on the late ’80s/early ’80s nexus of R&B history.
As Salt-N-Pepa might say: Whattan era, whattan era, whatta mighty good era. Not coincidentally to this reference, both Salt and Pepa will be taking part in “Pass the Mic,” along with two other all-female groups from that time, SWV and En Vogue. DJ Cassidy points to the number of women who were triumphing, separately and collectively, in the late ’80s and beyond as proof of the health and wealth of R&B at that time.
“I haven’t left my house in over four weeks, since I’ve been working on ‘Volume Three’,” Cassidy says. “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever assembled in my DJ career.”
The DJ prefers to remain mum on who the other participants in Tuesday night’s webcast will be, focusing on how the element of surprise led to spontaneous joy when the first two episodes were being unveiled. But he does allow that 15 No. 1 Billboard hits from that time frame will be included, as newly sung on camera by the original artists, with a total of 23 well-remembered songs covered in one 37-minute swoop. The fact that he has 43 individuals showing up to do those 23 songs suggests that there are a good deal of groups involved in this one — not all of them female — so you can take from that whatever lineup clues you might.
“One of the interesting things about ‘Pass the Mic’ is that I really don’t promote the artists or the category of music ahead of time,” he says. “Like when I was promoting ‘Volume 2,’ it wasn’t ‘the greatest hip-hop icons of the ‘80s and ‘90s featuring Run DMC’” — although that’s exactly what it turned out to be. “I promoted nothing, which many people say is too bold of a move. They’re like, ‘People don’t follow things these days so much that are going on; you gotta tell ’em what it is.’ But I don’t go to a party and give people a set list. What I do as a DJ has always been based on the element of surprise.”
The first “Pass the Mic” focused on late-’70s R&B before he moved onto early hip-hop with the second volume. “I always knew that what I wanted to hone in on for ‘Volume Three’ was the R&B of particularly 1987 to 1992. It’s when hip-hop transformed R&B, and as a result of hip-hop transforming R&B, R&B transformed pop music and took over the pop charts. I grew up with that era and it became a huge part of who I became as a DJ. It’s always been a sure-shot party moment any time I touch on that era, whether it’s at Puffy’s birthday parties throughout the years, J.Lo’s birthdays throughout the years, Jay-Z and Beyonce’s birthdays throughout the years, or the White House parties I did for Obama.”
Although “the pandemic obviously changed how often I’ve been in front of a crowd,” he does have a fairly fresh example of how the music the stars will be reviving Tuesday night enlivens a gathering. “One of the last great parties I did was Puffy’s birthday, which he held about a month after his 50th birthday at his house here in L.A. And I remember my New Jack Swing set — and I say the term ‘New Jack Swing’ loosely; not everything fits perfectly into the phrase — and how Bobby Brown’s ‘Every Little Step’ and New Edition’s ‘If it Isn’t Love’ were the peak of that party, when the dance floor erupted. That’s what brought Beyonce and Jay Z to the dance floor. That’s what brought Puffy and Usher to the dance floor. People really hold this era to heart, and it’s not just people from hip-hop and R&B culture. These were pop smashes.”
He adds, “Another interesting thing about this era is that it was a big R&B group era. The last era we had seen like that prior was arguably 20 years earlier when it was like Temptations, Four Tops, O’Jays and the Jacksons, from ‘65 to ‘75. Then it took a break for a while. What I learned in ‘Volume 2’ is, when there’s a group, if the whole group wants to participate, it’s even more exciting — especially when you stagger their entrance onto the screen. If they both start singing at the beginning of verse one, you gotta bring them both on right away, but if one doesn’t sing till the chorus or the second half of the first verse, it builds the excitement every time someone comes on. Run and DMC didn’t come on together. Run came on. It’s ‘No way — Run!’ And then, ‘Oh, s—, DMC comes in with his verse!’ So I did that with a lot of groups on here, and a lot of them were women.”
“‘Weak,’ my favorite SWV song, you just feel it down your spine. I know everyone’s going to go, “Oh s—, Coko.” She’s singing. And then right before the chorus, I bring on Taj and I bring on Lelee, and then each one is singing their harmony note and they’re all in their own box. And it shows you how great they are, because literally it sounds like they were doing it together. With these groups, I raised the volume of the harmonies, which you might not hear so prevalent in the mix of a final song, but I made them so you can hear everyone. It’s like when we had TLC on the last one: T-Boz comes on first and then I go ‘Chille, take them to the bridge’ — just those moments of when you’re not sure if you’re getting the whole group and then you get ‘em are amazing.”
“Volume Three” is a highly personal set for him. “I became known in many circles, particularly in the celebrity circle, for playing classic R&B music of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. That spans a long time, right? That spans Earth, Wind and Fire to the Mary J. Blige of the ‘90s and everything in between. But one of the subgenres was this one. This music that I honed in on has been a large part of my memories of loving music as a kid. I had dance routines to Bell Biv DeVoe’s ‘Poison’ and Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative.’ Even my outfits were modeled after the videos of these records; this era was very oversize and colorful, and that’s how I dressed as a fifth, sixth or seventh grader.”
Although Cassidy values the element of surprise, he’s come to realize that the shows don’t suffer with repeat or catch-up viewings. He enjoys the live elements of the premieres on Twitch, where he spins tracks from the relevant era for about an hour before going into the newly pre-recorded all-star medley of the night. But the “Pass”-es live on on YouTube and his social media pages, starting the following night.
“The great thing about this, unlike an awards show or an episode of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ is that it only gets better with time. The live event is a fun way to get people in the chat room and talking about it and people going crazy about ‘Oh my God, who’s coming next.’ But once you put it up then it really starts to be to passed around, it takes on a life of its own.”
Variety will have a more extensive interview with DJ Cassidy following Tuesday night’s premiere to explore burning questions that might come up about the show.
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