Thursday, July 18, 2024

DJ Cassidy celebrates hip-hop’s 50th with star-studded ‘Pass the Mic Live!’ in New York City

In 2022, DJ Cassidy announced that the 10th edition of his series “Pass the Mic” would be his last. On Oct. 4, 2022, Swizz Beatz, Busta Rhymes, Ice Cube and Method Man joined Cassidy following the BET Hip-Hop Awards with what we thought was the very last “Pass the Mic.”

It turns out Cassidy was just getting warmed up.

The DJ initially started “Pass the Mic” as an online series during the COVID-19 pandemic. The round-robin celebration of music that transitioned from one legendary artist singing over one of their famous songs to the next took the culture by storm, along with DJ D-Nice’s Club Quarantine.

A Toast To The Ruler - Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Powered by Google Pixel
DJ Cassidy attends “A Toast To The Ruler,” in February, a celebration of Slick Rick’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. Cassidy took his “Pass the Mic” series live Friday with a star-studded performance in New York that included Slick Rick as a headliner. (Photo by Arnold Turner/Getty Images for Slick Rick Music Corp.)

Cassidy followed in D-Nice’s footsteps by taking the online series on the road. “Pass the Mic Live!” debuted on Friday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Cassidy assembled a prodigious collective of rappers from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It was one of several live tributes to hip-hop’s 50th anniversary this year, and so far, it’s the best.

Cassidy stepped on stage to his booth wearing his customary hat and a shiny pink suit. He warmed the crowd up with a short DJ set full of some of the most beloved dance songs, including Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and Teena Marie’s “Square Biz.”

After getting the crowd to warm up their dancing shoes, Cassidy started the show with two original Rock Steady breakdance crew members. Breaking with furious precision and acrobatics, the crew danced to B-boy staples, the Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun” and the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache,” keeping the audience off their butts for nearly three straight hours.

The show had a loosely chronological set list, but each artist’s curation and selected song was masterfully executed as one of Cassidy’s DJ shows.

The Sugarhill Gang was the first to emerge on the Radio City Music Hall stage, performing the iconic “Rapper’s Delight,” a song that arguably is responsible for every subsequent song played that night. After a quick run through “Apache,” Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio emerged to rap “The Message” and “White Lines.” Both of the Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five alums are in their 60s, but you would not have noticed.

A run of rap’s first superstars continued with performances from Kurtis Blow, Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee. After Kool Moe Dee finished his anthemic classic “Wild Wild West,” Cassidy officially entered hip-hop’s golden era with appearances from Dana Dane, Roxanne Shante, and Milk Dee of Audio Two.

OneLegacy 20th Anniversary Donate Life Run Walk
Kurtis Blow, seen in June 2022 at the OneLegacy 20th Anniversary Donate Life Run Walk in Azusa, California, was among the performers over the weekend at “Pass the Mic Live!” in New York. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for OneLegacy)

The crowd stayed in an unrelenting frenzy as they got bombarded with one classic record after the next. Transitioning from Audio Two’s “Top Billin’” to Special Ed’s “I Got it Made,” to MC Serch and the 3rd Bass’ hit “The Gas Face” to Monie Love’s “Monie in the Middle” was like a live-action manifestation of childhood days in the 1980s and 1990s, recording songs straight from a radio show onto a cassette tape.

Although Cassidy kept the evening’s energy high with C.L. Smooth (“T.R.O.Y.”), EPMD (“You Gots To Chill),” and Nice & Smooth (“Hip Hop Junkies,” “DWYCK”), “Pass the Mic Live!” hit another gear when Kid ‘N Play hit the stage. The two Chrises kicked things off with “Rollin’ With Kid ‘N Play” before Full Force’s Paul Anthony, B-Fine and Bowlegged Lou bum-rushed them with lines from their hit film, “House Party.” When Full Force launched into their hit song from the soundtrack, “Ain’t My Type of Hype,” Kid ‘N Play pulled out their infamous dance from the film, making Radio City Music Hall shake from the floor to the ceiling.

The show took a short break from the performances. However, like any rap show, that break consisted of a DJ set. Cassidy kept the mood with a bunch of hip-hop classics like Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock,” LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells,” Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without a Pause,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” and Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love You (Give It to Me).”

Even with an impressive lineup of rappers, “Pass the Mic Live!” still had its headlining acts in Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. Unlike the previous acts, each headliner performed a short set of their respective hits.

Kane came up first, quickly reminding the crowd why he’s one of the most respected rappers ever to come out of Brooklyn. He treated the fans to his dynamic string of classics like “Raw,” “Smooth Operator,” “I Get the Job Done,” “Set It Off,” “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’,” “Wrath of Kane,” and “Warm it Up, Kane.”

Next up was Rakim. Dressed in a Pelle Pelle leather jacket and black fitted cap, Rakim smoothly and confidently rhymed “Paid In Full,” “Eric B. Is President,” “I Know You Got Soul,” and “I Ain’t No Joke,” all from his and Eric B.’s 1987 debut, “Paid in Full.” He then upped the ante with “Microphone Fiend,” “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” and “Juice (Know the Ledge).”

Fashion For All Foundation Lights the Empire State Building in Celebration of Black History Month and Hip-Hop’s 50th Anniversary
Rakim attends “Fashion For All Foundation Lights the Empire State Building” in Celebration of Black History Month and Hip-Hop’s 50th Anniversary on Feb. 24 in New York City. He performed a short set at “Pass the Mic Live!” (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

Doug E. Fresh materialized after Cassidy led a serenade to hip-hop culture with a crowd sing-along of slow jams like Force MD’s “Tender Love” and SWV’s “Weak.” Keni Burke joined the original human beatbox for “Risin’ to the Top” and Lil’ Vicious for “Freaks” before his former partner Slick Rick emerged.

The reunion of Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh proved an optimal climax to a night of hip-hop classics. Rick took center stage for his solo hits “Mona Lisa” and “Children’s Story,” but when he and Doug did “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” together, it was like witnessing history.

The night officially ended after Treach of Naughty By Nature led every act to come together for “Hip Hop Hooray.” Cassidy’s love letter to hip-hop couldn’t have been any better. It had the atmosphere of the most incredible family reunion ever.

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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