Celebrity turntable artist DJ Cassidy has taken the concept of the party deejay to the mainstream in ways that popular deejays like Kid Capri, DJ Clue, Bobbito Garcia, Biz Markie and others from Hip-Hop’s golden era could never have imagined.
The 35-year-old preppy deejay with the 24-carat gold microphone, who sports cricket sweaters, bow ties and tuxedos, often in pastel colors, has done it by playing classic tunes from the '70s and '80s—a time period where it’s more likely that thumb-sucking took precedence over scratching for him.
His list of clients reads like a Grammy’s red carpet. He’s deejayed Beyonce and Jay-Z’s wedding, parties hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Anna Wintour, and President Barack Obama’s 50th birthday party and 2009 inauguration.
He’s been releasing songs and behind-the-scenes makings of the singles, for his album Paradise Royal, which he has decided to release one single at a time.
The cuts “Make the World Go Round,” featuring R. Kelly and “Calling All Hearts” featuring Robin Thicke and Jesse J. have been smash hits. Most recently he’s released “Future’s Mine” featuring Chromeo and Wale. His fourth single will premiere on April 8th on the new HBO series, “Vinyl,” directed by Martin Scorcese and produced by Mick Jagger.
He’s also on board for the hip-hop Netflix series, “The Get Down”, working on music for the show which takes place in the Bronx in the 1970's at the dawn of Hip-Hop. He talks television, music, and deejaying with The Shadow League.
The Shadow League: How did you get your start deejaying?
DJ Cassidy: I started deejaying when I was 10 years old. I asked my parents for a turntable and a mixer for my 10th birthday. I was a hip-hop kid. That’s why I wanted to be a deejay. It was my way to take part in the culture and contribute to it.
Hip-hop led me backwards. It led me to the kinds of music that contributed to it. Soul, funk, disco, rock-n-roll, reggae, and Latin music. I listened to Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata, and Grandmaster Flash playing the breaks of all kinds of records and the emcee rapping over the breaks.
I really wanted to become an encyclopedia of music and be the deejay who played all over the world. I became the kid who would ask his dad to take me to The Village every weekend to go to all vintage vinyl stores to look for old records and go over each cover and obsess with the liner notes and who contributed to what.
Slowly but surely, the dance music of the late '70s and early '80s became a big part of my life. Soul, R&B, funk, disco. That music took over my heart and became a big part of who I was as a deejay.
It was what led me to deejay for Puffy, Jennifer Lopez and Jay-Z and Beyonce and Russell Simmons, LA Reid, Anna Wintour, Naomi Campbell, Tommy Hilfiger, Oprah Winfrey all the way to the President of the United States.
TSL: How did you get to the point where you’re deejaying for all of these people?
DJ Cassidy:I was playing at a club in NY, Lotus, on an empty rainy night. I see Puffy come into the corner of the room, he’s dancing. When I was 18, I looked like I was 8. He says, “Where’s the deejay?!” and I say, “I’m the deejay!” and he said, “Who’s been playing all these old records all night?” I told him it that it was me and he couldn’t believe it.
He wrote down his number on a napkin and he said, 'Call me tomorrow.' I was a freshman at NYU at the time and I was very nervous to call. Finally I got the nerve and I got him on the phone. I was shocked to get him.
He said, 'I’ve never seen someone so young play these kind of records before. I’m throwing a party for the MTV awards next week and I’d like you to do it.' I end up in the room with everyone in the entertainment industry. It became a career defining night.
I always wanted young artists to make music that sounded like that. That had that spirit, that had that emotion, the feeling, that certain something you can’t explain that makes those records classics. This was inspiration for me to start working on my own project for the first time.
TSL: This was the start of Paradise Royal…
DJ Cassidy: Yes, I conceived the idea to work on this project over four years ago and the conception was a culmination of my deejay experiences and all the inspiration that came from it. I put my favorite 25 songs in a playlist in Itunes just to see what they were and I put them in chronological order and they all fell between the years of 1978 and 1982.
I said, 'What makes these songs similar?' So I made a list of every musician that played on each of the 25 songs—drums, percussion, bass, guitar, horns. I had to go back to my vinyl. I saw the people repeated over and over and it became clear that the same producers and recording artists were calling on the same session musicians and these were the architects of the sound and the men behind the music.
One at a time, I reached out to these musicians and to this date I’ve assembled about 25 of the most legendary musicians from the '70s and '80s and brought them all back to play together and channel the sound.
That includes the original members of Earth Wind and Fire, original members of Kool and the Gang, the original members of Chic, the majority of musicians that played on Off the Wall and Thriller, and I filmed every minute of it. As I put out singles of the project, I not only released the music video, but also the behind the scenes of making the song.
TSL: So far you’ve released 3 singles, right? Do you have a date for the entire album?
DJ Cassidy:I’m not sure yet. Right now we’re releasing them as singles. For “Make the World Go Round” featuring R. Kelly, it took like 20 months to finally get him down to write a song. That was really a journey getting him involved. He’s the king of R&B of our time. He channels so many people who I believe are the greatest --- Sam Cooke, MJ, my two favorite soul singers of all time.
I got Mary J. Blige eventually too. I really felt like I needed her on the project for similar reasons.
“Future’s Mine”—featuring Chromeo and Wale is a kind of indie, hipster act that is signed to my label. They are very interesting. They are inspired by the funk and the blue-eyed soul of the late '70s and early '80s. Inspired by groups like Zapp and Roger Troutman and also Steely Dan and Hall and Oates. And yet the music they make is widely considered to be electronic music.
It was the first time I had a rapper on one of my tracks. This single showed how universal the sound was and how universal the voices can be, and still have one sound.The fourth single is coming out on April 8th — it features Jess Glynne, a superstar from London, a 26 year old soulful voice. She won a Grammy in 2014 for best dance recording of “Rather Be.”
She’s highly influenced by house music of the early 90s. I had always wanted to work with her and Alex Newell is a new artist, a 21 year old signed to Atlantic. He’s at the beginning of his career.
He was on the show, Glee. He channels the energy, vibe, and aesthetic of Sylvester.
This single is being released on the soundtrack as the lead single on the HBO show Vinyl. It’s a show about the music business in early 1970's, NYC. It’s the rock and roll era in NYC and leads into disco era and eventually the hip hop era.
As the plot starts to develop into the disco era, my song takes a major role, you’ll see that in episode 9 and 10 which airs in the first two weeks in April.
This is pre-Studio 54. Before the glitz and glamour of that culture. With every song I’m releasing, I’m trying to tell a story.
I’m trying to show the world my vision.