Some kids pretend to be Superman while others hurl a ball and picture the playground a packed stadium. These eager dreams shape young lives and DJ Cassidy had them too. In his case, comic books were replaced by snapshots of Kool Herc’s speakers towering above his convertible. And there were posters, but not of famous athletes; rather, it was the 1984 film Breakin’.
“I had about 20 different Breakin’ posters on my wall; some were from different countries,” says Cassidy. “When I was a kid, I fell asleep at my grandmother’s house and when I woke up it was playing on HBO.”
Cassidy tried dancing like the film’s lead characters, Turbo and Ozone, and watched the movie so much even his family members had the soundtrack memorized. It was his introduction to hip-hop culture and would cement the foundation for what was to come. The fascination was further amplified with a birthday gift: a set of turntables.
“That largely disrupted my social life, because I often locked myself in my room while my friends were out doing fun things,” he recalls. “However, I had this feeling that in order to be like my heroes, I needed to play like my heroes.”
By 18, it was no longer his bedroom but the globe. Instead of missing time with friends, Cassidy was making new ones and his art was attracting influential people beyond the club circuit. He later did parties for Jay Z, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey and President Obama.
And that’s when it hit him.
“No matter if I was playing for leaders of the free world or an average Joe, I grew to view the soul music of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as the greatest dance music of all time,” he states. “The classic records of that era put a spirit and energy in the air like no other kind of music.”
Then his next revelation arrived. “I wished my generation had their own anthems of celebration that sounded like that, from their own artists to define their lives,” says Cassidy. “I set out on a mission to bring back the greatest and most universal dance music of all time.”
Cassidy recounts the development of his debut album, Paradise Royale, as a “four year journey.” He united major figures of late 1970s and early 1980s to channel what he calls their “definitive sound.” Larry Dunn, Robert “Kool” Bell and Nile Rogers are only three of the 22 names on Paradise Royale. Once they provided music, the voices of John Legend, Usher and R. Kelly, among others, followed. “These are musicians representing all generations and they have come together under one sound,” he says.
Close friend Siedah Garrett would help immensely in the early stages. She drove Cassidy to meet Ray Parker Jr., where the two sat down in Parker’s home studio.
“He must have 150 guitars on the wall,” recalls Cassidy.
When Parker heard the vision he agreed to take part in Paradise Royale and suggested longtime friends Freddie Washington and Ollie Brown perform too. The mention of Brown struck Cassidy profoundly.
“It took me a second but I realized he was talking about Ollie from Ollie and Jerry,” Cassidy specifies. “I then shared my history with Breakin’.”
From there, Cassidy landed at Schnee Studio with Parker, Washington and Brown. Everything was just beginning, but the vindication came when Parker hit the talkback button.
“Ray told me, 'You’re the producer, tell us what you want us to do,'” says Cassidy. “With that, he instilled all the confidence in me I could ever want.”
The journey would later include Columbia Records’ Steve Ferrera, who also believed in Cassidy’s dream and took him to label Chairman Rob Stringer. Ferrera passed away recently and Cassidy remembers him warmly. According to the artist, “When I hit play on my very first song, his face lit up with the biggest grin I have ever seen. He is single-handedly responsible for my relationship with Columbia and I know he is looking down and smiling every time I play one of my songs.”
“I have always envisioned a place where people of all races, all shapes and sizes could gather under one sun to celebrate,” says Cassidy. “This place is all inclusive where everyone is invited and all you need to do is close your eyes. That’s Paradise Royale.” The artist’s denbut release is slated for Oct. 23.