The Okayplayer Interview: Combat Jack Discusses Where The Battle Lines Are Drawn For Hip-Hop & Its History
Keeper of the hip-hop flame, Reggie Ossé recently sat for an exclusive interview to discuss life as Combat Jack – a champion of hip-hop culture whose love and respect for the game have coupled with a persistent thirst for the real, ultimately transforming him into one of the most important preservationists of his time. From Ivy League alum and entertainment attorney to one of the most recognizable names in digital radio, Combat Jack has taken the world by storm as the face of the Loud Speakers Network and an ambassador of black music whose interviews have ventured into the deadly waters outside the realm of commercial radio to serve up the raw, uncut and often transformative stories at the root of hip-hop’s biggest moments and most iconic figures. This is the in-depth and sometimes complex story of The Combat Jack Show and the man at the center of it, who is determined to do the work it takes to tell the stories that ensure hip-hop never truly dies. There’s no escaping this. Get ready for Combat.
Okayplayer: Can you talk about the history of The Combat Jack Show? How planned was the rise of the show?
Combat Jack: Dallas Penn is actually the core founder of the show. I didn’t really know anything about podcasts or internet radio. A. King approached Dallas Penn to do an online radio show. This is back in ’09. And in ’09, Dallas Penn and I were kind of running tandem with our respective blogs and just having a good time as this blog team. He asked, “Do you want to do this radio show?” We sat on it for like a year, then finally I was like “I wanna do it.” Dallas said “Okay, it’s going to be your baby and I’ll run shotgun.” If it wasn’t for Dallas Penn, I wouldn’t be doing this. We’re kind of like the Avengers and Dallas Penn is the Hulk of The Combat Jack Show. He’s always going to be an important part of The Combat Jack Show. We come from the same era.
When we started The Combat Jack Show it was really just a hobby. It was an experiment that turned into a hobby that turned into a passion. As an attorney, I really just got burned out with the music industry and when I became Combat Jack in 2004 as a blogger, I sensed that there was something there. As blogging lead into publishing, which lead into online radio, which lead into the podcast, it was something that continued to draw me in. I didn’t know how big we were gonna be, but I just felt that this was what I needed to do. I give this brother so many props, but I have to give credit where credit is due. I remember Dallas and I were in the studio. It was maybe our fourth or fifth episode. I didn’t think anyone was listening. Maybe 40 or 50 people were listening. After that episode Dallas and I were talking about the ’80s and how we were really into cocaine in the ’80’s. After the show, I got a DM from Elliott Wilson saying “Yo! The show was dope. Don’t stop.” In the world of publishing and media I always held Elliott in such a high esteem. Elliott was also the type of cat that, when it was so hectic while I was trying to get on – making that transition from being a lawyer to being in media – I could never get him on the phone. So for him to reach out and say that this little obscure podcast thing was dope? That put so much battery in my back.
Initially I really studied Howard Stern. I think there are two components to Howard Stern. There’s the zoo that goes on with his cast. I looked to that when we started to grow and add people to the lineup. Then there’s his interviews, which are really dynamic and insightful. As a rap fan, I don’t recall hearing any hip-hop interviews done in the same manner that Howard Stern conducts his interviews.
I never expected the show be this, but I wouldn’t have continued to do it if I didn’t believe that it would continue to get bigger and better.
Of course, we’re still the little podcast that could but at this point the satisfaction that I get comes from talking to individuals that I really really care about. Be it from the artistic perspective to contributions they’ve given to the culture or things that have given me joy, or perspective, etc. I got a call last week from Ice T, so it’s only getting bigger. There’s so many people that haven’t been on the show yet. I have always wanted to have Questlove on the show, Q-Tip on the show. I’ve always wanted to have Jeezy on the show. I don’t if they hear what we are doing, but to hear people of that caliber say that they fuck with the show? I’m still amazed.
OKP: Do you book guests you already know have interesting stories that you’re trying to get out or are totally surprised by the things people say once they get into the hot seat?
CJ: At this point, it’s funny…now certain labels are starting to call me and they’ll suggest artists. I’m so honored to get a call from Def Jam or Atlantic saying, “Hey, we’ve got an artist in town.” But it still comes from who I am genuinely interested in. Most of the people I’m interested in, I have some inkling as to what their story is and I want to bring that story out. I prefer old-school artists because they have such a breadth of wisdom and experience and insight. But then there’s a lot of young cats that really interest me – that really make me interested in their perspective on things. Then there are artists sometimes that I’ll have on the show without any expectations and it turns out to be something really special. I guess, to answer your question, there’s no real rhyme or reason. We just try to fill in a slot every week. We’ve been very fortunate that the people we want to interview and the people we get to sit down with continues to align with the kinds of guests we’ve already established.
This year we’ve been working to identify a pattern. We had Russell Simmons on the show earlier this year. He came in ready to talk about meditation and that’s cool, but I was like “Russell! We come from the ’80s. I was there with you.” He was like, “Wait a minute. We can talk about cocaine and pussy?” Then seeing old Russell pop up and talk about those days was amazing. As we were talking, he mentioned the downtown scene and the people who helped him get in the back doors of these clubs. He mentioned Jessica Rosenblum. So then I realized I needed to interview Jessica Rosenblum. She came on and talked about when she ran Stress Management and how Talib Kweli was her intern. So then I realized I needed to get Kweli on. So there’s all of these stories that are putting together a larger puzzle.
OKP: Listening to what’s going on this season, it feels like you all are taking a very calculated approach. You’re hitting people with content that knocks you on your ass, but also preserves the culture – it’s a history of the culture from the people who created it. This is profound and possibly groundbreaking work. What does something like this mean for hip-hop down the line?