DJ Cassidy has made some sweet soul music for his artist debut album, “Paradise Royale,” which is slated to drop this spring on Columbia Records.
The superstar spinner’s 10-song set offers a collision of old and new schools as he pairs hot contemporary singers with players from R&B dance music’s glory years of, roughly 1978-82. The vocalists include the likes of Robin Thicke and Jessie J (on the first single, “Calling All Hearts,” due out next month — see the artwork below), R. Kelly (“Make the World Go Round”), Cee-Lo Green (“Light Up the Night”), Usher, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, John Legend and Estelle (“When the Stars Come Out”), Passion Pit, Kelly Rowland and Chromeo. The musician roster, meanwhile, features luminaries such as: Nile Rodgers of Chic (and now Daft Punk); Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and Larry Dunn; Kool & the Gang’s Robert “Kool” Bell, Khalis Bayyan and George Brown; Wah Wah Watson; Ray Parker Jr.; Freddie Washington; Marcus Miller; Ndugu Chancler; John “JR” Robinson; Ollie Brown; Will Lee; Patrice Rushen and others, with horn and string arrangements by Jerry Hey.
Cassidy tells Billboard that the project is an outgrowth of his party DJ experiences and noticing that when he played the dance hits of that period “it simply called everyone to the dance floor. It made everyone smile. It made everyone move. I always wished when I played this music that there would be something new that I could play, too, something fresh to incorporate. So four years ago I stopped wishing and I made it my mission to bring what I believe the greatest and most universal dance music of all-time back to nightlife, back to the airwaves, back to the dance floor.”
Cassidy began the process by assembling a playlist of 25 of his favorite dance hits from that era and making notes about which musicians played on them. “What I saw was the same names repeating over and over again,” Cassidy recalls. “It became apparent that the recording artists and producers of these songs were recruiting the same session musicians. Those were the men behind the music, the architects of the sound. At that point I realized that in order to fulfill my mission I needed to go back to the source.” He ultimately recruited 22 musicians for the recording, while making a deliberate decision to use modern hit makers for the vocals.
“After I had channeled this sound, this spirit, this emotion, this energy (of the music), I knew I needed a fresh voice,” Cassidy explains. “Unlike the musicianship, the voices had to be derived for my era, from my generation, from my day — the voices not only had to represent my era but also had to represent all genres of music, coming together under this one sound.” Each song, he says, was its own adventure, though chasing R. Kelly for 20 months in order to complete his track was perhaps the most memorable.
“It’s a complicated endeavor, a very big undertaking,” Cassidy says. “People often ask me, ‘Were you discouraged?’…or ‘Were you ever going to quit?’ I’d like to say ‘yes;’ it builds the drama of any story. But that never happened. I was never actually discouraged. The music was coming to life beyond my wildest imagination and beyond my expectations. Any minor setbacks I had with various artists were part of the story and make the story more epic.”
Cassidy has posted a making-of video for “Calling All Hearts” on YouTube (watch, above) and plans to release similar featurettes for all of the album’s singles. He’ll also put together a full-length documentary about the album. And, inspired by the project, he’s putting together a live band to play with him during his upcoming tour with Robin Thicke that kicks off Feb. 21 in Atlanta.
“I always had a vision of a DJ Cassidy concert in which I would be front and center stage wtih a full band around me that would be completely interactive in every song I played,” he says. “So whether I’m playing one of my songs or playing Jay Z or Kanye or Earth, Wind & Fire or Calvin Harris… my band will be completely interactive with me in the musicality of those songs. It really is a DJ experience like you’ve never seen before.”