“Long Live Combat”: A Tribute to Combat Jack
I first heard of Reggie Ossé — better known to the world as Combat Jack — in 2009. I was writing for The Smoking Section at the time, and TSS creator/editor-in-chief John Gotty forwarded an article to check out. I admittedly had no idea what a remarkable career he’d already had at the time. As I read the piece, I was an immediate fan of Jack’s storytelling skills. He was entertaining, informative, and funny as hell when appropriate. And it was clear he had a deep, profound understanding of hip-hop culture that comes with many years of direct, first-hand experience.
Three years later I had an unexpected interaction with him when a promoter mass emailed some random rapper’s new single to a bunch of people in the industry. Instead of putting everyone’s emails in the BCC part of the message, the promoter CCd everyone — a big no-no if you’re emailing many tastemakers at once. I’m not sure how I wound up on the list since the email included lots of people with significant clout, but there I was.
Nobody responded to the message — except for Jack. He was kind at first, but also imparted some tough love in his response. “Thanks man,” he wrote. “You might want to bcc everyone next time. My Rolodex just got a bit fatter, but I can’t imagine everyone listed being too peachy about you passing out their email addys.”
I’ll always remember that. Here was a guy who’d been in the industry for decades taking the time to educate someone else about the appropriate way to do business. It probably took him one minute to write that response, but it left a lasting impression on me.
“My Rolodex just got a bit fatter, but I can’t imagine everyone listed being too peachy about you passing out their email addys.” — Combat Jack
Between discovering him in 2009 and the years that followed, I learned more about Combat Jack and realized how much he’d done for the culture and music I love so much. He worked for Def Jam’s business and legal affairs department, represented several respected artists, had a stint with MTV networks, penned a book titled Bling: The Hip-Hop Jewelry Book, served as a managing editor for The Source, gave a TED Talk, and leveraged his personal Blogger site and several guest writing gigs at Complex, NahRight, and XXL into the now famous The Combat Jack Show internet radio show/podcast. As if that weren’t enough, he recently narrated the acclaimed Mogul podcast for Gimlet Media — an in depth look at the life and death of music industry executive Chris Lighty.
Despite his ridiculous resume, he was an exceptional interviewer and listener who always seemed eager to learn more, as he constantly demonstrated on episodes of The Combat Jack Show. In a world filled with over-the-top radio and TV personalities in every part of the entertainment industry, it sometimes feels like knowing when to show restraint and let the guest/interviewee have their moment is a lost art. Understanding when to let your guest do the heavy lifting and when to take over is a tricky tightrope walk, but Combat Jack understood the balance. He knew when to give his interviewees a moment without injecting his own thoughts and he knew when to impart his wisdom.
By listening to the show, I always learned something new — even if it was an interview with someone whose career I knew inside and out. On the Prince Paul episode I learned that Biggie was meant to have a role on A Prince Among Thieves and Paul was supposed to meet with B.I.G. the night he was murdered to discuss the collaboration. Paul ended up skipping out on the post-Source awards meeting, Big was tragically murdered, and the collaboration never happened.
As Paul told this captivating tale, Combat Jack guided the conversation with a masterful hand. He was able to document an important, little-know event without sensationalizing it. He just let the story unfold. I was so impressed with this, the PRyhme episode, the Young Guru episode, and many others that I wrote an article about how listening to Combat Jack made me a better interviewer.
“This is a devastating day for hip hop. Long Live Combat.”
— Jeff Weiss
When Combat Jack announced he’d been diagnosed with colon cancer in October of 2017, I felt a pit in my stomach. He had just kindly tweeted an article I wrote in late September after I emailed it to him, using the same email address I’d obtained in that mass email from several years earlier. I, like many people outside of his inner circle, had no idea anything was wrong. He seemed optimistic on social media following his surgery, so I kept my thoughts regarding his recovery positive.
On December 20th I noticed he was trending on Twitter and knew it had to be news of his passing. With a sinking feeling I clicked on his hashtagged name and saw journalists, rappers, podcast/radio hosts, and producers sharing memories and thoughts about his very untimely death at age 48. Passion of the Weiss creator and journalist Jeff Weiss tweeted, “The premature loss of Reggie Ossé is no less significant than the too soon passing of a Big Pun, a Guru, or a Big L. He had so much more to teach & share. One of the realest & most genuine people I’ve ever met. This is a devastating day for hip hop. Long Live Combat.”
Weiss’ statement is spot on. Of all the people who try to document and tell the stories behind rap music and hip-hop culture, Combat Jack did it with a level of depth that is difficult to obtain without sucking all the fun out of it. He documented the culture in a complex and nuanced way without being overly dry and academic about it. He elevated what we thought was possible with podcasts, both with his show and his work with Mogul. And despite everything he accomplished in recent years, it seemed he was just getting started. Combat Jack won’t be difficult to replace — he’s irreplaceable.
When Combat Jack passed lecturer/journalist Dart_Adams tweeted, “This is a fucking nightmare. If there’s a short list of people I didn’t want to have to eulogize, Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé is on it. Rest in eternal peace, sir.”
Though I respected his sentiment, I’m glad Dart spoke on his passing in the beautifully penned “Knowledge Darts Vol. 32: Winter Solstice” article for Mass Appeal. Words often fail when someone like Combat Jack dies, but Dart gave him an admirable sendoff.
In addition to writing his own take the loss of such a beloved figure, I’m also grateful that Dart agreed to help me compile a tribute playlist for Combat Jack. Like Dart, I never met him in person. But I’ll never forget the amazing work he did and I wanted to memorialize him through the music he seemed to love so much.
“If there’s a short list of people I didn’t want to have to eulogize, Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé is on it.” — Dart Adams
So I compiled a playlist of tracks using Dart’s suggestions, a breakdown Jack did with Complex about records he played a role in, a HipHopDX interview, and Still Crew tribute piece. These are songs that Combat Jack had something to do with or tracks by some of his favorite artists and groups. It even includes Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time”, something I learned about by reading the DX piece. Unfortunately, relevant songs from The WiseGuys, The Future Sound, Original Flavor, and some other artists weren’t available on Spotify.
In addition to the playlist I’ve also included his TED Talk and his appearances on The Breakfast Club and Drink Champs. It’s fascinating to see someone who interviewed people for a living on the other side of the microphone. If you’ve never watched or listened to these interviews before, they’re well worth your time.
Writing this article is a good reminder to give the great ones flowers while they’re here. I should have reached out to Combat Jack while he was with us for an interview and I didn’t. And I’ll always regret it.
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