INTERNETS, it don't ever stop: an ode to Combat Jack

Death is an inevitable transition in this unrelenting saga called life. No matter how prepared one can be for an impending cloud of darkness to reach their shores, the impact of receiving that final, distraught call about a loved one is a heavy burden to bear. Grief, whether expressed internally with repressed emotions or externally with palpable breakdowns, affects us all in different ways. There's no proper way to go about it, nor is there a one-size-fits-all manual that'll explain how to process every emotion flooding your brain after a tragic event.

We all have dealt with the passing of a dear friend, close relative, or even a mentor from the past. Upon receiving the news, for some, the reaction is almost immediate. For others, it may take some time for the feelings to set in after a period of reflection and reminiscing. A freshly carved hollowness emerges that grimly reminds us of our future mortality. With this agape space in our psyche, we can choose to fill it with depressive and self-deprecated thoughts that will debilitate our progress...or we can COMBAT these internalized detriments in the honor of the fallen.

Callously, some might say "people die every day, don't get so bent out of shape about celebrities and other people you don't know personally." While the former may be factually true, that sentiment couldn't be more off-base.

The Culture surrounding the hip-hop community at-large feels like a kinship of sorts. Relationships within The Culture aren't always tangible ones, but for those that get it - like a head nod from a stranger acknowledging the similarity in melanin - get it. There is a connectedness and a bond that manifests from shared cultural or regional experiences, that leads an organic and familial sense of community.

The hip-hop community, while laden with strife and bullshit at times, is a tight-knit community that will laud the authentic and decant the fake. If there is a slight whiff of ingenuity, the truth will come out into the light, eventually. As it happens in many societies, pioneers in the game with established footing (preservationists) may clash with leaders of the new school (trailblazers) when it comes to progressing and advancing as a society. Combat Jack, born Reginald Joseph Ossé, was both a preservationist and trailblazer in the purest sense of both words. He was an icon in the hip-hop community for 20+ years until his untimely death on December 20th, 2017.

Jack's unwavering dedication to an art form that, at the time, was widely considered as just a "phase," garnered the respect of his peers throughout his storied career.  The ORIGINAL hip-hop podcaster is widely credited as one the first media personalities to conduct interviews through the new medium when he launched his live, then archived, The Combat Jack Radio Show in 2010. Along with his co-hosts and longtime friends Dallas Penn, Premium Pete, and Just Blaze (as a DJ and commentator in the early days), the Brooklyn-born legend created a laid-back, barbershop-like environment with an open forum for the regular patrons and incoming guests to interject into conversations and launch passionate and friendly debates.

The way in which he conducted his interviews were unrivaled. Some entertainers may be cantankerous, snobbish, and dismissive towards certain interviewers. Not in Combat's studio. It spoke volumes to the amount of respect everyone had for Jack. Ironic, because of his pseudonym, his interviews were rarely contentious, but Jack always challenged his guests to be candid. His follow up commentary accentuated his questions, making for natural transitions into the rest of the conversation. The show shaped an environment where his guests could feel relaxed instead of feeling like they were in the interrogation room.

The show didn't lack the biggest names in hip-hop, culture, and entertainment: Raekwon, Bun B, DeRay Davis, J. Cole, Common, Pete Rock, Wyclef Jean, Fat Joe, Angela Rye, Jordan Peele, and many many many others were welcomed on the show. Reggie Ossé wasn't just an integral part of hip-hop history, he was at the nexus of modern Black Culture.

While I never personally met the man, Combat Jack has been a part of my life for the past several years. His death, not even 2 months after announcing he was diagnosed with colon cancer, left me shook. Disbelief would be a gross understatement. Ever since I stumbled upon his short clips with Complex, I continuously checked in to his show because of the high-quality of content. Being someone that really cares about hip-hop culture, I was intrigued by the unfiltered oral history of the beginnings of the industry. Flagrantly comedic, Jack had a goofy candor; not goofy like corny, but hilarious in his own unique, authentic way.

My affinity for Jack extends beyond the hip-hop spectrum. After graduating from college in 2014, I had plans to work within the Criminal Justice field to gain experience and eventually make the transition to law school. Certain setbacks and life adversities led me to put this 5-year plan on hold almost indefinitely... until I learned more about Jack's history prior to podcasting. Through other podcast episodes where he guested on, I learned Combat graduated from Georgetown Law School, and it was his one true passion that inspired him to pursue this degree: music. When he graduated, he finessed his way into an internship with Def Jam and worked his way up the ranks. At one point, he represented hip-hop titans like Jay-Z, Dame Dash, and N.O.R.E. After he left the legal field in the early 2000s, he remained close to the game as a blogger-turned-editor for The Source.

His life story inspired the hell out of me. He pivoted and reinvented himself when he went from Reggie J. Ossé, Esq. to Combat Jack, and did not settle for stagnant mediocrity. He made a change in his life when he felt it was necessary and flourished in his future endeavors. After hearing hours upon hours of content, he felt like a part of my extended family. The Combat Jack Show kept me company during long road trips and hellish commutes to and from work. I learned so much about the history of hip-hop from Combat, but more importantly, about life in general. Keep grinding and keep pushing forward. Change the game and INTERNETS, "it don't ever stop."

Rest in Peace, Reginald J. Ossé. He may not be here in the physical, but his legacy will live on, forever.

If you've never listened to The Combat Jack Show before, below, check out some of my favorite episodes. It's a great listen if you're a fan of hip-hop and would like to learn more about the industry. His interviews are hilarious and insightful, spanning many, wide-ranging topics.

1. Dame Dash Episode 1 (ft. Just Blaze) and Episode 2 (Both episodes are must-listens);

The exuberantly expressive Damon Dash chop it up with his old colleague in one of the most memorable interviews from the show's catalog. Dame talks about his early life as a kid in New York and shares tales about his rise to success with Jay-Z and Roc-a-Fella Records. In both episodes, he shares wisdom about how the music industry really works, calls out some people that faked the funk for a paycheck, and has a hilariously tense back and forth with Just Blaze as they hash things out about their relationship in the early 2000s. Dame's sharp intellect and business acumen are on full display in these interviews.

2. Taxstone (Listen);

Brash, unapologetic, and downright disrespectful in the funniest way possible. Taxstone, with his Tax Season podcast, was emerging as one of the most prominent voices in the industry prior to unfortunate events that transpired in 2017. A burly and gruff individual that shared his unfiltered wisdom about the trials and tribulations of street life made for a one-of-a-kind interview. But Tax wasn't bragging about his tales of growing up in New York. Rather he shared his testimonies to served as a teaching tool to kids going down a similar path. Combat's true skills as an interviewer shine in this episode as he gives space to Tax and his high-octane style and compliments it by calmly reeling him back in once it's time to move on to the next topic. Many expletives fly throughout the episode, but it's highly entertaining and insightful.

3. Stretch and Bobbito (Listen);

Hip-hop pioneers collide when the legendary radio gatekeepers Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia sit down to promote their excellent documentary, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives. Their names may sound familiar because of THE 7-minute freestyle by Big L, featuring a very young Jay-Z, which broadcasted live on their radio show in 1995. This monumental interview was important because of the shared history between these three. Every hip-hop lover will enjoy nuggets of history as the duo discuss their start as a small time radio gig that turned into one of the most influential artifacts in the commencement of hip-hop on a larger scale.

4. Bomani Jones Episode 1 (ft. Kazeem Famiyude)Episode 2, and Episode 3;

One of the most intelligent minds in the public media today, Bomani Jones sat down with Jack three times over seven years. These interviews are must-listens for aspiring journalists all over the world, each one containing a plethora of deep conversations and critical thinking about race relations, politics, and a whole host of topics. Combat is sound and poignant throughout each conversation, which sparks the fluid, lucid, and free-flowing mind that Bomani is known for. The back and forths they shared were not always about the heaviest of topics, as they diverged into plenty of jokes and music debates. Highly interesting and thought-provoking insight from the moment you press play.

5. Young Guru (ft. Rapsody) (Listen);

According to The Wall Street Journal, "hip-hop's most trusted sound engineer," Young Guru (accompanied by one of the best lyricists in the game, Rapsody), sat down with Combat Jack for a whopping 3-hour session that will keep the interest of any music fan. Guru goes into detail about his upbringings in school, which eventually led to his prolific work behind the scenes in audio construction as an engineer. He shares the story about studio sessions on Jay-Z's infamous Dynasty (Intro), Kanye West's Two Words, and Cam'ron's Welcome to New York City.

Honorable Mentions: Phonte Coleman; Vashtie; Jemele Hill & Michael Smith; Angie Martinez; Pusha T;

Listen to the whole archive here: