One of my heroes died yesterday.
Yes, losing Prince hurt. As did the death of luminaries such as Dick Gregory and Maurice White. But for all their contributions in moving black culture forward, their statuses as legends were solidified prior to their passing. My fear is that Reggie Ossé, better known as Combat Jack, who at 48 years young succumbed to colon cancer months after announcing his diagnosis, was denied a similar fate.
The first time I met Combat Jack was in Anaheim, Calif., last October at Now Hear This, an annual festival in which popular podcasters meet their adoring fans and perform their shows live. Riding off the unexpected success of my own podcast, The Extraordinary Negroes, which debuted a few months prior, my black ass was there for one reason and one reason only: to convince him that my show belonged on his Loud Speakers Network.
Home to Kid Fury and Crissle’s inimitable wit, Charlamagne tha Contrarian’s polarizing opinions, Taxstone’s authenticity and Angela Rye’s raised fist, the roster on the Loud Speakers Network (which Combat Jack co-owned) is rivaled only by the Golden State Warriors—just knocking down 30-foot jumpers and dunking on niggas for no reason, scoreboard and feelings be damned.
With my VIP pass in tow, I crept into some lounge I had no business being in and introduced myself to the man who inspired me to launch my own show, Combat Jack. Since I’m an avid listener of The Combat Jack Show, he was amazed by how effortlessly I could recall minute details. He blistered at N.O.R.E.’s penchant for continually hounding him about a deal he botched as a young lawyer, schooled me on interviewing techniques, gushed over his favorite podcasting equipment and shared a sneak preview of his next endeavor, Mogul, which was released earlier this year to universal acclaim.
Amazed that I was able to get this kind of one-on-one time with him, I told him how much of a profound impact he had on me and how he was directly responsible for my own show even existing. Before I knew it, nearly two hours had passed. And as much as I appreciated chopping it up on some barbershop shit, it was time to shoot my shot.
I prattled off about how we tackle difficult subjects within our community but infuse humor in order to make them more digestible. How our show was exactly what his network was missing and how we fit a need. He was impressed at our list of guests. “Y’all did that yourself?” Yup.
But before I could stunt on Instagram and commemorate our new partnership with obnoxious selfies and imaginary bottles of Champagne, I heard three fateful words: “Holla at Matt.” Matt, of course, being the innocuous white guy who, thanks to no formal introduction courtesy of Combat Jack, had no idea I had just spent the last two hours talking to his boss. Matt would also be the one to kill my dreams of throwing on that Loud Speakers jersey by referring me to the contact form on their website. “Submit your show on there and we’ll check it out.” Ouch. Thanks, Matt.
At the time, I was devastated, but in hindsight, I realized I wasn’t heavy enough in the podcast game to just waltz up to Combat Jack and expect him to snatch up my show. Dejected, I remember walking back to my car afterward promising myself that the next time I saw him, he would know who the hell I was.
Over the next nine months, I proceeded to bust my ass building momentum for my podcast. Our social media following skyrocketed to over 80,000 followers; we joined forces with the big homies Panama Jackson and Damon Young for a watch party in Washington, D.C., for BET’s The New Edition Story; got shoutouts in numerous publications, including Bitch Media and the New York Times; got invited to SXSW to perform a live episode of our show; announced a partnership with streaming media juggernaut TuneIn; and got nominated for Best Society and Culture Podcast in the People’s Choice Podcast Awards. A bunch of other accolades and opportunities fell into our laps as a direct result of our success. So when I heard that Combat Jack was returning to Los Angeles for BET Weekend in June to do another live show, I was ready this time.
About 20 minutes before his show started, I ran into him inside the venue. Much to my surprise, he rolled up on me. “Yo, it’s Jay, right?” Wait, what? He must have me confused with somebody else. I started to remind him of how we met at Now Hear This, but he shut me down quick: “Yo, I wanna come on your show. I leave on Monday. Let’s make it happen.”
Knowing how much he prided himself on preparing for his interviews (a trait I inherited from him) and realizing that him coming on to my show was essentially my audition for the Loud Speakers Network, I knew rushing to record that weekend was a terrible idea. Much to even my own surprise, I declined. Instead, I offered to bring him on in a few weeks. To which he replied, “Bet. No bullshit. I wanna come on. Y’all moving out here.” He snatched my phone out of my hand, plugged his number in, asked someone to get a picture of us, dapped me up, then dissolved into the crowd. Thankfully, Matt was nowhere to be found this time.
After locking in his interview, I was so amped I took my ass straight home after his show and stayed up until 3 a.m. researching him on the internet. Over the course of the next few weeks, I called or texted various people who had personal relationships with him and dragged tidbits of information out of them to craft questions around. After an absurd amount of research and preparation, I was 100 percent confident I would deliver his best interview ever. But sadly, fate had other plans.
Though we texted back and forth trying to lock in a date, his schedule was bananas. First it was Vegas, then it was family. Soon it was becoming painfully obvious that the opportunity to interview the man who single-handedly changed my life and so many others was diminishing. But our failure to lock in his interview doesn’t upset me at all. It’s the fact that I never had the opportunity to thank him.
Simply put, in launching the Loud Speakers Network, Combat Jack provided so many of us with a voice. In a world consumed with diluting, disparaging and disposing of any semblance of blackness, he created a platform for us to be our unapologetic selves. And while he wasn’t the first black podcaster, he was easily the most influential. You can literally pinpoint the trajectory of podcasting before and after the birth of the Loud Speakers Network.
In fact, if you eliminate his contributions and influence, many of your favorite comedians, entertainers and media personalities wouldn’t be where they are today. That’s a fact. The argument can even be made that SoundCloud is only being kept afloat because podcasters funnel so much money into it. Though SoundCloud is widely maligned in podcasting circles, an overwhelming majority of podcasters of color host their own shows on the platform anyway in order to emulate Loud Speakers Network’s formula.
But for creatives such as myself, he provided us with far more than just a voice. He gave us our calling. After moving to Los Angeles in 2014 to jump-start my own writing career, I quickly realized that instead of pounding the pavement to work my way up the food chain, the fastest way to reel in the writing opportunities I wanted was to leverage my personality into popularity.
As such, podcasting has allowed me to reach millions of people I otherwise never would. It’s allowed me to travel the country and generate awareness around important issues such as mental health in the black community, social justice and the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity. It’s allowed me to change lives, speak in schools and on panels, and celebrate the agency and accomplishments of people of color. Podcasting has provided me with invaluable relationships and has opened countless doors that would otherwise have remained closed. In short, podcasting has given me—and countless others—purpose.
And that’s solely because of Combat Jack.
His death teaches us not only that one man has the power to move mountains but also why it’s important that we champion our heroes while they’re still here to move them. May his spirit live on in each of us.