The Life and Legacy of Combat Jack

Reggie Ossé Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images
Reggie Ossé Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Reflecting on the influence and impact of a podcasting pioneer.

To those in the business of digital media and entertainment, Combat Jack—known to his inner circle as Reggie Ossé—was often seen as a mythological figure; a deity of sorts who was not only instrumental to the rise of the Roc-A-Fella and Bad Boy Records empires, but also forged his own podcast network, the Loud Speakers Network.

For podcasters of color, Loud Speakers—with its robust roster of popular shows that includes the Charlamagne tha God-helmed The Brilliant Idiots, Van Lathan’s The Red Pill, and the cultural phenomenon known as The Read—is much more than the mecca. Its inception ushered in a new era of black and brown voices demanding agency in a heavily white-dominated medium, and served as the catalyst for many crusades into digital media. But for all its acclaim, influence, and fanfare, it wouldn’t exist without its crown jewel, The Combat Jack Show, which delved into the triumphs and tribulations of hip-hop’s most intriguing and impactful personas.

The accidental podcaster

“Reggie never really had any designs on getting into podcasting,” says Matt Nelson, senior producer at Gimlet and Ossé’s co-conspirator on Mogul, hip-hop’s first narrative storytelling podcast. “He didn't really know what a podcast was.”

After spending the ‘90s and early 2000s as an entertainment attorney for JAY Z, Diddy, and other major artists, Ossé dabbled in blogging before eventually making his mark in internet radio with the groundbreaking Combat Jack Show, which blended Howard Stern’s lively ensemble approach with hip-hop’s flair and fervor. But when building renovations derailed his studio access, he put out the word on Twitter that if Combat Jack was to continue, he was gonna need a little help. Enter Loud Speakers' eventual cofounder, Chris Morrow.

“Chris popped up and basically said [to Ossé], ‘You know I can give you an hour and a studio,’” Jonathan Mena, executive producer at Loud Speakers, says. “Because [Morrow] was working for a radio company at the time.”

Sure, it required recording after hours and deploying other guerilla tactics, but the new studio was a significant upgrade from their previous headquarters. It was readily available and—most importantly—free. Morrow also had access to top-tier sound engineers, which gave Ossé a significant advantage in sound quality over many of his competitors.

Bigger ideas

Morrow saw beyond just a single show. He envisioned an entire network brimming with thought-provoking opinions and diverse voices that were urgently needed in a blossoming medium where neither felt welcome. So the motley crew—comprised of Mena, Morrow, executive producer A-King, writer and editor Matt Raz, Ossé, and others—got to work. And on June 1, 2013, the dream officially became a reality on the strength of a $500 budget.

The Loud Speakers Network’s initial rollout consisted of quirky Fan Bros—since rebranded as the For All Nerds Show—the self-proclaimed “voice of the urban geek”; Sneaker Fiends, helmed by The Combat Jack Show alums Dallas Pen and Premium Pete; and Reality Check, co-hosted by writer JasFly and NY Delight, which among other things is notable for bringing the celebrated and distinct voice of Kid Fury into the Loud Speakers network.

“What made the Loud Speakers Network so groundbreaking was that it was nothing like anything that existed before,” Shanita Hubbard, educator and author of the forthcoming book Miseducation: A Woman's Guide to Hip-Hop, says. “It was a complete game-changer. We had never seen or heard from so many podcasters who looked and sounded like us, and shows like The Combat Jack Show and The Read inspired millions of other black and brown creators to join the revolution and discover their own voices.

“The podcast industry is only as diverse and inclusive as it is today because of the barriers that Combat Jack and the Loud Speakers Network tore down," Hubbard adds. "Someone had to be first, and they never get their due as pioneers.”

Boosting the signal

Another often-overlooked fact is the role that The Combat Jack Show and other Loud Speakers Network creations played in legitimizing podcasting as an entertainment medium. Their tremendous influence and popularity proved there was a viable audience for authentic, hip-hop-influenced content outside of radio. Ossé created a blueprint that spiritual successors like The Joe Budden Podcast, Questlove Supreme, and Drink Champs would later emulate. “Reggie’s impact is undeniable,” A-King says. “If you’re in podcasting, it's your responsibility to acknowledge that.”

On a wide scope, remnants of Loud Speakers Network DNA exist in many shows that are currently being produced. The network developed a signature conversational tone and a wealth of segments that address everything from wellness to comic books to fan mail, exploring the full breadth of people of color and debunking assumptions that black and brown people are a monolith. In doing all that, the network has provided other podcasters with potent examples of popular topics and forums, and specific playbooks for how to actively engage with a community of listeners who are otherwise often overlooked.

Ossé deserves credit for a lot of that. "Combat Jack is the godfather of hip-hop podcasting. That's not an opinion, it's facts,” Morrow says. “His impact on the medium was immeasurable. He set the tone for all hip-hop podcasts to come by insisting on only putting out authentic, organic content. Then once he'd helped elevate those sorts of conversations, he used Mogul to prove that highly produced, scripted podcasts could work in the space as well. Every hip-hop podcaster owes an enormous debt to him."

And Ossé's brilliance extended far beyond just podcasting. “Combat Jack’s influence transcended the podcast world. He challenged me to think differently about methods and vehicles of storytelling,” Hubbard said. “I’m forever grateful to him for teaching me that lesson.”

And though he succumbed to colon cancer on December 20, 2017, the legacy of Combat Jack lives on in the various shows he created and influenced throughout his incomparable career.

—Jay Connor