The Story of Combat Jack, Hip-Hop’s Flagship Podcaster

Reggie Ossé, a.k.a. Combat Jack. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Combat Jack — Reggie Ossé as he was known to his friends — was lying in his hospital bed. His big belly pressed tight against his blue gown. His face was gaunt, missing 10 or 15 of the pounds that typically rounded out his cheeks. It was late October, nearly two weeks after he’d checked in to Brooklyn’s NYU Lutheran Medical Center. His voice was weak, still above a whisper but lacking the Crown Heights–inflected intensity that, on his namesake podcast — the Combat Jack Show — had made him new-media royalty.

“Six months ago, I’m running around, and I start getting this pain from the top right of my body to the lower abdominal,” he said. “Then the pain went away, so I think I’m out of the woods. Two weeks ago, the pain came back. I’m like, let me get a sonogram. The sonogram said my liver was inflamed. So for two weeks, I’m eating right, drinking as much fluid as possible, but the more I eat the bigger my stomach gets. Last Saturday, the pain was unbearable. We came here Sunday night, and after an initial battery of tests, the doctor sat down and was like, You have colon cancer. And we need to do surgery tonight. And had you not come in today, you might not have seen tomorrow.

Blindsided by the diagnosis but bowled over in pain, he went under the knife. The surgery, an ileostomy, pulled cancer from his colon and rerouted his small intestine so that a colostomy bag was attached to his side.

“They took out six fluid ounces from my stomach, took out a mass that was blocking my esophagus and digestive system, they had to cut my big intestine, stretch my little intestine, play with my bowel lining,” he said. “I still don’t know what the fuck they did, but they said they saved my life.”

I had come to the hospital that day at Ossé’s request; he was concerned for what the future might hold, and wanted to begin a series of interviews that we could use for … well, he wasn’t exactly sure. A book, a TV show, maybe a movie, something.

He was flanked by his girlfriend, Mika, a steady presence, and friends and family had been visiting regularly. It was a bit of a revolving door — the guy knew a ton of people — and at times it felt like the Combat Jack Show itself, conversation unspooling, a welcome distraction from what he was going through. There was online support, too (the hashtag #CombatCancer became a trending topic on Twitter), press coverage in the New York Post and on NY1, phone calls and texts — LL Cool J, J. Cole, Bun B, Fat Joe, Redman, and De La Soul all checked in.

This left him encouraged and hopeful. He’d been arrogant, always in perfect health, was over 50 and had never had a colonoscopy. Cancer would be a teachable moment, a way to raise awareness — but first, he needed to know his own status. “Stage 4,” he’d heard, but there was no pathology, no real diagnosis.

Just then though, as if on cue, a hospital resident walked in. She had news. It was bad.

“What’s the over-under?” he asked.

The resident seemed unsure, gave him a number anyway. It was a better number than expected but still not great.

Mika’s eyes turned glassy and wet. Ossé looked on stoically, his eyes wide, his breath steady.

“I mean, that’s dire,” he said, his feet bouncing nervously beneath the blanket. “That’s dire, that’s what it is.”

He paused, considering things.

“But that sounds great to me. A fighting chance.”

The resident stammered.

“Glass half full, right — again, I’m sorry,” she said, choking up.

“No,” he said. “Don’t be sorry.”

“You’re a great patient though,” she said.

“Karen — listen.”

His voice was a whisper.

“Don’t be sorry.”

Reggie Ossé spent the ’90s and early 2000s as an entertainment attorney, but over the past seven years he’d reinvented himself — he was hip-hop’s flagship podcaster, an elder statesman and historian, part journalist, part commentator, always a fan.

2017 had been a banner year. The Combat Jack Show was humming along, its library closing in on 450 episodes. A gig on Sirius XM only helped expand the brand. And his podcast network, Loud Speakers — home to shows like The Read and Brilliant Idiots — had grown into a real urban alternative to the medium’s staid, NPR-style voice.

But Ossé’s crowning achievement was Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty, a narrative nonfiction podcast about the heroic rise and unlikely fall of one of hip-hop’s greatest executives. His first foray into serious, long-form storytelling, The New Yorker called it “essential listening … a potent story about the complexities of art and the American experience.” By the end of the year, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, and the Guardian would all hail it as one of the best podcasts of 2017.

Things were good. A second season of Mogul was already in the works, and the talent agency ICM had recently opened its doors, promising him books, television, speaking engagements, and more. For years, he’d fashioned himself as a hip-hop blend of Howard Stern and Oprah, and now it was all happening.

“I’ve been riding off the wave of Mogul, riding off the wave of this being the best year of my career,” Ossé said. “I was making more money than I ever made, it was a turning point. But I was waiting for my wake-up call — ’cause at 53, I was like, you’ve got to get your shit together, and my shit was not together.”

Two years ago, Ossé began having personal problems. He’d been married nearly 20 years, and had four children, but things with his wife had gone sour. In April of 2017 he filed for divorce. By then, he was back living with his 93-year-old mother, picking up all the bad habits she had once pushed him to avoid.

“These past few years, I became a super-heavy drinker,” he said. “I’d wake up in the morning with a shot of tequila. I was just trying to wrap my my head around this divorce. I didn’t give a fuck about life.”

In addition to the booze, he smoked weed, smoked cigarettes, ate poorly. He was stressed, too, traveling the country for work while fending off a million and one podcast competitors. Then came the pain. His family doctor said it was stress related, maybe the drinking. So he made some tweaks. He got closer with Mika. He curbed alcohol, tried cleaning up his diet, took up biking.

“I just went overboard,” he said. “Cancer was going to happen regardless, drinking didn’t necessarily exacerbate or accelerate it. But it can’t [have been] good.”

In the wake of his diagnosis, Ossé was defiant. He had gone through hell with the divorce and insinuated that dealing with cancer might be a cakewalk compared to that. The podcast’s closing salvo was always the same: “Dream those dreams,” he’d say. “Then man up and live those dreams.” Ossé would beat cancer like so many things he’d beaten before it.

“LL Cool J told me to knock [cancer] out,” wrote in an Instagram post from the hospital. “So I’m gonna knock it out.”

On October 28, Ossé left the hospital. He returned to Mika’s home in Ridgewood, Queens, and in her shared, two-bedroom apartment, he watched television, received visitors and tried to rest. But he was antsy and wanted to work. So he recorded a podcast, the “Combat Cancer Episode,” and turned calamity to comedy, joking about the colostomy bag, his tiny legs, and how badly he needed a haircut.

The next day, as he sat in his living room, his energy was good. He had the colostomy bag, but he could get up, walk around, and be an actual person.

With Wu-Tang playing softly in the background, he became wistful about his time at Cornell University, where he joined a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, and roomed in a black dorm, Ujamaa, and took a kind of juvenile pride — something he now regretted — in not caring as much about the same issues as his more socially minded peers.

“The RA was trying to get me woke, but I just wasn’t that woke,” he said. “On Friday nights, she would show shit like Birth of a Nation. I’m like: We’re free right now. I came from the hood, so being at Cornell, I felt like I made it. It was just ignorance. I didn’t think about how Birth of a Nation was the beginning of an industry that portrays certain people a certain way. The incompetence, the savagery, all the shit they say about black men — that was the archetype of how they were going to market us for the next century.”

He was also particularly reflective about his parents, especially his mother. Before immigrating, she’d lived in Saut-d’Eau, Haiti, born to a family of doctors, lawyers, and priests. In America, she started all over, traveling four hours a day to her job as a lab technician at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx. As for his father, who’d left him as a child — “He was an asshole and we didn’t get along,” he said. “I was his son, but he didn’t really care for me.”

Everything about Ossé’s childhood was an effort to help him level up. “Our shit wasn’t middle class, it was working class,” he said. “Parents that worked 365 to maintain a shot at the American Dream — I was that shot.” To that end, his mom placed him in Catholic schools, made him take accordion lessons and dragged him to Broadway plays. “My mom might have been unconsciously trying to groom me to have a different worldview than my peers,” he said.

At age 9, while visiting cousins in Boston — the first black family to move into a white neighborhood — he got into a backyard scuffle with a knife-wielding neighbor who’d become angry with him during a softball game.

“Their family was like the white Brady Bunch and my cousins were like the black Brady Bunch, but the next thing I know, [this guy] is yelling the same things at me he’s been yelling all summer,” he said. “Fuck you, nigger. You’re a fucking nigger. Nigger, nigger, nigger. He’s just screaming at me. At that age I wasn’t really traumatized by race. I was just a kid.”

As he grew older, his worldview grew increasingly darker. The Vietnam War saw veterans returning to the neighborhood, bringing a taste for drugs; drugs led to crime, which some of his friends got mixed up in. At RFK middle school, in Ridgewood, Queens, there was a two-bus commute that took him through strange turf.

“Shit was like The Warriors,” he said. “You had to get through the black kids in Bed-Stuy, you had to get through the Latinos in Bushwick, you had to get through the white boys in Ridgewood. It was fun, but it was so lawless and primal. I was forced to grow up quick.”

But RFK was a small, specialized Catholic school, one classroom for each grade. At the end of the year, the students had the option to take an international class trip. Ossé went to Italy one year, Spain the next, expanding his worldview. “[On those trips] we were smoking weed, going to wine tastings,” he said. “It was a crazy school.”

Ossé saw there was more to life than what was going on the streets between those bus stops, but in the neighborhood he got a different education, bonding with kids over comic books, movies, and martial arts, a broad cross section of ’70s-era pop culture. Crucially, too, there was music — funk, rock, soul, even disco. Hip-hop, though, is what changed his life.

“My friend kept telling me — rapping, you know, rappers?” he said. “Imagine trying to explain rap and you’re one of the only people who experienced it. When I heard Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘Super Rappin,’ it was like I got struck by lightning. I felt these kids were talking to me.”

In 1980, rapping under the name Reggie-O, he formed his own rap crew, KTT (Kings of the Turntable). He recorded a few basement tapes, yet remained convinced he didn’t have much talent. Instead, he gravitated toward sketching and painting. At Manhattan’s Xavier High School, Marilyn Minter — a teacher and artist who’d later become renowned for her work with erotica-themed photo-realism — pushed him to pursue a career in the arts.

“She saw that I had a spark, and she was one of the first free spirits that I met who was like — art for art’s sake,” he said. “She was like a Cyndi Lauper chick in the gray, drab school run by priests and suppressed men and nuns. Through her kindness and how she forced me to push myself creatively, she became a major influence on me.”

Fine Arts became his major at Cornell, but he didn’t feel challenged by his major, and he felt out of place among his classmates. “It was just a bunch of trust-fund kids,” he said. Uncertain art would provide a living once he left school, he snuck a peek at the pay stub of a cousin who was a lawyer and changed majors to prelaw shortly afterward. Postgraduation, he went to law school at Georgetown.

“You’re giving up on your dreams, you’re fucking up,” he said Ms. Minter told him. “I was like, yeah, but I gotta find a way to come back to Brooklyn. As this black kid, I don’t have the luxury to be just hanging out in art galleries. It wasn’t like now, where you can finesse anything. It was a sense of survival.”

Fresh out of Georgetown, his cousin plugged him with an internship at Def Jam, back when the house of Rick and Russell was the premier spot for groundbreaking, commercially viable hip-hop. Rubbing elbows with his heroes, you couldn’t tell Ossé he hadn’t made the right choice.

“Watching Russell Simmons deal with Slick Rick; renegotiating with LL Cool J; Run DMC coming to the offices — like damn, DMC is really cool; everybody from Public Enemy …” he said. “Once you met them you never forgot who they were. It wasn’t real for me until then. The only celebrities I had ever seen were on TV.”

If he was at least partially starstruck, once he looked at the contracts he got a rude awakening — the artists weren’t making much. “I studied Public Enemy’s contract,” he said. “I remember thinking — these guys are my favorite, this is what they got to sign? It was just this perception; like, not everyone in this industry is rich.”

And he wasn’t getting rich himself. In fact, he wasn’t making much money at all. “The guy who hired me argued with Russell, because to prove myself they put me on a stipend,” he said. “Andy, this Jewish attorney, said: Russell, pay your black people.”

He drifted away from the Def Jam gig, landing a position with Louise West, a celebrated black attorney who’d cut her teeth working with R&B acts. Music was changing though, and most black attorneys at the time acted as if hip-hop wasn’t even music at all; West, meanwhile, wanted to groom an attorney of color, someone who knew hip-hop.

“Louise been in the game since the late ’70s, always by herself, smoked in every office she walked into, and still had the respect of [executives like] Doug Morris and Tommy Mottola — she would never back down,” Ossé said. “Now, here you have this black lawyer who is well-versed in hip-hop, which you didn’t really have at that time, and the tide was turning. She knew I was the future. Working with Louise opened my whole world up to black entertainment law.”

West’s intuition was right. By 1995, hip-hop was booming, and Ossé’s client list was growing. So with a partner, Ed Woods, he set up his own firm, Ossé-Woods, LLP. Negotiating on behalf of Bad Boy’s famed “Hitmen” production team, he ran in the same circles as the Notorious B.I.G. and Sean “Diddy” Combs. You can see Ossé in a famous photo at Biggie’s funeral, next to Mary J. Blige while she consoles a crying Lil Kim. But it was another client that could have been his big score.

“Damon Dash started managing Jay-Z and we did everything to push this guy,” Ossé said. “He was every bit as confident, as arrogant, whatever you want to say Jay-Z is today. I remember sitting with Lyor Cohen and Lyor would say, Why should I sign him, he’s not LL Cool J. Going to Jive and they’d say, Why should we sign him, he’s not A Tribe Called Quest.”

After Ossé helped Jay-Z get his first record deal, Roc-A-Fella ditched him for another attorney. This scenario played out repeatedly as artists climbed the food chain; the disloyalty was grating. Successful but expendable, rarely more powerful than the artist he was standing next to, he was growing disillusioned.

“I wasn’t fulfilled anymore,” he told HipHopDX in 2015. “I just decided that I needed to be in control of my destiny. I was just catering to everybody else’s dream as an attorney. I knew there was something out there for me than just being an attorney. And I had a voice too. I remember being in creative sessions with clients, and they’d be like, Shut the fuck up; you’re just the attorney.”

In the early aughts, file sharing sent the record business into a tailspin. Briefly, Ossé took a VP gig at MTV Networks, but it proved too square for someone more accustomed to cutting deals over Cristal at nightclubs or through a haze of weed smoke at blunt-filled studio sessions. In search of something that could get him inspired, he recruited a journalist friend, Gabriel Tolliver, and in 2006 co-wrote a book about hip-hop jewelry, Bling.

The book wasn’t a big hit, but while researching it he rediscovered the inner voice that for so long he’d told himself he needed to quiet. Hip-hop blogs were then in their infancy; loose and chaotic, they had a youthful energy. They were witty, full of politically incorrect commentary and bootlegged MP3s, a veritable Wild West still untainted by corporate influence, internet advertising gimmicks, and social-media-inspired groupthink.

To Ossé, it was heaven. And so he began commenting anonymously on St. Louis, Missouri–based blogger Byron Crawford’s site, perhaps his biggest platform at the time. Concerned he’d jeopardize his career, he used a pen name, Combat Jack, because he’d been reading the book Generation Kill. The posts were long and written from the point of view of someone who’d obviously worked behind the scenes — eyebrows were immediately raised.

“We were basically just fucking around on the internet,” Crawford recalls. “It was the kind of thing I wished were in magazines like the Source or XXL. At some point it went from being a hobby to being his life’s work. The podcast just took it to a different level. Watching it unfold, I was really surprised to see it become as big as it did.”

After launching his own blog, Daily Mathematics, the Combat Jack Show started in 2010. It was at least partially inspired by New York’s popular rap radio station Hot 97, which had just recently handed over its morning show to radio jocks Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. During a Twitter spat about the direction of the morning show, Rosenberg threatened Ossé. “I’ll slap the shit out of you in front of your kids,” Rosenberg said (the two have since made up). It was all the ammunition Ossé needed.

At first, the Combat Jack Show aired live over the internet on PNC Radio, late at night; if anyone was actually listening, nobody knew. Dallas Penn, another blogger, served as co-host. It was loose and unscripted, more like friends in a barbershop than a choreographed interview show. Over time, a crew of regulars came onboard — Premium Pete, DJ BenHaMeen, A-King, and record producer Just Blaze (who would sometimes fly back to New York from various gigs via helicopter to record the show), among others.

Seven years later, with its blend of interviews and commentary, the show had become a hit. Co-hosts had come and gone, but Ossé was still at the center, well-researched and well-informed, probing deep, seeking to know more. Guests ran the gamut, from hip-hop’s past and present, plus filmmakers, activists, and cultural critics. When Ossé asked the questions, the guard came down.

Consider Public Enemy front man Chuck D airing out his own grievances with Hot 97. Or David Banner talking about his sex addiction. Damon Dash opining about the culture vultures who’d infiltrated the rap game. DeRay Mckesson discussing tweets he’d drafted in case he died during the 2014 Ferguson protests. J. Cole chatting about stepping away from the limelight to produce his best album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. And retired policeman Corey Pegues confessing to a life of crime before becoming a cop himself (which lead to Pegues being excommunicated from the NYPD, and the subsequent filing of a $200 million lawsuit, later dismissed).

“What people respect about him is, he isn’t a grumpy old hip-hop head,” said Chris Morrow, his partner in Loud Speakers. “I can remember him embracing Lil B kind of at the height of the anti–Lil B movement, when people were cracking on him and saying he wasn’t a real rapper. He’s just a fan at heart. He can be historical, philosophical, political, but he also has that infectious joy that we all felt when we first started listening to music and really soaking in the culture. Thirty years later, he can still get excited about hearing a new song as he did when he was a kid.”

This is why wide swaths of listeners could relate to Reggie Ossé. He was a hip-hop head and he’d once been an industry player, but he still retained his working-class worldview, and remained young at heart, interested in hip-hop’s past just as much as its future. Yet, hip-hop was only the Combat Jack Show’s lens — through that lens it explored hip-hop culture, but also social justice, mental health, entrepreneurship, and the wide spectrum that is black life in America. The show was intimate, often hilarious, frequently controversial and always smart.

That’s what hooked Morrow. He even remembers the episode that did it; rappers Rah Digga and Sean Price discussing how to smoke weed around their kids.

“It was still hip-hop, it was still the energy I grew up on, still the culture I grew up on, but it was transitioning while I was transitioning,” he said. “Prior to that, I always felt like an adult crashing the kid’s prom. As a person in their 40s, I felt like I was growing older, but everything about the culture was still so young. The Combat Jack Show was one of the first hip-hop platforms talking to people in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s in a way that wasn’t pandering or dismissive.”

Even terrestrial radio jockeys were impressed. “He was a great interviewer, very knowledgeable, did his research, asked great questions and knew how to push back,” Charlamagne tha God said, citing Ossé as one of the reasons he began podcasting. “He wasn’t afraid to disagree with you and wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions. Not only did I enjoy getting interviewed by him, but I enjoyed just listening to him — I’d text him all the time like, ya’ll killed it. He was inspiring great broadcasters.”

He also contributed enormously to the growth of podcasting, period. “There was always this feeling that podcasts were for middle-aged, affluent white guys,” Morrow said. “I had high level people in the urban media space tell me that African-Americans, especially millennial African-Americans, would never listen to podcasts.”

It was an uphill battle and only recently had it gotten easier. “Reggie used to always ask me, Yo Pete, are they listening?” Premium Pete said. “We just turned on the mics and were playing fucking games. [Then] we were like rock stars. We’re taking pictures with people, signing autographs.” There wasn’t much money then, but the Combat Jack Show became a brand. Ossé’s brand. Fans loved the show at different times for different reasons, but Ossé was the only constant. There was no Combat Jack Show without Combat Jack.

“I’m probably going to live to my 90s,” he said in the living room.

As the day wore on, people began pouring in, wanting to see how Ossé was doing. Friends and associates, a yoga instructor just back from a spiritual retreat in India, ready to perform Reiki on him. His son Chi was there too. Nineteen years old with a soft, round body and a cherub face, with the features of his father.

“Did you start chemo?” Chi asked.

“I gotta heal,” Ossé said. “I still have a big scar, a shit bag. Don’t get too close to me, I got shit in the bag.”

“Didn’t they say you have to start chemo immediately?”

“Well, chemo kills me,” he said. “So I have to heal.”

“Did they say that or …”

“That’s my understanding — it might take me like three months to really heal.”

“That’s a long time,” Chi said.

Ossé turned now, talking to the room, but also his son.

“It’s annoying as his parent, but in the real world, nothing is acceptable to Chi until he gets the answers that he wants — that’s a strong suit to have,” he said. “And understand, your dad is the same way. And I’m not settling for anything. I’m not jumping into chemo, because I have to get healthy, that’s the bottom line. I’ve only been home four days and I’m exhausted. I gotta get my wind back, I gotta get some weight on me.”

“I feel like people start immediately though.”

“It depends,” a friend said. “If they catch it early.”

“But they didn’t catch it early.”

“There’s a pacing,” Ossé said. “There’s no rush. Well, there is a rush. But there’s no two week, three week, one month, two month rush. I gotta get on my feet.”

Chi looked at him then, knowing his dad and all his quirks in ways that only sons can. And he sighed, in that way only sons do, when they are speaking to parents who only want to hear what it is they want to hear.

“Don’t be lazy with it,” Chi said.

Ossé had his reasons for not being pressed on chemotherapy. He was a devout Nichiren Buddhist, and believed far more in holistic healing than Western medicine. He also didn’t know yet if chemotherapy was an option. Perhaps the cancer had already spread too much.

On November 13, only a week after leaving the hospital, Ossé was headed right back. With Mika in tow, he was to meet an oncologist there and plot next steps. But when he arrived, things immediately went off the rails.

“[The oncologist] got called into a meeting and the appointment was pushed back an hour,” Ossé said the next day. “Then he couldn’t tell me if it was Stage 3 or Stage 4, couldn’t tell me anything. He hadn’t pulled up the CT scans, then he was like: I don’t know how to read this. It was like something out of a Jerry Lewis movie. He told me — chemo isn’t for everybody; another option is you can just lay at home with your loved ones. I was like, What the fuck is he telling me? Who says that? That’s crazy.”

So Ossé grabbed his medical records and headed for the exit. Maybe he’d check in at Sloan Kettering. It had only been two weeks. He had time.

“The Roots sent me a get-well card,” he said. “It said: You got this Combat, let’s go. Very encouraging. It’s fun, seeing the best of your peers. Like LL Cool J, my first day in the hospital, he calls me. I’m like that proverbial kid who is sick and all his heroes start reaching out to him. How does my current predicament get me so much more love, the kind I’ve wanted for a while? It’s mind-boggling.”

In mid-December, the Roots would do him one better, with Black Thought name-checking him at the end of his ten-minute viral freestyle — “Yo Flex, I’m glad we made contact/ My nigga also know this shit for Combat.” When I asked Black Thought about the line and the card, he said it was the least he could do; Ossé had been one of his biggest supporters, and he was a fan of the man just as much as the work.

“There were certain points in my career where I kind of questioned whether or not my full intentions was being understood and received, and he reassured me, he was that reaffirmation,” Black Thought said. “When I learned he had cancer, I thought, wow, I would hate for anything worse to happen, to lose him without him knowing the appreciation, the respect, the admiration was mutual. There would be no Drink Champs, no Charlamagne tha God, no Desus and Mero, you fill in the blanks. He presented a new way to hustle — I don’t know that the world really knows that. He’s one of the founding fathers of podcasting.”

The day before Thanksgiving, three weeks out of the hospital, the card from the Roots sat on a windowsill near the foot of his bed, the autumn breeze blowing it gently open and shut. Ossé was on a liquid diet and he was weak. Confined to the bed, where he sat shirtless, a big surgery bandage still covered his lean torso. His weight had dropped considerably. He’d been throwing up for days, and had violent, painful hiccups, the result of having eaten something — a milkshake — that did not agree with him.

He’d planned to see Dr. Sebi, the holistic medicine man that TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez had gone to see in Honduras before her death. But he died in 2016, so that angle was out. The doctor who did the cancer surgery said that he had unequivocally, without a doubt, 100 percent Stage 4 cancer, and needed chemotherapy sooner rather than later. There were issues with his insurance though, and unless he got an emergency waiver, they wouldn’t be resolved until January 1.

He couldn’t talk long. The hiccups came from his gut, rocketing up and out of the body. Soon, he could no longer speak.

A week later, on November 30, the hiccups had only gotten worse — more violent, more frequent; Mika worried he would die, and spent days pleading with him to go to the hospital. Only when she began crying hysterically did he agree. But that morning, once down the stairs out onto the building’s stoop, he became too weak to stand, and passed out. They called an Uber, got to Beth Israel’s emergency room, and put him in the ICU.

“Call your family, call your friends, call whoever you need to call,” the doctor on duty told him. “Whatever affairs you might have, get them in order. Tonight.”

About an hour later, plans for his last will and testament were made, and Ossé was laid out on a gurney in a hospital gown, his eyelids three-quarters closed and tubes inside his nose. There were issues with his kidneys — his potassium levels were low, and they were no longer functioning properly. Dialysis was coming. Hopefully it’d keep him alive.

Periodically, he’d whisper to Mika, who had been there since he’d been diagnosed. He laid flat, his head back, cradled in her hands. I wondered how long this would continue. I wondered if he knew I was there. Then his head went back further, he appeared unconscious, but was not. He wanted to say something. His eyes opened. His head lifted. He smiled, teeth showing, eyes bright. He put an outstretched arm in the air. Then he flashed a peace sign.

Reggie Ossé died on Wednesday, December 20, 2017. The final episode of the Combat Jack Show, celebrating his life, aired on January 16, 2018. The Combat Jack archive is still available to stream.

This article has been updated to mention PNC Radio, the station where the early episodes of the Combat Jack Show aired.

The Story of Combat Jack, Hip-Hop’s Flagship Podcaster