As I rode the bus a few days ago, searching Twitter on my phone to pass the time, I came across a tweet that caught me off guard. In part, because I had completely forgotten about it. Mainly because I couldn’t believe it’s been 10 whole years since Jam Master Jay was murdered.
Born Jason Mizell from Brooklyn, bred in Hollis Queens, Jam Master Jay was introduced to musical instruments very early in life. At the age of 3, he began to play the trumpet, bass and electric guitars (Spin Magazine named him the 10th greatest guitarist of all-time), and the drums, prior to discovering turntables at the age of 13. His experience with music helped him catch on to DJ-ing quick, and soon he began playing for other people.
Mizell just “wanted to be a part of the band”. He played bass and drums in various garage bands, going by the name of “Jazzy Jase”, a flashy b-boy with minor legal troubles. He would often hang around Two-Fifths Park in Hollis and entertain, and it was there that he met two guys going around rapping trying to find a DJ, Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. The two would rap for Jay and in 1982, he agreed to be their DJ. Their “band”, Run-D.M.C., would become arguably the most important group in hip-hop history.
Jam Master Jay was a huge part of the success of the Hollis Queens trio. With his extraordinary scratching and mixing that helped usher in a new era of hip hop, matched with the harder aggressive rhymes from his rap counterparts, Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled debut album would break new ground in the music industry. Jay not only brought unbelievable, hard-hitting beats to the table, he brought his rock influence and created a rock-rap fusion unlike any heard before. Tracks like “King of Rock” and “Rock Box” incorporated heavy guitar riffs and solos, which was so influential that the latter song became the first rap video to be aired on MTV.
It was their third album, “Raising Hell”, that shunned the critics who believed hip hop and rap music were a fad that would eventually die out, in large part by their cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. While recording “Raising Hell” with producer Rick Rubin, who’s worked with Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others, Rubin broke out Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic” album and explained to the group who they were. He thought it would be a good idea for them to cover the song, which Run nor McDaniels agreed with. Jam Master Jay believed the cover could work, and because of that, they agreed to do the song. “Walk This Way”, which featured Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry guesting on vocals and guitar, would become the first rap song to hit the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, and helped rap break into the mainstream music scene. On the strength of “Walk This Way” and fellow hits “My Adidas” and “It’s Tricky”, Raising Hell would peak the Billboard Hot 200 at no. 3, earning triple-platinum status, and is one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
Their next album, “Tougher Than Leather”, spawned hits like “Mary Mary” and “Run’s House”, and would go platinum, but failed to achieve the popularity and acclaim as “Raising Hell”. The group was beginning to look outdated and past its prime, and it took a toll on each member individually. While McDaniels battled alcoholism and depression, while Run battled his own demons. Jam Master Jay was involved in a life-threatening car accident and in 1990, survived two gunshot wounds following an incident. In 1993, Run-D.M.C. would drop “Down With The King” an album that hit no. 1 on the charts, helped by the title track which featured Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and production from Jermaine Dupri. It was around this time that Jam Master Jay would start his own label, JMJ Records. JMJ Records is best known for discovering the group Onyx, spearheaded by cousins Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz. The label would also find two men who would beef with one another; Black Child and a young 50 Cent, whom Jay taught to count bars, write chorus, structure a song, and create a record. 50 credits Jay as an influence who helped him improve his ability to create a hook. In 2001, Run-D.M.C. would release their final album “Crown Royal” to poor reviews. This would be the group’s final studio album.
On the evening of October 30th, 2002, Jam Master Jay was shot and killed inside a Jamaica, Queens recording studio. 1o years later, the case continues to go unsolved, despite federal prosecutors naming Ronald “Tenad” Washington as an accomplice in the murder, and news that his murder may have been the result of a decade-old drug debt to an old friend named Curtis Scoon. Run and McDaniels would retire the Run-D.M.C. moniker and disband. The group with the DJ who just “wanted to be apart of the band” was no longer a band.
In 2009, Run-D.M.C. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the second hip hop act to earn that distinction (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 2007). Run-D.M.C. is quite possibly the most important group in hip hop history. They revolutionized the sound from a more dance-funky vibe to a harder, more aggressive style, and a huge part of that was the sound Jam Master Jay created. Not only did his sound influence rap artists like Nas and Cypress Hill, his rock/rap fusion would influence bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who incorporated elements of rap to their funk-alternative rock style, and would also start a popular wave of bands in the 90s such as Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and later, the Hollywood Undead. They defined the culture, converting hip hop from the flashy and colorful attire made famous by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and the Cold Crush Brothers, to a more street style, wearing jeans, Adidas track suits and shoes without the laces, chains, and fedoras, and soon others, like the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J would follow the same trend. No longer was it standard to play concerts with a live band. Run-D.M.C. made it popular for live shows to be as simple as two turntables and a microphone. The band was the first hip hop act to play in a major arena, the first to hit gold, platinum, and multi-platinum status, and the first to dominate the pop charts. Run-D.M.C. was the first hardcore hip hop group, and without them, who knows where hip hop would be.
Jam Master Jay wasn’t just a DJ. He exemplified hip hop in its truest essence. He was a musician who revolutionized multiple genres and helped usher in a new era, an era that we wouldn’t have today if it wasn’t for him. Out of all the members of Run-D.M.C., he was the most important. He was the glue that help the group together. Run said it best. “We’ll never have a band. That’s our band”, pointing at Jay. Jay indeed was a one-man band, an icon, and a legend in not only hip hop, but music. 10 years later, his influence is still felt, and he will forever be missed.
By: @ChicagoMadeSean <==== FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER
BLOG ======> http://thegospelaccordingtosean.wordpress.com/
- Jam Master Jay’s Legacy and Death, 10 Years Later (spin.com)
- Run-DMC: The Essential Run-DMC (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Jam Master Jay, 10 Years Later: Losing One Of Hip-Hop’s ‘Greatest’ (mtv.com)