To his family, he was Jason Mizell, but to the world, he was DJ Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, a rap trio that helped make hip-hop mainstream for the MTV generation. Sadly, at just 37 years old, he was gunned down by an unknown assailant on Oct. 30, 2002, ending his musical journey. But he had forever changed the landscape for deejays worldwide.
Although Ronald Washington, a convicted drug dealer, was named as a suspect in the murder no one was ever charged. A combination of reluctant witnesses and weak evidence leaves the case and motive unsolved 11 years later.
Mizell’s rise to fame began in Hollis. As a child, he played several instruments including the guitar and drums, which would become key influences on his signature aggressive hip-hop sound. He switched over to turntables as a teenager after noticing their popularity and was playing in front of audiences at Queens parks and bars within a year. His reputation grabbed the attention of fellow Hollis residents Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, who recruited him to be their deejay.
Equipped with just a turntable, Adidas shoes and black hat, he would often receive confused looks from concert promoters who expected a full-fledged band. But satisfied crowds dispelled the skepticism and by the time their second album, “King of Rock,” hit in 1985, it became the first hip-hop album certified gold. Other Run-DMC firsts included being the first rap act to receive a Grammy nomination and the first rap act to appear on MTV.
One of their chart-toppers was “Walk This Way,” an Aerosmith cover, which helped revitalize the rock group’s career. “Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay’s gift to the world was a new kind of music for a whole new generation …” said Aerosmith in a 2002 statement after his death. “Jay was scratching before anyone had the itch and still at the top of his game when we played with him this summer.”
Their height of success came with the 1986 triple-platinum album “Raising Hell,” but they also took criticism over violent outbursts between gangs at their concerts. The trio called for a day of peace between L.A. gangs, reflecting their lyrics that often denounced violence.
After a trying time of lackluster album reviews and personal hardships for each member during the later 80s, the trio had their last great triumph with “Down with the King.” Mizell then branched out on his own to start JMJ Records and became a mentor to rap artists 50 Cent and Onyx.
The same year of his death, Mizell was working on launching the Scratch DJ Academy, the first of its kind, with partner Rob Principe who had the idea to make learning the art form more accessible to all. According to a 2012 Guardian interview, Principe said Jam Master Jay was immediately on board. “I’m in,” he said. “Let’s create something that my son can work when he’s older. Let’s leave a legacy.”