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Fatal Shooting of Rap Pioneer in Studio Jolts Fans and Peers

Authorities unsure of the motive for killing Jam Master Jay of the group Run-DMC.

November 01, 2002|Geoff Boucher and Paul Lieberman | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — A day after rap pioneer Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC was gunned down in a New York studio, the hip-hop community was in pained shock on Thursday after its latest episode of violence claimed someone whose career had been far removed from the so-called thug life.

Unlike the gangster ethos embraced by many of today's top rap acts, the rhymes of the trio Run-DMC in hits such as "My Adidas," "Rock Box" and "It's Tricky" were party music with street style and blended hip-hop with rock bombast. As members of the Queens, N.Y., group aged, their topics drifted more and more to the inspirational and the positive.

That made the slaying of the 37-year-old DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, especially jolting for fans and peers alike, even as police said Thursday evening that the motive for the shooting was still uncertain.

"For nearly 20 years, Run-DMC has been the closest thing to gospel artists that the contemporary music community has had," music mogul Russell Simmons said in a statement Thursday.

"They talked about God and their higher selves, the importance of staying away from drugs, and generally inspirational and uplifting subject matter. They represented everything good and positive about hip-hop."

New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the victim was killed by a single shot to the head at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, reportedly while playing a video game with Uriel Rincon, 25, who was shot once in the leg. Rincon, who was treated at a hospital and released, was one of five witnesses questioned by detectives, who were trying to reconcile differences in their accounts.

"Questioning is ongoing," Kelly said. "There were conflicting reports whether there were one or two invaders, shooters."

Police also disclosed that as a precaution, they advised another Queens rap artist, 50 Cent, to skip a scheduled show at a Times Square club. 50 Cent, whose birth name is Curtis Jackson, had been a friend of Jay and had been wounded in a shooting two years ago in Queens. He also had been involved in a number of public scuffles with other rappers, including Queens rap star Ja Rule.

50 Cent has been a somewhat controversial figure in music industry circles after a 1999 song in which he named rap celebrities and boasted jokingly that he would victimize them in stickup robberies. 50 Cent was signed last summer to the record label run by rap superstars Eminem and Dr. Dre.

On Thursday, top rap stars were offering words of grief and testimonies to the potency of the Run-DMC songbook. The more famous two-thirds of Run-DMC are Joseph Simmons (he's the brother of Russell Simmons, whose music empire found an early star in Run-DMC) and DMC, whose real name is Darryl McDaniels. The group released the album "Crown Royal" last year after an eight-year hiatus.

The group built the bridge between hip-hop's home in the New York club scene to its future on the nation's pop charts with thoughtful lyrics often delivered with the spare, powerful punch of rock music samples. Their recasting of "Walk This Way" in a collaboration with Aerosmith was a watershed moment for rap's rise. Run-DMC was also the first rap act to score a platinum album and to crack the Top 10 of the U.S. album charts with its "Raising Hell" in 1986. Another rap icon, Chuck D of Public Enemy, has often called Run-DMC the "Beatles of rap."

If Run-DMC's albums extended the reach of hip-hop, Jay's contribution was as a legitimizing influence for the genre's turntable heroes: The scratches and sonic shapes he crafted to back the group's intelligent lyrics helped defend the idea that vinyl could become an instrument of performance.

"This is a great loss. Jam Master Jay was a pioneer, he led the way for a whole new genre of talent," rapper and music executive Sean "P. Diddy" Combs said in a statement. "Not only was he a great artist, but he was a great man who will be deeply missed."

He was also hailed Thursday by fans outside the scene of the shooting who left candles, flowers and Adidas sneakers, a reference to the group's hit. Memorial posters on a chain-link fence included one saying, "Jay's Music Will Live On."

One of the victim's three children, Jason Jr., told reporters at the scene that the crime is confusing. "There's no reason," he said.

Meanwhile, at leading hip-hop radio stations in Los Angeles and New York, disc jockeys played Run-DMC's music all day amid tributes to Jay. A popular selection was the 1984 Run-DMC song "Jam Master Jay" with the lyrics: "And we got the master of a disco scratch / There's not a break that he can't catch / Jam Master Jay that is his name / And all wild DJs he will tame."


Lieberman reported from New York and Boucher from Los Angeles.

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