NEW YORK — In the days leading up to his death last week, friends say Jam Master Jay was focused intently on his Hot Ta Def record label and on creating stars from the local talent the lifelong Queens resident had signed.
The Run-DMC DJ/producer had been overseeing Rusty Waters' debut album earlier in the day on October 30 at his studio, where he was fatally shot (see "Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC DJ, Killed In Shooting"). "My man Jay, we'll be in the studio for hours and hours," Boe Skagz, Jay's nephew and half of Rusty Waters, recalled Thursday (November 7). Skagz and partner MDR comprise one of the five acts Jay signed to Hot Ta Def, which had just finalized a distribution deal with Virgin Records.
"Jay was really on the rhymes," Skagz said. "If he ain't like one thing you said in your rhymes, you had to change your whole rhyme. He was most definitely a perfectionist when it came to the music."
MDR said a typical recording session would involve packing all of their friends into Jay's studio, which included an area for the video game-loving pioneer to unwind with his PlayStation2 during breaks. "It was a comfortable situation," he said.
Part of the reason this case is so baffling, Skagz pointed out, is that the loved and revered Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell) was killed where he felt most comfortable — among the people.
"Jay was the streets, Jay was the king," he said. "This whole thing is crazy because when you see him, [you just think,] 'That's Jam Master Jay.' When you have those three [Adidas] stripes on and a jacket, you don't need bodyguards. You got us. Our clique. In anybody's 'hood he was comfortable. The media is twisted, and a lot of the things they're saying are not right. The truth is that Jay was peaceful dude. There was never no reason for nobody to have drama with him."
"He'd always come to the 'hood and be like, 'I don't need no bodyguards,' " MDR recalled. " 'Why I need some big, giant dude drawing attention to me for?' He never felt he needed somebody to protect him because he loved the 'hood and the 'hood loved him. ... That's where we from; that's where Jam Master Jay kept it."
Police are scouring the 'hood for information to help solve the killing, but investigators fear that some in the hip-hop community aren't stepping forward for fear of being labeled a snitch.
"The code of the streets might suggest you don't go to the police, you don't talk to the police," Detective Bernard Porter Jr. said. "That's fine, as long as you go to Def Jam or the Mizell family or a media outlet with the information. We don't care how it comes to us as long as we get the information."
Porter praised the efforts of the remaining members of Run-DMC, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and the coalition they helped form, not only to financially aid the Mizell family but to help bring the killers to justice. Yesterday they launched a street campaign, urging people to phone in information.
"It's too early to say, but I'm hopeful it will provide us with an important lead," Porter said. "It's kind of unprecedented, this sort of campaign, to get information. We definitely applaud it."
"Whoever did the crime, wherever you at, whoever you live with," MDR pleaded, "all them need to know that the person who was lost meant a lot to everybody. It's just bad. Go ahead and give us a call. Find some space in your heart so that we can end this and let my man rest in peace."
Anyone with information about the shooting can call the 103rd Precinct Detective Squad at (718) 657-8822 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS. The coalition has put up a $50,000 reward, and the NYPD has put up $10,000.
The Mizell family has said donations can be made to the Mizell Children's Fund, c/o Terri Corley-Mizell, P.O. Box 3497, New Hyde Park, NY 11040.
For full coverage of the Jam Master Jay case, see the Jam Master Jay Reports.