MILWAUKEE — In the days just before his murder, hip-hop icon Jam Master Jay paid a visit to his good friend, Eric "Shake" James in Shake's hometown of Milwaukee.
As on past visits, the two hit the usual spots: Kopp's burger joint (Jay loved the grilled chicken), Playmakers (where Jay got his sneaker shop on), and the downtown nightclub formerly known as the Velvet Room (where Jay treated unsuspecting fans to impromptu turntable sets).
It was at the Velvet Room — where Jay and Shake partied together for the last time — that Jay lost what could, after all these years, turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence in the investigation into his own murder.
Inadvertently left behind that night was a personal two-way pager that Jay was rarely seen without.
"The next day — after Jay left to go back to Queens — I came down here to get it," Shake says, standing in front of the downtown club now known as Martini Mike's. "And the first thing on my mind was getting it back to Jay."
Tragically, that was not to be. That evening — sometime around 7:30 on October 30, 2002 — Jay was gunned down inside his Queens recording studio. The pager — and its contents — have remained in Shake's possession ever since.
"The pager's like a part of Jay," Shake says when asked why he's kept it all these years. "I keep it for memory's sake."
Laid out on the dining room table back at Shake's home is an impressive treasure trove of memorabilia documenting a friendship that spanned nearly 15 years. "These are all the memories, man," Shake says standing over the pile of photos, posters, and backstage passes. "This is from the last tour we did together," he says, holding up a yellow laminate. "Jay got mad when I took it, but I said to him: "What do you need it for? You're Jam Master Jay!"
Certainly the most noteworthy memento is the pager that — until now — Shake has shared with no one.
"I keep it in here," he says. "Follow me."
In his bedroom, sitting atop a dresser is the pager. Shake picks it up.
"So this is it," MTV News' Tim Kash says. "Jay's two-way."
The pager — a black Motorola Timeport — is still resting in its original belt holder/clip. It is scuffed on the edges but, aside from looking more than a little old-fashioned next to today's Blackberry Pearls, the pager remains in good shape.
"He kept it on his hip all the time" Shake replies. "He was always on it" — even in the middle of their many marathon gaming sessions at Shake's old house on North 36th Street.
"He'd have the two-way in this hand and the phone in his ear, and at the same time we'd be playing a video game!" Shake laughs. "So after awhile I would just put the controller down and [say], 'Jay, just do all that first and then just let me finish busting your ass!"
Asked what sorts of things Jay was handling on the pager, Shake replies, "It was mostly business," he said. "JMJ stuff, Run-DMC stuff."
By 2002, Jam Master Jay was involved in many business ventures — including running his own record labels (JMJ Records and Hot Ta Def) and breaking the hip-hop act Rusty Waters,
as well as ongoing touring and other commitments for Run-DMC (the trio was scheduled to perform during halftime at a Washington Wizards home game on Halloween, the day after Jay was murdered).
The pager enabled him to keep his various projects running while he was on the road. One project Jay was pursuing — with Shake in tow — during that last visit to Milwaukee was a movie with 50 Cent, whom Jay had signed to JMJ Records back in the mid-'90s (it was 50's first recording contract).
"We had driven to Chicago to talk about it," Shake remembers. "Jay wanted to be the first one to do a movie with 50 because he knew that he was going to break big one day," he explains.
Jay would not live long enough to see the 2003 release of Get Rich or Die Tryin', the album that would make 50 Cent a superstar.
According to Shake, the film project was still on Jay's mind when he got back to Queens. "When I called Jay to tell him that I'd found his pager," Shake remembers, "the first thing he did was ask me for 50's number. So I gave it to him, and that was the last conversation we had."
In a matter of hours, the pager that Shake held in his hands, the one he used to retrieve 50's number for Jay, would become not only a record of grief, but also a potential piece of evidence in one of the entertainment world's most high-profile murder cases, and a little piece of history.
As obtained exclusively by MTV News, and revealed here for the first time, the messages received on the night of — and in the days after — Jay's murder comprise an eerie timeline of the crime and its aftermath, with messages from Busta Rhymes, DJ Scratch, DJ Red Alert and others. (To protect individual privacy, we have omitted names, addresses and phone numbers from the messages.)
Time-stamped 9:03 p.m. ET, approximately 90 minutes after Jay was reportedly killed, the first alarming message reads: "Jay? People saying you shot?"
At 9:41 p.m., another: "Please let me know about Jay."
Shake — who saw some of the notes on the pager — recalls that the initial messages were filled with shock and disbelief.
"People were asking if it was real," explains Shake. " 'Is it really true?' and stuff like that."
As time passes, the messages on the pager grow more urgent. "Heard disturbing news," reads a message received at 10:03 p.m. "Say it's not true!"
A matter of minutes later, rumors appear to be confirmed as various hip-hop Web sites begin sending out "Breaking News" blasts: "Jam Master Jay was shot in the head and, according to sources, killed," reads an alert from allhiphop.com at 10:15 p.m. "Authorities had no motive at press time. Please send your prayers to his family and friends."
The sad irony is that Jay's pager received these very messages.
"Did you have to break the sad news to some of Jay's family?" Kash asks Shake.
"Yeah, because I knew a lot of them," Shake replies. "So I'd hit them back and say: 'This is Shake, it's true. He's gone.' "
And then the speculation — at times angry and threatening — about the motive and the men behind the murder begins.
"Was it some robbery ... or beef?" reads one of the messages, time-stamped 12:12 a.m. on October 31, still just hours after the shooting. Another message wonders: "If yall have any leads 2 the clown who did dish olla." Then — just as now, some five years later — there is only speculation. The case remains unsolved, the motive unknown.
As denial and disbelief give way to acceptance, the tone of the messages changes. "Then they started sending their condolences," Shake says. " 'I love you,' 'I miss you,' 'You were the best' — stuff like that."
"The world has suffered a tragic loss," reads one message dated November 1 at 1:27 p.m. "Although I know it's too late for you to read this Jay," reads another sent the night before, "U will never be 4gotten and will truly be missed."
Condolences pour in ("Our heart goes out to the entire Mizell family in their time of loss"). Others report reactions ("I'm in Cincinnati and they've just stopped the music and paid tribute to Jay!"). Some recall good times ("I just kicked it wit you in the studio last week and now you're gone"). Others try to cope with the tragedy ("I guess Pac and B.I.G. needed a DJ").
The raw emotion and sense of loss in all those messages is perhaps best summed up by Run-DMC's Rev Run, who writes simply: "I love you man."
The pager is a historical record, to be sure. But is it of any evidentiary value after all this time? What could it mean to investigators looking for new clues in the still-unsolved case? Aside from the messages pertaining specifically to Jay's murder, the pager also contains messages that Jay was sending and receiving in the days before he was killed — as well as bank account and personal financial information.
"Do you think the pager contains any clues that could help solve the case?" Tim asks.
"I don't think so," Shake says. "But I don't know for sure."
According to Shake, the police have never reached out to him in the course of their investigation. But MTV News has been in contact with those authorities and they say they want to talk to Shake about the last days of Jam Master Jay.
Shake says he would meet with them "in a heartbeat."
"And if they think that there's something on that pager that could help solve the case," says Shake, "then I'm happy to give it to them."
For full coverage of the Jam Master Jay case, see the Jam Master Jay Reports.