The Strange and Tragic Story of Jam Master Jay

"JMJ failed to defend himself because he knew his killer."

Jam Master Jay
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Jam Master Jay had no known enemies. So who wanted the father of two dead? More importantly, who killed Jam Master Jay? Investigators have a few ideas, but the case remains open for strange reasons.

Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) was murdered inside a Jamaica, Queens recording studio on October 30, 2002.

He was slain in cold blood. Execution style. He was 37.

According to the New York Daily News, Jay was getting ready to hit the road for a show in Philadelphia the next day. 

He packed his equipment and sat on a couch at the back of the studio on Merrick Blvd in Queens. A .45 caliber pistol laid on the arm rest.

Jam Master Jay was wearing black jeans, black leather jacket and white shell-toe Adidas. He started playing Madden 2002 with his friend Uriel "Tony" Rincon on Sony Playstation. 

An hour later, around 7:30 pm, a man dressed in black walked into the studio. The man hugged Jay, then pulled out a .40-caliber handgun. Shots rang out.

The first bullet hit Rincon's leg. A second bullet struck Jay in the head and killed him on the spot. The assailant and his lookout ran out of the studio. Jay was found face down.

Jam Master Jay Knew His Killer

According to Rincon, Jay failed to defend himself because he knew his killer. "Had there been immediate animosity or if there was a problem, they wouldn't have been that close," says Rincon.

More than a decade later, investigators still haven't charged anyone with Jam Master Jay's murder. Authorities suspect that a man named Ronald Washington carried out the hit. According to the News, Washington confessed the murder to his girlfriend. Unnamed sources told the News that the hit stemmed from a decade-old drug dispute between Jay and Curtis Scoon.

Scoon vehemently denied the allegations. "I read the article in today’s New York Daily News and was taken aback by the persistent efforts to connect me to the tragic death of Jason Mizell," Scoon told Allhiphop. "I addressed my non-involvement in this crime several months back with ScoonTV, I believe readers will find it quite informative."

Witnesses Feared for Their Lives 

Although investigators received a play by play account of Jay's murder, none of the witnesses was willing to identify the shooter. There were reportedly five people in the room where Jay was killed. Yet no one saw anything. The studio had security cameras . Yet witnesses were uncooperative.

The lack of cooperation was probably due to aggressive and reckless tactics. Take Lydia High, for instance. High, Jay's personal assistant and studio receptionist, was handcuffed and berated just hours after losing her friend. High allegedly named Washington but later recanted her story.

Witnesses likely feared for their lives, too. Soon after Jay's death, Eric B called former "hip-hop cop" Derrick Parker. Eric was concerned about the safety of the witnesses, since the police was doing little to protect them.

"One of the Strangest Cases"

In his book The Notorious C.O.P., Derrick Parker describes Jam Master Jay's murder as "one of the strangest cases I'd encountered in my career as an investigator."

Parker, a former NYPD officer, writes that "Jay was truly one of the most beloved figures in the rap community, both for his easygoing charisma and his musical innovations."

"Jay had no criminal record to speak of," says Parker, "and he was no 'gangsta' rapper, either--when Run-DMC began in the 80s, rap wasn't as criminally minded, and Run-DMC often focused on uplifting positivity and Afrocentric Black pride over gun talk in their songs. Jam Master Jay was never perceived to have committed any violence in his life."

Jam Master Jay was truly an influential hip-hop figure. He mentored 50 Cent in the 90s. In the 80s, before hip-hop splintered into several subsets. Run-DMC had the fly kicks, the stylish, three-striped tracksuits emblazoned with the three-leaf motif. And, of course, they dope beats and rhymes.

Jam Master Jay's innovative turntablism is a huge component of Run-DMC's legacy. Jay helped shift the culture of hip-hop forward. He pulled sounds out of turntables you didn't know existed. For a sample of Jam Master Jay's brilliance, listen to "Beats to the Rhyme," off 1988's Tougher Than Leather. He was the master of organized chaos.

It's sad that we lost Jam Master Jay to an act of violence. Even sadder that his family is still looking for closure. Jay's murder, like many others in hip-hop, remains unsolved and will likely stay that way.

As Sticky Fingaz succinctly put it: "That was a big loss for f--king humanity."