Ten years after Jam Master Jay’s death Mass Appeal’s Sacha Jenkins remembers the pioneering DJ and music biz exec.
In 1992, I went to Howard University for their hip-hop conference. Sean “Diddy” Combs was big man on campus (even though I think he was on the verge of dropping out). It was wild. I had just published a newspaper called Beat Down with a childhood friend and we were feeling ourselves (way too early for that). I remember seeing Common
Sense standing in the corner of a grand lobby, with lots of fine young ladies and dudes wearing Timbos milling about. Common was alone, sipping something strong out of a flask. I was familiar with his first album, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, which I’ve always felt was dope. I told him as much and he seemed surprised by the fact that I knew who the hell he was. Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Minutes later, on the street, I spotted a new little dude r&b group called Famlee. I had a promo copy of their record. I found them mildly entertaining. Sorta like a Queens version of Bel Biv Devoe, only with shorties. They were signed to Jam Master Jay’s label. Jam Master Jay being THE JMJ of RUN DMC fame. The Kings From Queens. The man behind the wheels. We were all like “oh shit, Famlee!” But then, we quickly realized that Jay was trailing behind them and then it was like OH, SHIT J-M-J are the letters of his name!” Jason “Jam Master J” Mizell. In the flesh, baby.
We all wanted to shout Jay out and let him know how much we appreciated RUN DMC and what they meant to garden-variety Queens cats like us. We were nervous, of course. It’s not like I was trying to kick it to a young hottie but still, how do you approach Jay without coming off like a herb or a groupie? But Jay was seasoned, had traveled the world; he’d received props and love from everywhere. He was an ambassador. He came up to me and said whuddup and we rapped for like 20 minutes. Was completely surreal how cool and HUMBLE the dude was. He gave me his JMJ records business card. I’m sure he gave 50 Cent that same business card years later, because Jay is the man who put Curtis—a little known rappin’ thug dealer from South Jamaica—on.
Ten years later, the murder of Jason Mizell hasn’t been solved. Jay was a man of the people, a man of his community, someone who LIVED there. He was a hero in his community. Many people wondered what the hell he was still doing in the ‘hood. Jay represents the essence of hip-hop in its purest form—never forget where you came from. Stay there. Give back. Get involved. Jay did all those things and he paid the price for it. And weather or not he was involved with anything unsavory, hip hop’s great blues refrain applies to Jay, too: “Don’t snitch.” So the individual/s responsible for his murder continue to go to the Coliseum mall, smoke Newports, and watch “Basketball Wives.” The world is a scary place.
RIP JMJ. You gave more than most and that gift continues to inspire and give back. Your assassins will never be able to erase what you have so beautifully sketched.