Murder Trial Lays Bare a Hip-Hop Pioneer’s Double Life

Before he was gunned down inside his recording studio in Queens in 2002, in what prosecutors say was a drug deal gone bad, Jam Master Jay of the New York hip-hop trio Run-DMC faced a predicament.

“The money wasn’t coming in,” an assistant U.S. attorney, Miranda Gonzalez, told jurors in the federal trial in Brooklyn of two men charged with Jam Master Jay’s murder, which began late last month. “But people still depended on him.”

As Run-DMC, which had led hip-hop’s mainstream explosion in the 1980s, receded from record charts and MTV playlists, Jam Master Jay — born Jason Mizell — struggled financially and turned to drug dealing to meet his obligations, prosecutors and witnesses said.

A pioneering D.J. and role model who publicly campaigned against drug use, Mr. Mizell spent his last years leading a double life, according to testimony and trial records: He worked as a drug middleman while managing intertwining public roles — entertainer, record label owner, father of three and financial lifeline to relatives, co-workers and friends.

Mr. Mizell lent money to “everybody that was around him,” Michael Rapley, one of five other people in the Queens studio when Mr. Mizell was shot on Oct. 30, 2002, told jurors. When Mr. Rapley’s mother died, Mr. Mizell paid for her funeral, he testified.

Mr. Mizell, the turntable artist who provided the record scratches and booming beats for Run-DMC’s music, was still able to earn paychecks during the 1990s and 2000s by performing with the group and as a solo act.

Back to top button