Jam Master Jay murder: who was the Run DMC member and what led to his murder back in 2002?

With two suspects facing a murder trial over the death of Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay, NationalWorld takes a look at what happened the night of his death
Jam Master Jay of Run DMC performs on stage at the Respect Festival, Finsbury Park, London, United Kingdom, 2001. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)Jam Master Jay of Run DMC performs on stage at the Respect Festival, Finsbury Park, London, United Kingdom, 2001. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)
Jam Master Jay of Run DMC performs on stage at the Respect Festival, Finsbury Park, London, United Kingdom, 2001. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

The jury ahead of the murder trial regarding Run DMC member Jam Master Jay, born Jason "Jay" Mizell, has continued to be vetted overnight as one of the most notorious unsolved murders in hip-hop might finally see some answers during the court case. 

One of the suspects in the case, Karl Jordan Jr was arraigned on Monday to face charges of murdering Mizell, said the US attorney's office for the eastern district of New York, while the second suspect, Ronald Washington, will be arraigned later this week, it added. 

Washington had reportedly been living on a sofa at Mizell's home in the days before his death and was publicly named as a possible suspect or witness as far back as 2007. Washington is currently in prison following a string of robberies he carried out while on the run from police after Mizell's death.

In the court documents filed at the time, prosecutors asserted that Ronald Washington brandished a handgun, instructing individuals in Jam Master Jay's studio to assume a prone position while his accomplice carried out the fatal shooting. According to the prosecutors' claims, Washington acted as a shield, providing cover for his associate during the attack.

Despite the city's and the star's friends' efforts to offer a reward exceeding $60,000 (£45,000), witnesses chose not to step forward, complicating the investigation.

Who was Jam Master Jay?

Jam Master Jay, was a highly influential American musician and DJ, best known as a member of the pioneering hip-hop group Run-DMC. He was born on January 21, 1965, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Hollis neighbourhood of Queens.

As the DJ for Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay played a crucial role in shaping the group's distinctive sound and style during the 1980s. Run-DMC, consisting of Jam Master Jay, Joseph "Run" Simmons, and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, achieved groundbreaking success and is credited with popularizing hip-hop music in the mainstream. They are known for hits like "It's Tricky," "My Adidas" and “Kings of Rock” - the name of their forthcoming documentary series. 

Jam Master Jay's contributions to hip-hop extended beyond his work with Run-DMC. He also produced and collaborated with various artists, including contributions to the production of Public Enemy's album "Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black," and the immensely popular collaboration between Run DMC and Aerosmith for “Walk This Way.”

What happened the night Jam Master Jay was murdered?

On the night of Jam Master Jay's murder on October 30, 2002, at 7:30 pm, he was in his recording studio on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens, New York City. At that time, an assailant entered the studio and fatally shot Jam Master Jay. Another person present in the room, Urieco Rincon, was also shot in the ankle but survived.

The circumstances surrounding the murder were initially unclear, and the investigation pointed towards various potential motives. In the years following the incident, investigations revealed a complex scenario involving a potential connection to a feud between rapper 50 Cent and a convicted drug dealer named Kenneth McGriff. This dispute was reportedly fueled by a song that 50 Cent had written about McGriff's drug history, leading to an industry blacklist against 50 Cent.

Later investigations and reports, including an article by investigative journalist Frank Owen in Playboy in December 2003, suggested that Jam Master Jay, facing financial difficulties, may have turned to cocaine distribution to settle mounting debts. According to this account, Mizell travelled to Washington, D.C., on July 31, 2002, to obtain 10 kilograms of cocaine valued at about a quarter-million dollars from a trafficker known as "Uncle." Mizell allegedly agreed to repay the debt in about a week, but when he failed to do so, Uncle arranged for his murder.

Who are the prime suspects in the Jam Master Jay murder?

A mural paying tribute to late Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay is pictured in the Hollis neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York on January 29, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)A mural paying tribute to late Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay is pictured in the Hollis neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York on January 29, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
A mural paying tribute to late Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay is pictured in the Hollis neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York on January 29, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

In the aftermath of Mizell's death, investigations pointed towards a possible motive involving a feud between rapper 50 Cent and a convicted drug dealer named Kenneth McGriff. The dispute allegedly stemmed from a song 50 Cent wrote about McGriff's drug history, leading to an industry blacklist against 50 Cent.

In 2007, federal prosecutors named Ronald Washington as an accomplice in the murder, linking him to the shooting. Washington was also a suspect in the 1995 murder of Randy "Stretch" Walker, a former associate of rapper Tupac Shakur.

In 2018, a Netflix documentary titled "ReMastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay?" explored various aspects of Mizell's murder but did not reach a definitive conclusion. Former prosecutor Marcia Clark also featured the case in her series "Marcia Clark Investigates The First 48."

In 2020, Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr. were indicted for Mizell's murder. The indictment suggested a dispute over cocaine consignment as a motive. Washington and Jordan pleaded not guilty, and as of January 2024, the trial is ongoing. Another suspect, Jay Bryant, was charged in May 2023 and is scheduled for a separate trial. Federal prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty for Washington and Jordan, opting for life imprisonment without parole if convicted.

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