As I rode the bus a few days ago, searching Twitter on my phone to pass the time, I came across a tweet that caught me off guard. In part, because I had completely forgotten about it. Mainly because I couldn’t believe it’s been 10 whole years since Jam Master Jay was murdered.
Born Jason Mizell from Brooklyn, bred in Hollis Queens, Jam Master Jay was introduced to musical instruments very early in life. At the age of 3, he began to play the trumpet, bass and electric guitars (Spin Magazine named him the 10th greatest guitarist of all-time), and the drums, prior to discovering turntables at the age of 13. His experience with music helped him catch on to DJ-ing quick, and soon he began playing for other people.
Mizell just “wanted to be a part of the band”. He played bass and drums in various garage bands, going by the name of “Jazzy Jase”, a flashy b-boy with minor legal troubles. He would often hang around Two-Fifths Park in Hollis and entertain, and it was there that he met two guys going around rapping trying to find a DJ, Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. The two would rap for Jay and in 1982, he agreed to be their DJ. Their “band”, Run-D.M.C., would become arguably the most important group in hip-hop history.
Jam Master Jay was a huge part of the success of the Hollis Queens trio. With his extraordinary scratching and mixing that helped usher in a new era of hip hop, matched with the harder aggressive rhymes from his rap counterparts, Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled debut album would break new ground in the music industry. Jay not only brought unbelievable, hard-hitting beats to the table, he brought his rock influence and created a rock-rap fusion unlike any heard before. Tracks like “King of Rock” and “Rock Box” incorporated heavy guitar riffs and solos, which was so influential that the latter song became the first rap video to be aired on MTV.
It was their third album, “Raising Hell”, that shunned the critics who believed hip hop and rap music were a fad that would eventually die out, in large part by their cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. While recording “Raising Hell” with producer Rick Rubin, who’s worked with Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others, Rubin broke out Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic” album and explained to the group who they were. He thought it would be a good idea for them to cover the song, which Run nor McDaniels agreed with. Jam Master Jay believed the cover could work, and because of that, they agreed to do the song. “Walk This Way”, which featured Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry guesting on vocals and guitar, would become the first rap song to hit the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, and helped rap break into the mainstream music scene. On the strength of “Walk This Way” and fellow hits “My Adidas” and “It’s Tricky”, Raising Hell would peak the Billboard Hot 200 at no. 3, earning triple-platinum status, and is one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.