The history of rap is filled with far too many tragedies, but one which still lingers – if only because there still remains so much uncertainty surrounding the incident – is the 2002 death of 37-year-old Jason William Mizell, a.k.a. Jam Master Jay, best known as the DJ for Run-DMC.
It’s been over two decades since Jay’s death, but at long last, there may finally be a suitable conclusion to his story: this week, the trial began for two men – Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington – who have been indicted by the U.S. government in Jay’s murder, with prosecutors alleging that Jordan and Washington killed Jay after believing that they’d been cut out of a cocaine trafficking deal Jay was involved in. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Jay was only 37 when he was shot and killed in his recording studio in Jamaica, Queens. In an interview with CBS News at the time, police spokesman Det. Robert Price said that Jay was shot once in the head in the studio’s lounge and died at the scene.
Also shot, although not fatally, was 25-year-old Urieco Rincon, who took a bullet to the leg, and five other individuals who were also in the studio – including Jay’s business partner Randy Allen; Randy’s sister, Lydia High; a homeless friend named Mike B. – managed to escape the incident unscathed.
In the December 2003 issue of Playboy, writer Frank Owen detailed the events of the evening in a piece entitled “The Last Days of Jam Master Jay,” describing the moments leading up to the murder as well as the murder itself:
"Downstairs, two men dressed in dark clothing enter the building lobby and move past a camera. Undetected, they climb the narrow staircase single file from the street to the second floor. At the top of the stairs the smaller man stops. The other man, about six-foot-two and 180 pounds, bursts through the door-and all hell breaks loose.
'Look at the ground!' he shouts as he swiftly pushes Lydia aside. He has a .40-caliber pistol.
'Oh, sh*t,' Jay cries. 'Grab the gun!'
It’s too late. The man’s weapon is inches from Jay’s head, behind his left ear. 'What about this? What about this?' says the assailant. He pulls the trigger.
The bullet passes through Jay’s head, and he collapses. The gun is so close to him that powder burns scorch his shirt. In the confined space, the gunman falls over Rincon, who has bent down to get his cell phone. A second shot goes off and hits Rincon in the leg. Before he has time to register the pain, the assailants are running down the stairs.
Randy is in the control room with the curtains drawn, listening to playbacks, when he hears the shots. He and Mike B., the homeless friend, rush into the lounge. Randy picks up 'the studio gun' they keep handy and pursues the killers into the street. He loses them in a nearby parking lot, where he drops the weapon.
None of this effort helps his friend Jam Master Jay, who dies where he fell, next to a brown leather hat and wearing his trademark snow-white Adidas."
During the course of Owen's piece, he interviews a number of individuals in Jay’s circle and delves into the mystery of who might’ve actually been responsible for the murder; both Jordan and Washington feature as characters in Owen's story. Before it was ever published, however, Jordan was already making headlines for the wrong reasons, taking center stage in a Billboard story on August 20, 2003 for his arrest on charges of attempted murder in the shooting of Rodney Jones, a.k.a. rapper Boe Skagz, a.k.a. Jay’s nephew.
In that piece, Karl Jordan’s father, Darren, was quoted as saying, “The police are telling my son he’s in a lot of trouble, and people are saying he had something to do with the murder of Jam Master Jay. My son ain’t scared, but he’s not comfortable. He knows he didn’t do it.”
Here, we pause to offer up a few additional pieces of information:
- ·Darren Jordan is better known in Run-DMC circles as Big D, and in addition to being a pallbearer at Jay’s funeral, he was the group’s onetime road manager and later co-owned a fish store in Jamaica, Queens with Jay.
- As Darren’s son, it should come as no surprise that Karl Jordan was given the nickname of Little D. He was also Jay's godson.
- Ronald Washington was known to his friends and associates as Tinard.
Owen spoke to Tinard for his piece, interviewing him while he was serving a prison sentence for allegedly trying to rob a Long Island motel. In addition to telling a story wherein he alleges that he and Jay drove up to Washington, DC on July 31, 2002 to meet with a drug supplier, with Jay allegedly receiving "10 keys, worth about $180,000, which could be sold on the street for about $280,000," Tinard also provides Owen with his version of the events of the day of Jay’s murder.
Revealing that Jay was concerned about his safety because of the alleged cocaine shenanigans (the entirety of that story is detailed in Owen's piece), Tinard said that Jay had a gun but needed bullets and gave Tinard $200 to buy some for him:
"After purchasing the bullets, Tinard - the man cops at times have theorized was either the lookout or the shooter (he fits the physical description) - claims he was on his way back to the studio when he saw two figures ascending the stairs. They were about 20 steps in front of him. Tinard says he recognized the duo as Big D and his son, Little D. At more than 300 pounds, Big D is not hard to spot. Tinard ducked and went out back to the bus station, where he heard three loud gunshots - not the two shots reported in the media - then saw Little D rushing down the fire escape, looking agitated. 'I’m positive it was Little D. I looked him right in his face before he ran off,' Tinard asserts. After the encounter, Tinard says, he took the bus back to Hollis. Later that evening, he claims, he bumped into Little D on the street and asked him what had happened. 'Little D told me, "My pops wasn’t supposed to shoot Jay. That wasn’t supposed to happen,"' alleges Tinard. Tinard says he was shot at twice the following Saturday, and he then decided to get the hell out of Dodge."
Fast forward to present day, and Washington aka Tinard finds himself facing murder charges for the killing of Jam Master Jay - a charge he denies. Big D - it must be said - is not currently on trial.
If you go back and read Owen's in-depth piece and then follow along with the trial, not only does it serve as a reminder of how much great journalism Playboy used to deliver once upon a time, but it also provides a great deal of insight that'll help you better follow the court proceedings.