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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 213

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This is the grave of Jason Mizell, better known as Jam Master Jay.

Born in 1965 in Brooklyn, Mizell grew up in the church, playing music from a young age. He played guitar, bass, and drums, performing while still a child in his church. With the rise of hip hop in the late 70s, Mizell was attracted to the turntables. By this time, his family moved to Hollis, Queens, where he went to the horribly named Andrew Jackson High School. In 1982, he joined a band with Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniel that became known as Run-DMC. Jam Master Jay played the drums, keyboards, and bass, as well as turntables. They released their first single, “It’s Like That,” in 1983, which did pretty well on the R&B charts. And while Run and DMC were the big stars of the band because of their vocals, Mizell set the fashion template, with his big hats and laceless Adidas sneakers, all of which blew away Simmons’ brother Russell, who would of course become hip hop mogul. King of Rock was released in 1985 to acclaim and “Rock Box” was the first rap video ever shown on MTV. This became one of the first hip hop bands to go viral, creating huge hits off their 1986 album Raising Hell. They weren’t excited to record “Walk This Way” with some old white geezers who went by the name Aerosmith, but Rick Rubin insisted and of course it was a gigantic hit that benefited both bands. “My Adidas” was another huge hit that led to a big contract with the shoe company for the band to wear their products, which was good with them since they were anyway. Run-DMC lyrics were tough but they were pretty anti-violence, making it hard for them to deal with their shows, where a lot of gang fights took place.

Still, hip hop royalty was not something to last real long. 1988’s Tougher than Leather sold well, but not great and 1990’s Back from Hell was widely panned. 1993’s Down with the King was something of a return to form and hit #1 on the charts. But after this, Jam Master Jay went off mostly on his own, forming JMJ Records, discovering and producing Onyx, which reached huge success in 1993 with “Slam” and signing 50 Cent to his first contract. Mizell became a minister in 1995 and mostly continued with his producing and being a father figure in the hip hop scene.

In 2002, Mizell was murdered in his studio. The case remains unsolved. There have been suspects over the years. There was investigation of a couple of guys who had tried to boycott 50 Cent from the industry because he had recorded a song that opposed their gang, but Mizell ignored that. Probably we will never know for sure why this happened.

In any case, this is a good time for some Run-DMC videos.

Jam Master Jay is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.

If you would like to see this series visit the graves of more hip hop pioneers, you can donate here. Tupac and Biggie were both cremated, but a trip to see Eazy-E or Scott La Rock could be arranged. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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