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Jam Master Jay an Unlikely Target

October 31, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ As one of the forefathers of rap, with a history of social activism, Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay was an unlikely target for the kind of violence that killed rappers Tupac Shakur or the Notorious B.I.G.

He was married with three kids, and a fixture in the Queens neighborhood where he grew up. Yet authorities were searching Thursday for the gunman who killed 37-year-old disc jockey with a gunshot to the head inside his recording studio.

``Jam Master Jay was a longtime family man and one of the founders of the group that knocked down all the doors for hip-hop, and a dear friend of mine,″ said Russell Simmons, the hip-hop impresario whose brother Joe was Jay’s bandmate.

``I loved him,″ said a devastated Simmons. ``I will miss him. He is irreplaceable.″

Chuck D, frontman for rappers Public Enemy, agreed with that sentiment.

``You draw the comparison to when John Lennon was shot,″ he said. ``It’s an enormous loss to the genre.″

The DJ _ whose real name was Jason Mizell _ was the man behind the music, working the turntables as Joe ``Run″ Simmons and Darryl ``DMC″ McDaniels rapped over his hard rock beats on hits like ``Rock Box,″ ``King of Rock″ and their Top 40 cover of Aerosmith’s ``Walk This Way.″

``He was family to me,″ McDaniels said. ``He stuck to the true essence of what a DJ in a hip-hop performance should be. The whole music industry has lost a great talent.″

He spun and scratched records on twin turntables simultaneously, creating a new style and sound that was copied by endless disc jockeys. ``If Grandmaster Flash was the first famous DJ, Jay had to be the second,″ said Andre Harrell, a Mizell contemporary who now heads Nu America Music.

While breaking new ground, Run-DMC made hip-hop commercially viable, becoming a platinum-selling act that earned a 1987 Grammy nomination. Run-DMC created opportunities for untold rappers to follow, expanding their work into movies and a line of clothing.

``It’s a terrible loss,″ said Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, who joined Run-DMC on a national tour in the mid-1980s. ``If Jam Master Jay and Run-DMC hadn’t looked out for us way back when, I don’t know where we’d be now.″

Sean ``P. Diddy″ Combs called Mizell ``a pioneer. He led the way for a whole new genre of talent. ... He was a great man who will be deeply missed.″

Run-DMC, three friends who hailed from the Hollis section of Queens, was always above the thuggishness that later came to dominate hip-hop. ``It’s not like we just have scrambled brains and gold chains,″ McDaniels once told The Associated Press.

They were the only rap act at Live Aid, the fund-raising concert for African famine victims, and they joined Little Steven Van Zandt for the anti-apartheid anthem, ``Sun City.″ The also contributed the track ``Christmas in Hollis″ to the Special Olympics project, ``A Very Special Christmas.″

Run-DMC did anti-drug concerts, established scholarships and set up voter registration booths at its live shows.

``They represented everything good and positive about hip-hop,″ remembered Russell Simmons.

The band achieved a level of fame previously unheard of for rappers. Their list of firsts is staggering: first rappers with a gold album, first with a platinum album, first on American Bandstand, first on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Their videos became MTV staples. And though their record sales had waned in recent years, they remained a formidable concert draw: the group recently completed a tour with Aerosmith and Kid Rock.

``They’re the Rolling Stones of rap,″ Ice Cube said recently.

In a 1987 interview with The Associated Press, the trio sipped tea in a Manhattan hotel room. The band revealed, giggling, why they decided to bring Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler in for their remake of ``Walk This Way″: because none of them knew the lyrics.

Mizell recalled scratching the song for Tyler, repeating guitarist Joe Perry’s riff without ever getting to the vocals _ evidence of their fascination with beats over lyrics.

In Queens, fans had created an impromptu memorial to Mizell outside his recording studio, just a short distance from the neighborhood where he grew up.

Some in the crowd recalled how Mizell, McDaniels and Joe Simmons always appeared at the annual ``Hollis Day″ picnic. A sign hung on a fence read, ``R.I.P. Jam Master Jay: Thank you for always representing us the right way.″

``We’ve lost a legend,″ said fan Terrence Chadwick, 37, standing outside the studio. ``Jam Master Jay was truly a legend to this community.″

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