Appreciation: I Remember Jay

Article excerpt

When I emigrated from Guyana to New York in the mid-'80s, Run-DMC was at the vanguard of the hip-hop form that would eventually fill my personal and professional lives. They were my cultural bridge, veritable heroes. I'd come to know the trio well in my Caribbean homeland listening to their music on audiotapes well-worn from endless play. That summer of 1985, on my first day in Brooklyn, the familiar vocal machinations of Joseph "Run" Simmons and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, backed by Jam Master Jay's deft turntable manipulation, struck my ears as I emerged into the hot, sticky air. I turned a hopeful gaze upon three young men gathered next door, listening to music on a boom box. They looked up and caught my eye. We all stood content, nodding in unison to "Sucker MCs."

Jam Master Jay, 37, whose given name was Jason Mizell, was shot to death Oct. 30 at a New York recording studio. Jay was a remarkable man. He was the musical anchor of Run-DMC, a group formed two decades ago. Run and DMC started rapping at parties in the Hollis section of Queens and invited Jay, who also lived in the neighborhood, to join them in starting a group. Run-DMC quickly established a curriculum vitae laden with firsts - first rap group on MTV, first to pioneer the melding of rock and rap, first true global ambassadors for hip-hop, first platinum rap album and so on.

Although it seems anachronistic by today's standards - when rappers are the visage of hip-hop celebrity, their turntable counterparts virtually unknown - Jay was more than the equal of his rhyming brethren. He was practically their raison d'etre, their steadying force on records and on countless stages around the world, the subject of many a song filled with proud boasts to his DJ prowess. …

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