15 years ago, Jason Mizell was murdered in a senseless act of violence at a Jamaica, Queens recording studio. The legendary Jam-Master Jay, like 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G., would become one of hip-hop's most famous martyrs, with a case that has yet to be resolved.
It's an all-too-common story in hip-hop's history, but it would be a shame to reduce Jam-Master Jay's legacy to just his tragic end. Of course, Jam-Master Jay was world famous as the DJ for Run-DMC. The Queens godfathers are icons in hip-hop, but Jam-Master Jay was never satisfied with just being the turntablist for Run and D. On the contrary, Jam-Master Jay had an entrepreneurial spirit and creative vision all his own.
Jay founded JMJ Records in 1988, and would proceed to sign stars like Jayo Felony, Onyx and a then-unknown 50 Cent in 1997. In remembrance of all that Jam-Master Jay meant and means to hip-hop, The Boombox picked five musical moments from Jay—outside of Run-DMC.
In the 1990s, JMJ Records was seeing noteworthy success with acts like Jayo Felony and (especially) Onyx. IN 1995, rap veteran Suga was looking to relaunch her career after some lukewarm success in the late 80s. She paired with Jam-Master Jay for this hit single, which was featured on Def Jam's platinum-selling soundtrack for the hip-hop documentary The Show.
"Kickin' Afrolistics" The Afros
Okay, so this is a pretty bad premise for a group or an album, but The Afros were born of an idea Jam-Master Jay had after watching Robert Townsend's 1988 classic Hollywood Shuffle. He took a bit from the comedy and turned into a rap group. This was definitely a novelty act/vanity project for JMJ and Beastie Boys' DJ Hurricane in 1990, but some of the production was solid. Particularly on this JMJ-produced single.
"The Ruler's Back" Slick Rick
One of Jay's most noteworthy early successes outside of Run-DMC was his production on his classic for Def Jam star Slick Rick. Announcing Rick the Ruler in royal fashion (though, inexplicably, not the album opener), it became one of Rick's most indelible songs. Jay-Z would famously revisit "The Ruler's Back" on The Blueprint in 2001.
"Niggas & Bitches" Jayo Felony
Jay never really became a hitmaking producer, but in the mid-90s, as G-Funk reigned, he did go through a clear infatuation with West Coast-styled beats. One of the more successful examples was his work on Jayo Felony's debut. The Cali rhymer was signed to JMJ, and Jay produced this gangsta-fied track for the Jason's Lyric soundtrack.
Jam-Master Jay was always looking for up-and-coming talent. The biggest success on JMJ Records was undoubtedly Onyx. The mad-faced rappers with the beserker rhymers were a hit in 1993 and "Slam" was their most inescapable single. The rambunctious track brought hip-hop and mosh pits together for the rest of the 1990s, and it was produced by Jam-Master Jay and Chyskillz.