By 2002, Run-D.M.C. had become hip-hop’s elder statesmen. The trio from the New York borough of Queens were long past their ’80s hit-making days – when they had helped bring rap to the masses – but still toured and were almost universally revered in the hip-hop community.

Almost universally.

Somewhere during Run-D.M.C.’s two-decade career, Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell – the group’s pioneering DJ – had made some dangerous enemies. The bad blood would result in Mizell’s death.

On the evening of Oct. 30, 2002, Jam Master Jay had gone to his 24/7 Studio in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, to work with Rusty Waters, an act signed to his record label. As Run-D.M.C.’s popularity had waned in the ’90s, Jay had increasingly shepherded new talent, such as Onyx and 50 Cent.

Before getting started, he relaxed with friend Uriel “Tony” Rincon by playing the video game Madden NFL 2002. According to Rincon, while they were playing, Jay laid down a pistol next to him. The DJ’s personal assistant Lydia High told him that the gun made her nervous and asked him to put it away. In the meantime, one of Rusty Waters’ members – Randy Allen – arrived and went with a friend into another room of the studio to listen to some demos.

About an hour-and-a-half after Mizell came to 24/7, two or more people showed up at the studio, threatened High to let them in and told her to lie on the floor. They went into the room where Jay and Rincon were sitting. Apparently recognizing at least one of the people who entered, Jay stood up to greet his attacker. Shots were fired. The first one missed Jay and hit Rincon in the leg. The second, fired at close range, hit Jay in the side of the head, fatally wounding him.

Rincon believes that Jay knew the shooter and, even worse, thought this person was a friend. “Had there been immediate animosity or if there was a problem, they wouldn’t have been that close,” Rincon told the New York Daily News.

The attackers ran out of the studio, allegedly followed by Allen and his friend who heard the gunfire. They may have also shot at the assailants as they took off, but to no avail. At the age of 37, Jam Master Jay was pronounced dead at the scene. He left behind three sons and a celebrated legacy, as many in the music industry mourn the loss of their friend, collaborator and idol. Younger artists in the hip-hop world pay tribute to Jay at concerts and in music videos. A mural dedicated to the DJ goes up in Queens.

But as Jay is buried in Hartsdale, N.Y., rumors swirl around what happened. As Run-D.M.C. predated gangsta rap and maintained a relatively clean image, fans remain shocked by Jam Master Jay’s violent end. The theory of a random killing is dispelled by Jay’s possession of a pistol (indicated he might have been expecting to be attacked) and by others’ testimony. It is more likely that the DJ’s death was an act of retribution, but committed by whom and for what purpose?

There are a variety of stories. One is that the killing was the result of a Milwaukee cocaine deal that Jay was part of in the ’90s. The deal was botched and someone wanted their money. According to MTV News, Jay had been in Milwaukee the week before.

Another theory is that this murder was tied to Jay’s one-time protégé 50 Cent, who was being blacklisted by those associated with rap label Murder, Inc. for rapping about the exploits of criminal Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff. The idea was that Jay had ignored the blacklist to work with his old friend.

Others have floated the possibility of a number of escalating beefs with figures involved in crime, the music industry or both, namely Darren “Big Dee” Jordan and Curtis Scoon. However, both of those men have denied anything to do with the incident and have even supported efforts to find Jay’s attacker.

Jay’s family, friends and fans, hopeful for justice, thought that there was a break in the case in 2007, when Ronald “Tenad” Washington was charged by federal prosecutors for being an accomplice in the murder. But, reportedly, Washington’s confession couldn’t be supported and he was not convicted. He has been serving a 17-year prison term for a series of armed robberies.

Although a handful of witnesses were present at the scene of Jay’s murder, it seems that they have been unable or unwilling to identify the attackers. Curiously, all of the studio’s surveillance cameras were disabled or directed away from helpful vantage points before the incident, leading many to question the culpability of those close to the late DJ.

Rumors persist about the “real” attacker, although police appear to lack the evidence or testimony to charge anyone. As of 2017, the New York Police Department has admitted that their investigation into the killing has gone cold.

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