Remembering Jam Master Jay
All sorts of emotions are whirling inside my head and to be honest it's hard to believe Jam Master Jay [Jason Mizell] is dead...Dude was 37 years old, had a wife and three kids. I believe his oldest son is 15. And if you ever met Jay, you knew he was a cool cat. He didn't bring a gangsta persona to the table. He wasn't the type of cat who needed a bunch of bodyguards when he walked down the street. As far as I knew he wasn't living foul, causing drama or somehow instigating any sort of 'rap feud' which are all too frequent.
Jam Master Jay was a cool cat and it's for that reason I don't wanna do what we always seem to do when we encounter violent death... I don't wanna simply 'keep it moving' and act like him being killed is no big deal. It is a big deal. I don't wanna put a good face forward and stick the emotions of yet another violent death of another brotha in the back of my mind. There's been one too many deaths and I no longer have room in the back of my mind. I don't wanna fall back on old tired clichés and say things like 'death is a part of life' or 'when it's your time to go it's your time to go'. That don't cut it for me anymore. I don't wanna act like this doesn't bother me cause it really does. I don't wanna give into this unwritten code among us as black men to not be phased by violent deaths because it's an all too common occurrence.
I don't wanna hold a candle, pour liquor on a curb or go on the radio station and play all my Run DMC records and rebroadcast all my old Run DMC interviews. I don't want Jay's death to be reduced to yet another tribute. It seems like in the past two or three years we've been doing a helluva of tributes.
In the past couple of year alone we've lost Big Pun and DJ Screw out of Houston to heart attacks. Too Poetic of the Grave Diggaz passed from cancer, but he courageously recorded his last album while he had the disease. We lost Aaliyah to a plane crash and Left Eye of TLC to a car crash. We lost San Francisco pioneering rapper Cougnut and San Jose's D-Mac who died together in a car crash just days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Days after the attack we lost Boogie Knights of the group The Boogie Boys. Many of us are still grieving from last month's sudden death of Money Ray of the Cold Crush Brothers. He was diagnosed with cancer in August and died five weeks later.
And yo, I gotta be honest; I'm still recovering from the emotional upheaval of the sniper killings, which just ended last week. I'm still asking questions with regards to Kenneth Bridges, co-founder of Matah. Why did this community activist and community leader have to be killed? Why was it another brother to be the one to take him out?
I'm still trying to get over the haunting images of the distraught mother of the 35-year-old bus driver who was the last sniper victim. I'm still trying to process those heartbreaking images... I'm still asking why? I'm still asking why there are 94 murders in Oakland. And I'm really bothered by the fact that damn near everyone I know knows someone who has been killed in the past few years. And I'm still asking why we seem to take death so lightly? Why do we see life as so expendable?
I keep asking myself what happened to the promises and commitments we all made when we came together in '95 during the Million Man March? We promised to uplift and affirm life. What has happened since then? Why is loss of life no longer a big deal anymore? Why is black life so cheap? What are we doing to ourselves and why? What's going on? Will we ever get it together? Will we as black people ever get it together? I keep thinking about a song that poet D-Knowledge did a couple of years ago where he asks 'Does Anyone Still Die of Old Age'?
I don't know if we've been able to fully grieve and process all this death. Many of us are still left with unanswered questions. Why did this have to happen? It seems like as soon as we start the process we're hit with another sudden death, which means we wind up shoving a lot of feelings and emotions in the back of our minds, doing another tribute and moving on. This time around I don't just wanna do another tribute. There's just too many tributes to the point that it's becoming routine and that's bothersome for me. Jay's death and for that matter anyone's death should not be routine.
Maybe I'm feeling this way because I'm realizing that in many respects, I still never really got over the deaths of Pac and Biggie. There's really been no closure despite all the VH1 documentaries, articles, movie etc. This morning I was talking to my boy Pharrel over at Roc-A-Fella records and he pointed out something that really hit home. He told me. "I hope they catch the guy who did this. I hope they catch him because there have been way too many unsolved murders in hip hop."
I kept thinking about that and all these names that ran through my mind. Scott La Rock, Freaky Tah of Lost Boyz, East Palo Alto's Karisma, JoJo from Bored Stiff, Ray Luv's Dee jay DJ CAE, The Mac out of Vallejo, DJ Quick's partner Mau, Pac's homier, Yare "Kauai" Foal, Oakland's Seagram, 2 Pac and Biggie.. The list goes on...There's a whole lot of unsolved murders in rap and I don't care what anyone says, that lack of closure has an effect.
And while one can easily make the case that there's a lot of unsolved murders in our community in general, one would hope that we would be able to get to the bottom of some of these high profile slayings. The fact that we never seem to solve the murders of some of these artists the same way we don't seem to be able to solve the murders of 'Pookie' or 'Ray Ray' from up the block, underscores the notion that in many circles the loss of black life is no big deal.
It don't matter whether you're a high profile artist or a d-boy on the local corner in the hood. It's like we're expected to die a quick and early death. And even sadder is the perceived circumstances of our deaths are all the same. In other words, since last night I've been fielding a lot of calls from local reporters who seem bent on making this connection to JMJ's death with the deaths of 2Pac, East-West coast feuds and on going beefs in rap like Ja Rule vs. DMX and Nas vs. Jay-Z. This is not the Jam Master Jay I know.
It's like cats are trying to make the case that perhaps Jay lead a crazy lifestyle that somehow invited the violence that befell him. I don't wanna put JMJ in that category. Almost all the newscasts and stories I've heard end with reporters trying to make that connection. "Jay Master Jay like 2Pac and the Notorious BIG' is in a long line of rap stars who have died violently in a violent rap world." Heck CNN has a poll on their website as we speak asking who has the most musical influence 2Pac, Biggie or JMJ. As innocent as it may seem to some, there's something about that poll and the overall approach and questions raised that don't sit well with me.
I don't wanna say Jam Master Jay and 2Pac in the same breath. I don't wanna compare him to Biggie. I don't wanna say JMJ is in a long line of rap stars who died violently...Jay deserves his own space in our minds and hearts. We all need to take time out and reflect on Jay the musician, the pioneer, the man, the father, the husband, the friend, the associate and not categorize and compartmentalize him. I don't wanna see him reduced to another violent casualty in a 'violent rap world' as one TV reporter described it.
Before asking questions about hip hop and violence let's begin by asking 'Did you know Jam Master Jay?' 'How are you coping with this sudden loss of life?' Are you sad? Are you angry? How will you deal with it and what changes will you try to bring about? 'What type of man did you know JMJ to be?' What did he mean to the community? What did he mean to his family?' Words cannot express the hurt, sadness and anger I feel for this loss.
Please take time to hug those you love. It should be obvious by now, no one is promised tomorrow. Please take time to say a prayer for Jay's three kids and the wife he left behind. Pray for the rest of his family and friends. One can only imagine what they must be going through. Pray that God gives them strength to get through the pain of his death. Pray that they be comforted. Lastly take time to reflect and allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to heal. We've been hit with a lot of stuff over the past few years.