A timeline of Jam Master Jay’s life and death and the long search for his killers

The music world mourned when Jam Master Jay, the pioneering DJ of the hip hop trio Run-DMC, was fatally shot in a recording studio in New York City in 2002.

Now, more than two decades later, two men are set to go on trial for his killing. Prosecutors alleged the shooting was retaliation for a drug dispute.

The trial of Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr., which began in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn with jury selection on January 22, is the culmination of a cold case that for years frustrated detectives and music fans. Here’s a look back at the DJ’s life, death and the investigation into his killing.

Rise to fame

In the early 1980s, Jam Master Jay, born Jason Mizell, teamed up with Queens friends Run (Joseph Simmons) and DMC (Darryl McDaniels) to form the hip hop trio Run-DMC.

With Jam Master Jay scratching the turntables as DJ, they created a new sound and street look, with their Adidas gear, leather jackets, gold chains and black Kangol hats. Together, they became the first hip hop group to reach mainstream popular music success, solidified by the rap-rock crossover “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith in 1986, as well as appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

“How I dressed in high school is the way we dressed,” Jay told the trade magazine DJ Times in 2000. “My vibe is our vibe.”

Their song with Aerosmith was part of the triple-platinum selling album “Raising Hell,” which also included the hits “It’s Tricky,” “My Adidas” and “You Be Illin.’” The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

Run-DMC released a total of six albums between 1984 and 1993, with “King of Rock” and “Tougher Than Leather” also reaching platinum status. They were eventually overtaken in popularity by more hardcore rap in the 90s, and their next album wasn’t released until 2001.

Run-DMC was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 for their groundbreaking legacy.

“Run-D.M.C. was a group of firsts. The first rappers featured prominently on MTV, to appear on Saturday Night Live, to grace the cover of Rolling Stone, and to win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award,” the Hall of Fame said. “They broke down barriers for future rap acts, crossed boundaries between rap and rock and dispelled old notions of what rap could be.”

Jay’s death and investigation

Jam Master Jay was shot and killed on October 30, 2002, at a recording studio in Jamaica, Queens. The group broke up after his death.

For years, no one was arrested in the killing, leaving one of the most tragic shootings in rap history unsolved.

Finally, in August 2020, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York unsealed a criminal indictment alleging two men conspired to kill Jam Master Jay in retaliation for a drug dispute.

The indictment alleges that Jay was involved in transporting kilogram-quantities of cocaine between 1996 and 2002.

In July 2002, he acquired about 10 kilograms of cocaine, which was intended to be distributed by Washington, Jordan and others, the indictment states. But a dispute between Washington and a co-conspirator led Jay to tell Washington he would be cut out of the transaction, prosecutors say.

Washington and Jordan then allegedly conspired to kill him. On October 30, they entered Jam Master Jay’s recording studio with firearms, and Jordan fatally shot Mizell in the head and shot another man in the leg, according to the indictment.

Jordan and Washington were each charged with murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder. They have pleaded not guilty.

CNN has reached out to their attorneys for comment.

Seth D. DuCharme, who in 2020 was the acting US attorney for the Eastern District, said law enforcement never gave up on solving the cold case.

“It was important to us then and remains extremely important to us now to bring justice for the victim, his family, friends and the community that cared so much about those events,” DuCharme said.

In a statement, Jam Master Jay’s son Jesse Mizell and the Mizell family thanked those who had reached out in support.

“Upon hearing this news, we have mixed emotions; we truly hope that these indictments are a solid step towards justice being served in the murder of Jay,” the family said. “We realize that there are other families out there who have lingering pain who continue to wait for their own closure, and we pray that this case gives them hope.

“In spite of all the tragedies we’ve seen this year alone, we take comfort in our family, our faith and in time’s ability to heal all. We can only hope that this news brings awareness to the fact that Black lives do matter.”

Last May, federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding a third defendant, Jay Bryant, to the case.

Bryant has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder, according to court records. He will be tried separately from the others in January 2026, according to his attorney Cesar de Castro, who declined further comment.

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