She hoped to sing for a rap icon. Instead, she was there the night Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay died

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NEW YORK (AP) — She was a teenaged aspiring R&B singer and rapper who had gotten an appointment at Jam Master Jay’s recording studio.

But just minutes after Yarrah Concepcion met the Run-DMC star, he was shot dead.

Concepcion was brought to tears as she testified Thursday in the trial of two men charged in the 2002 killing. One of several people in various parts of the studio on the night of one of the hip hop world’s most infamous slayings, she recalled seeing the slain DJ on the studio floor.

“I knew he was gone,” she said. “But I just had to try to see if he was alive.”

Jam Master Jay, born Jason Mizell, was one in a series of high-profile hip hop figures whose killings in the late 1990s and early 2000s stymied investigators for years. Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington were charged only in 2020 with killing Mizell.

The two have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say Washington brandished a gun, Jordan fired on Mizell, and the attack was spurred by a drug-dealing beef. There has been no testimony in the trial’s first week about any drug transactions, but there are weeks more to come.

A cousin and aide of Mizell’s testified Thursday that Washington asked for bullets days before the shooting and warned that “something bad is gonna happen” at the studio. Mizell himself “was nervous about something” and started carrying a gun shortly before he was killed, said the cousin, Stephon Watford.

In the hours after the slaying, Washington — an old friend of Mizell’s who was living on the sofa at the DJ’s childhood home — returned to the house with a bottle of Hennessy Cognac and said, “Don’t throw away this bottle, because this is the last bottle that Jay drank out of,” according to Watford. He called the remark callous.

One of Washington’s lawyers, Susan Kellman, suggested that the comment “was his way of showing or communicating a connection to Jay.” She queried how Watford could recall the night of the 2002 shooting in detail while saying that he didn’t recall some inconsistent things that investigators’ notes have him saying in and after 2018.

Watford replied that “2002 was a tragedy in my life” that he would never forget.

Concepcion, like Watford, did not see the shooting itself. She didn’t implicate Jordan, Washington or anyone else but described the shock of gunfire that seemed to come out of the blue.

She told jurors that she got an appointment through people in Mizell’s circle, but the famous DJ told her he didn’t have time for her that evening. Ultimately, she was escorted from the studio’s lounge area into the adjoining control room to play her demo tape for Mizell’s business partner, Randy Allen, and performer Michael Rapley, or Mike B. Mizell was his producer.

Concepcion was singing along to her second song, she testified, when she heard the door close, the sound of tussling in the lounge, “and then two gunshots went off — ‘paw! paw!,’” she told a jury Thursday.

“That’s when I started getting frantic,” Concepcion said.

Thinking of her toddler son and afraid there would be gunfire in the control room next, she tried in vain to kick out an air conditioner and escape through the window, she told jurors. Then she hid behind a couch until she heard people in the lounge talking about calling the police.

She emerged, holding her heart with shaking hands. Mizell was slumped on the floor, with his arm over his head, she testified.

“Where did Jay get shot?” she recalled asking one of the DJ’s aides, Uriel Rincon, who himself had been shot in the leg.

Concepcion said she asked him to help her check Mizell’s pulse, so the two moved the 37-year-old rap star’s arm. He had been shot in the head.

“I’m sorry — I can’t talk about stuff like this,” Concepcion told jurors, fanning herself and tearing up, then briefly describing the graphic particulars of what she saw.

Rapley, too, told jurors Thursday that he heard the shots and feared everyone in the control room would be attacked next.

On venturing out into the lounge, “I saw Jay, and everything else was a blur,” Rapley testified.

He acknowledged he didn’t see Mizell’s killer, choking up as he recalled the hip hop star who lent him money for his mother’s funeral.

While cross-examining Rapley, Kellman said he had told police he peeked out of the control room and saw a man in a black stocking cap. Rapley testified Thursday that he didn’t recall seeing or saying that.

Washington, known as Tinard, had loafed around the studio for a while earlier that day, Rapley said. Kellman said her client and Mizell had spent the afternoon together, hanging out and munching on grapes.

Washington’s lawyers have argued that he had no reason to kill the man who was providing him financial support and a place to say. But prosecutors have said that Washington, 59, and Jordan, 40, were getting cut out of a lucrative cocaine deal.

Jordan’s lawyers have said their client was at his then-girlfriend’s home when Mizell was shot and adamantly denies involvement in the killing of the rap star, who was his godfather.

A third man, Jay Bryant, was charged last year. Authorities say that he was seen going into the building the night of the killing and that his DNA was recovered at the scene. He has pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.

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