The city and music industry have offered more than $60,000 in rewards for information on the slaying of rap legend Jam Master Jay. But nearly six months after his death, the identity of his killer and the motive behind the shooting remain a mystery.
New York Police Department sources close to the case concede the investigation has been hampered by dead-end leads and uncooperative witnesses.
“No one in that industry wants to be a rat,” said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We’re not at a standstill,” countered police Lt. Alfred Murphy. “We’re still hopeful.”
Some blame that lack of cooperation on heavy-handed police tactics.
The 37-year-old victim, whose real name was Jason Mizell, was killed on Oct. 30 by a gunman – masked and wearing a black sweat suit and black hat – who fired a single.40-caliber bullet into his head in the lounge of his recording studio in Queens.
The pre-eminent DJ and founding member of Run-DMC was an unlikely target for the kind of gangland violence that has claimed the lives of rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. He was married with three children, a social activist and a fixture in the neighborhood where he grew up.
He gained fame working the turntables while Joe “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels rapped on hits like “Rock Box,” “King of Rock” and “Walk This Way.”
Mizell was drowning in debt, and there was speculation he may have been involved in a dispute over money.
Some authorities also suggested he was caught in the crossfire of a rivalry between rap figures who associate with known criminals.
Other investigators dismiss the feud theory, saying tensions in the rap world were not high enough to lead to Mizell’s murder.
Industry insiders claim heavy-handed police tactics, such as putting rappers under surveillance and locking them up for driving infractions and other minor offenses, have hindered the hunt for Mizell’s killer.
Recent arrests of 50 Cent, a rapper who had worked with Mizell, and fellow rapper Fabolous fueled rumors the NYPD had formed a “hip-hop squad” to crack down on the rap industry. Some rap Web sites have likened the approach to secret FBI surveillance of black activists during the 1960s.
An attorney for Fabolous accused police of making a false arrest so they could question his client about the Mizell case. “He doesn’t know who’s trying to kill who,” said attorney Alberto Ebanks.
A source confirmed that officers who know the industry have been assigned to monitor rappers linked to crime.
However, police officials deny the existence of a special unit.
“Do we have detectives who sometimes investigate rappers? Absolutely,” said Detective Kevin Czartoryski, a department spokesman. “Do we have a hip hop squad? Positively not.”
Industry executives have been helpful to investigators, Murphy said, but he indicated that attitude does not extend to all levels.
“People close to him have not been as cooperative as we’d like,” he said.