"Run-D.M.C. is officially retired," Joseph "Run" Simmons announced today at a Manhattan hotel, where some of hip-hop's most influential figures came together to rally support for the widow and children of Run-D.M.C.'s pioneering DJ, Jam Master Jay. "We can't perform anymore. I can't find a way to do it without three members."
Jay, born Jason Mizell, was shot and killed October 30th in his Queens, New York, recording studio. Police have yet to make any arrests in the case.
P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Chuck D, Russell Simmons, the Beastie Boys, Doug E. Fresh, Foxy Brown and Ed Lover were among those who gathered to demonstrate their commitment not only to Mizell's family but also to what many of them called the larger "hip-hop family."
"This murder has nothing to do with rap music," Run insisted, refuting media reports that Jay's killing was motivated by insulting lyrics, or that it was only another episode in the East Coast-West Coast feud that may have claimed the lives of rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.
"The profanity is not in the music," Russell Simmons, the group's longtime producer, added. "The profanity is in the poverty and the lack of opportunity that people in our neighborhoods face." The Simmons brothers grew up alongside Mizell in Hollis, Queens -- a neighborhood Mizell never left and remained committed to until his death. "Jason is not dead for any reason except that he turned back to his community," said Simmons, who also heads the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a music and community advocacy group. "He was at risk for the same reasons everyone else in the community was. People get killed every day, and most of the killers aren't found. We just don't hear about it because they're not 'newsworthy.'"
Jay, along with his band mates, was an advocate for positive messages -- as opposed to guns and drugs and gangs -- in rap. Each artist who spoke in his memory expressed determination to ensure his murder becomes a fulcrum for change in the industry and culture. Veteran DJ Ed Lover, whose show Yo! MTV Raps was in large part responsible for taking rap music mainstream, held back his emotions to say, "We have to put some love in this music . . . This has to be the catalyst to turn this whole business around."
Chuck D, one of rap's most overtly political figures as frontman for Public Enemy, also challenged fellow MCs to accept greater responsibility for their lyrics and music: "We have no room for people who rap so well but don't speak to the people. We have the ear of the people -- and we need to be men and women."
An equally high priority at the meeting was establishing a coalition to raise money to benefit Mizell's widow Terri and their three children -- artists including Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Irv Gotti, Jay-Z, Kid Rock and Aerosmith have already contributed -- and aid the investigation of his murder. Mizell's tax and personal debts have been widely, if not specifically, reported, and Run said that the group's inability to continue their tour this winter with Kid Rock and Aerosmith as planned has contributed to that "financial problem." "We're not going to discuss his personal finances in detail," Run said, "but as a family we're going to make sure right there is no debt. We're not going to let Terri go through any insecurity."
One hundred thousand posters featuring Mizell's image will go up around New York City today asking anyone with any information about the shooting to come forward. Terri Mizell emphasized that the police had so far been "very, very good to the family," and that they shouldn't be blamed for not yet finding her husband's killer. "Vengeance is not for us to take care of," she said. "God will take care of that. We don't want a Hollis war going on."
So far, police have issued only a vague description of the person they say killed Mizell and also shot his friend Uriel Rincon in the leg while the two played a video game: a black man, about six feet tall and 180 pounds, wearing a black sweatsuit and black hat. Other leads, including the Saturday shooting death of a promoter who also worked with Mizell's protege 50 Cent -- whose lyrics mock other gangsta rappers -- have also failed to turn up a suspect.
The number for the tip line is (800) 577-TIPS. A $50,000 reward fund has been set up for anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of the killer.