Today would have been Run-DMC turntabilist Jam Master Jay's 50th birthday. Arguably the most influential DJ of all time, he's contributed not only to some of hip-hop and music of the 20th Century's finest moments, but always gave back to his community, encouraging music education and offering resources that ensure the ripple effects of his impact will be felt for years to come.
While we all know the classic iconic Run-DMC tracks that Jay was an important third of, there's plenty of other gems he's responsible for that deserve some shine. Here's five underappreciated Jam Master Jay moments.
Run-DMC – “Here We Go (uncut version)” 1983
The rap world of 1983 was a very different place. Rappers were just starting to speak about social ills in-between comparing zodiac signs over lush re-creations of the top songs of the day. That's why Run-DMC on record, as well as live, made such an impact with their stripped down approach to rap. The Profile Records b-side “Here We Go” (famously performed live at the Funhouse in 1983) captures the raw live energy of what Run-DMC delivered, as well as Jay's live-cutting-up of the “Big Beat” break made this the definitive time capsule of what the group were like live just before they took over the world.
Onyx “Slam” 1993
The most famous song on this list by far, what may not be known is Jay's hand its creation. Co-produced by Jay, he was Onyx's manager at the time and helped oversee their debut album Bacdafucup. At a time when the first wave of rap artists weren't often capable of changing with the times, Onyx's unhinged aggression struck through the 1993 rap climate much like how Run-DMC penetrate the rap word a decade prior. Years later, Jay gave a similar first break to 50 Cent.
Bo$$ “Livin' Loc'ed” 1994
Jay was no stranger to working with female MCs at a time when gender roles in hip-hop were as rigid as they ever were. Along with working with Roxanne Shante and Queen Latifah in the '80s, Jay co-produced the Sticky Fingaz-assisted “Livin' Loc'ed” for Bo$$. Finding Bo$$' sound was a uniquely challenging undertaking. She was a Detroit MC who was recording her debut for Def Jam's short-lived Def Jam West imprint that had to feature east coast artists. Jay was probably one of only a handful of people on the planet who could find the right balance for Bo$$ and “Livin' Loc'ed” was born.
Dog Eat Dog – “No Fronts (Jam Master Jay Mix)” 1995
For a lot of the flack that music and fashion trends of the early and late '90s receive, at least they had a defined sense of identity. In the mid-'90s, well, watch the above clip. Dog Eat Dog, in a narrative that surprisingly isn't as uncommon as it should be, were an early 90s New Jersey hardcore punk band who eventually took on enough hip-hop and ska influences to have a sound that effectively had them advertised as a “crossover band.” But, all their influences, while it could be a mess, also gives a lot to work with and is in a lot of ways what the spirit of hip-hop is about. Thus, when Jam Master Jay remixed their single “No Fronts,” it maintained a certain catchiness while offering something for everybody.
Run-DMC on “Reading Rainbow”
Finally, here's a rarity. Along with how cool “Reading Rainbow” always was and always will be, this clip also gives us the only known footage of Jay rapping. It's unclear why Jay is making his rap debut here of all places, but for a message this positive and the impact this had on thousands upon thousands of young viewers getting their first impressions of rap over the years, it's a major moment.