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A Fond Memory and a Sad Milestone: Jam Master Jay

Jam Master Jay, Run DMC
RUN DMC promotional photo for Down with the King

I heard a news report this morning about how the trial is set to begin in Brooklyn for the murder of producer and Run DMC member Jam Master Jay back in 2002, which was nearly a decade since I had last worked with him. When I arrived in NYC in 1990, my life quickly became filled with hip-hop artists. I enjoyed working with them, because I was really into sampling and programming as well as recording and mixing. Any audio engineer from that era will tell you how respected they were by the hip-hop and R&B community of that time.

Having worked at a number of smaller studios cutting my teeth in the music world, I found myself working for Soundtrack NY- which took my career to the next level. I was working on glorious old Solid State Logic consoles while also embracing SSL's new digital offering, ScreenSound. The combination of the two found me working with a quiet and talented producer named Jason Mizell on a project he was producing for a group called Onyx.

Onyx. Jam Master Jay.

We had used ScreenSound to sound design a bunch of interstitial material as well as overdub vocals for the album. One night before a session, a coworker said "You're working with Jam Master Jay tonight?". I laughed a little and said "Is that what you guys call Jason?". He replied "No- Jason is Jam Master Jay!". I had no idea. I later quietly asked Jason if that was true. He got a kick out of the fact that I had no idea, and that might have explained why I didn't treat him any differently than anyone else I engineered for.

After working together on Onyx's first album, I was tasked with doing some recording, mixing and final album editing for Rub DMC's album Down with the King. That was an absolute treat! In those days, there were multiple production teams working on tracks, with several engineers handling the final mixes. While we were using ScreenSound to assemble the final mixes for mastering, we ended up using the system to track and mix a couple of short new pieces for the album. They were raw, down-and-dirty pieces just using the classic Emulator EMU-SP1200 sampling drum machine, and the group rapping over top.

During this time period, I was known for wearing ties (and even bolo ties!) and boots. I was not just a white kid from suburban Long Island- I was possibly the whitest kid! The rap artists I worked with always got a kick out of my often innocent and unintentionally comedic comments. I had fun with it. So it was no surprise that when running into Jay again at Soundtrack after the release of Down with the King, he said "Yo! Your shit's the fattest on the record!", to which I quickly replied "Is that good?". Hilarity.

Frank Verderosa at an SSL console New York City
A much younger Frank Verderosa manning the SSL at Quad in NYC

Hip-hop was getting pretty tough at that time. Before I even started at Soundtrack, I had been working at a smaller studio where gun play was not uncommon. There was a night where and artists rolled up demanding dubs, and pistol whipped a young studio manager after being told he had to wait. It was those interactions that made me seek the comfort of a larger facility with bigger, signed artists. But it didn't matter. Even after Run DMC, I was tracking vocals with a "new" rapper called Notorious BIG. He was playing with HIS gun for some sound effects in the booth, and that soured me on doing those all night sessions. It was shocking to hear that Jam Master Jay was gunned down at a NYC studio in 2002. It was a gut-punch, because it was the sort of thing that could happen anywhere- and to anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Around the time I was doing a lot of hip-hop work, Tupac was famously shot in front of Quad studios in NYC. Thankfully, someone knew to buzz up for help and he survived.

RIP, Jason Mizell. It's amazing that arrests were made so many years later and a trial is finally beginning.


You have many stories my man. Thanks for sharing.


Wow Frank, thanks for sharing.

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