By Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press on February 1, 2024.
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 decades. 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 and blocked the door, Jordan fired on Mizell, and the attack was spurred by a drug-dealing beef.
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,” Watford told jurors Washington said. Watford 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 a shooting that seemed to come out of the blue.
After securing an appointment at the studio via a relative who knew people in Mizell’s circle, Concepcion said she arrived and met the famous DJ in the studio’s lounge area, but he said he didn’t have time for her that evening, she testified. After she countered that she had traveled a long way and wanted to be heard, Mizell’s business partner and another associate took her into the adjoining control room to hear her sing.
She was in the middle of her second song, she testified, when she heard the door close, the sound of tussling, “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.
Once 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.
She 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 duly going on to describe the graphic particulars of what they saw.