Prior to Run-DMC‘s mainstream success, the music industry dismissed hip-hop as a passing fad with limited commercial potential beyond a few hit singles. The group’s 1986 album “Raising Hell” silenced the haters.
In 2002, Mizell was gunned down at age 37 in his Hollis, Queens, studio — and although five others were present when the shooting took place, the case remains unsolved.
Mizell’s cousin, Stephon “Phonz” Watford, recently teamed with 50 Cent to release the documentary “2 Turntables and A Microphone: The Life & Death of Jam Master Jay,” in which friends recall Mizell’s talent, business acumen and generosity, and discuss their theories about what led to his murder.
» EXPRESS: You were around during the early days of Run-DMC’s success. What was your role?
» PHONZ: I traveled with Run-DMC from day one. I was like [Jay’s] personal assistant. He always had me with him on tour. It was just a part of my life, growing up. Anything he needed me to do. As my big cousin, we were always close. He just wanted me to be there with him, to feel that with him. Once he became Jam Master Jay he said, “You’re coming with me. This is for you and I both.”
» EXPRESS: Why aren’t more family members in the film?
» PHONZ: This wasn’t for the children, it wasn’t for the mothers, it wasn’t for the wives, the movie is just me and all of our friends from the neighborhood, including 50 Cent, including Russell Simmons, Reverend Run. This is the Hollis crew. It’s like a crew thing. We’re going out trying to figure out what happened to JMJ. Celebrating his life. What happened to our friend? What happened to our family member? We need answers.
» EXPRESS: What has your family’s overall reaction been to the film?
» PHONZ: My family loved it. It was something that needed to be done.
» EXPRESS: Did you ever seek a theatrical release rather than going straight to DVD?
» PHONZ: I always wanted it to go straight to DVD. I wasn’t really chasing a theatrical release. My goal was just to create something to keep JMJ’s legacy alive. I never in a million years thought it would get this big. Once I went out and started making the film and went back in to the studio and started editing it, I decided to call 50. I told him once I finished, “I’d like to sit down and let you to see it, and see which direction you may want to get involved in.” He saw it, he loved it, he said he had to be a part of it, and here we are.
» EXPRESS: Why did it take five years to put the film together?
» PHONZ: I’m just a guy from the neighborhood; I never went to film school. I couldn’t even imagine how you even begin to make a movie. I came out here to L.A. with the intentions of making the film. I had already started the process when I moved out here. The film world is all around you and it kinda motivated me to say, “OK, I can do this. I can make this happen.”
I had to go out and find funding, try to find a situation, meaning a deal. Nobody wanted to believe in doing a JMJ movie. The door was shut on me so many times. I didn’t want to do a complete Run-DMC movie; I wanted to do a JMJ movie — that’s how I had to pitch it to Hollywood. But the blessing in all this was that when I was trying to get it made within that five years, MTV put out a show called “Run’s House.” It reintroduced the group. The new execs out here in Hollywood who weren’t really familiar, they saw MTV. It created a great awareness about the group that made it easier for me to make the film.
» EXPRESS: How did you choose the director, Guy Logan?
» PHONZ: I met him five years ago. He pulled up, he was wearing a Run-DMC derby and had a 1983 Cadillac. I liked him already! Once we sat down in a coffee shop in the Valley, I felt like he had the passion. I spoke to him and told him my story, and he cried. I saw the passion in his eyes. I knew that he was a believer. I went with my first vibe — he was the one.
» EXPRESS: The way it was shot and edited, it had a music video feel at times.
» PHONZ: I just wanted it to flow. I wanted the story to flow, to be told in a way that keeps everybody’s attention, I didn’t want it to be a soft moment at all.
» EXPRESS: Now that the film is out, do you feel it’s had any effect on the investigation?
» PHONZ: I haven’t heard anything yet, but somebody’s gonna start talking. You know, if you know any of those people that was in the studio, in their everyday lives, the people right next to them are gonna look at them differently now.
» EXPRESS: Is your family still using a private investigator or is it all up to the Queens police now?
» PHONZ: We’re just leaving it up to the police at this point. I did what I can do personally. The police couldn’t get the investigation that I got on film from those people. I know they were stuck at one time. They just never had any answers. That’s something that also led me to try and get some answers, on behalf of Jay.
» EXPRESS: Considering 50 and Ja Rule’s very public feud, it was shocking to see Ja Rule interviewed in a film endorsed by 50 Cent.
» PHONZ: This is the situation — this was about JMJ. 50 Cent, Blackchild, Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz, all of these guys were coming up under JMJ. I felt like I couldn’t leave anyone out. That was a personal opinion. I had to allow everybody to let their story be told. Everybody loved Jay. Jay played a big part in their lives. It was only right to let everyone tell their story. He touched a lot of people. I just really feel blessed right now that I was able to make this happen. I feel blessed about the people who helped me make this happen. I wake up every morning just feeling good. Knowing that the film will still tell his story, even when I’m not here.
Written by Express contributor Anne Polsky
Photos courtesy Stephon Watford