When Ed Lover (innovator of the ed lover dance) compared Jam Master Jay's untimely and tragic demise to the murder of John Lennon, I felt it was as earnest as an airbrushed memorial portrait of Aaliyah on the hood of a Lexus, and just about as tacky. Show the man respect within his genre; there is no need to undermine the importance of rap music through rock analogy. Plus, considering Jay's place in the canon of hip-hop (i can't believe i said that), and the genre's many living legends, Lover's eulogy didn't leave room for analogy in the event of Kris Parker's death (John F. Kennedy?) or the death of Grandmaster Flash (Mecha-John Lennon?), or Rakim (Abraham Lincoln?) or Biz Markie (Fatty Arbuckle?).
Then Public Enemy's Chuck D took time away from uploading MP3s of his newest album to correct - or at least amend - Ed Lover's statement. He claimed, "Losing Jam Master Jay to a murder was, maybe not John Lennon, but it was like as if Ringo and George both got hit at the same time." Shit. Again, I see where he's coming from, but Ringo? That's like kicking extra dirt on Jay's coffin.
And just when it seemed the honor that should have been reserved for the victim was in danger of being tipped over by clumsy elbows vying for mic time to "set the record straight", two other recent events have managed to explode our collective memories of JMJ and smear the stinking remains across our upper lips.
Exhibit A*: The Jam Master Jay Tribute Shoe. When JMJ got his driver's license, did he check the box to have his organs donated to Adidas? These shoes are screened with a tiny likeness of Jay's face on the tongue, and a gentle reminder of his life span. They're also the inverse of the color combination Run DMC was seen in most frequently, and immortalized on "My Adidas" - "they're black and white / white with black stripes / the kind I like to wear when I rock the mic." (granted, maybe Jay favored the white-on-black lowers, but his voice was seldom heard.) And they're $100, just as Jay would have wanted. Nowhere on the site did I find any information indicating that a portion of the profits would go to Jay's family, or to the purchase of spackle to fill those holes in the studio wall. If you want a fitting tribute linked to your wallet, go buy yourself a damn Snoop DeVille instead.
Exhibit B: Dr. P. Uh-oh. What happened? This hurts me more than a three car pile-up between Mike Love, Mickey Dolenz, and Tony Orlando's Dawn. (coincidentally, ed lover compared the death of lisa 'left-eye' lopez to precisely this. chuck d later added, "well, peter tork maybe. but mickey dolenz? let's be reasonable, everybody.") I love Dr. Pepper. I love it like a junkie loves smack. Almost exactly like that, in fact. So I do not need a reason to boycott this sweet, spicy elixir. But Dr. Pepper is testing my threshhold of forgiveness with their new "JMJ Tribute" commercials. LL Cool J rapping at a computer-generated image of Jam Master Jay, scratching on his 1200s? The remaining members of Run DMC in their new oversized hats, not contributing much? Wait. Back to LL. LL HAS GONE LOCO! I'm glad he got back in the gym and worked that beef into lean. He has finally earned his right to be shirtless again. He even cleaned up that anti-perspirant residue from underneath his arms. Mama would be proud. But she should still knock you out for doing that commercial. You're rapping to a ghost! Selling Dr. Pepper! What does this have to do with hip-hop, with JMJ, with alley ways or name plates or dooky chains or anything? I pray that someone will deliver LL from Eva and return him and his Flinstones head to Earth.
And while LL buries himself alive in a record time of 30 seconds, Jay's ghost is resurrected for the express purpose of desecration. Even his CGI expression is mournful, as he silently scratches out Dr. Pepper's orders. Pay attention, if you can, to the end of the commercial in which Jay's digital self scratches out Run DMC's signature message: "We're RUN DMC and Jam Master Jay!!" and note the change. According to the executives at Dr. Pepper who fear black people have turned to PepsiBlue, it would be a fitting tribute to JMJ to show him scratching out the following: "Run DMC and Jam Dr. PEPPER!!!" It's the perfect blend of eulogy and sacrilege.
Dr. Pepper must have used some Jedi mind tricks, combined with levitating blank checks, to convince the artists involved in this commercial that it would be a fitting tribute. And according to their press release, they'd like to dangle a spinning hypnotic disc in front of consumers' minds and repeat the following passage (for the subtext-impaired, i will bold-face certain key words):
"After some deep thought and discussion about how appropriate it would be to air this commercial, the surviving members of RUN DMC, as well as members of James Mizell's family, felt it would be a fitting tribute. A brief memorial to Jam Master Jay will appear at the end of the commercial for six to eight weeks after its debut during the professional footbal conference championships, as well as on the Golden Globe Awards. Because this commercial is a tribute to RUN DMC's pioneering work in the hip-hop music genre, the timing is perfect to honor Jam Master Jay. Like Dr. Pepper, RUN DMC and Jason Mizell were one-of-a-kind."
I know what you're wondering: did I accidentally forget to include the maniacal laughter at the end of this quote? No. Shockingly, it was absent to begin with. I can only assume a public relations representative excised it for brevity. Dr. Pepper thought carefully, and decided 6-8 weeks was a fitting tribute, especially on the heels of the Golden Globe Awards, Jam Master Jay's favorite television event. Also, in marketing-speak, the words "perfect timing" rarely, if ever, refer to matters of dignity, grieving or respect. And leave it to Dr. Pepper to carefully reverse the order of honor. Run DMC are strategically compred to the product, and not the other way around. I'm sure "some members" of Jay's family are very proud, and very rich.
What can be learned from all of this? For fans of great men and women, be careful how you honor your heroes. For advertisers...forget it. It's far too late for you. And for everyone else - write your last will and testament EARLY. And be sure to include a clause about the posthumous use of your likeness. And a second clause indicating all your actual favorite products. And one more clause requesting that RUN and DMC start wearing their little hats again.
*my friend zeina came through with research into the JMJ tribute sneaker, and i am eating my oversized hat. here's what she found: "of the 5000 pairs that were made 100% of the profits
are going to the scratch DJ academy started by JMJ last year...the academy's "goal is to unify, legitimize, validate and extend the role and importance of the DJ into new arenas. An organization that focuses on the documentation of the art form as well as the extension of its services into completely new and untapped markets." it's really nice to be proven wrong this way, actually. and double-nice because adidas didn't make a big deal about it on their own site, as far as i can tell. but guess what? you should still switch to mr. pibb.