Nobody expected it to get ugly. Berklee College of Music’s 2006 Milestones awards show, billed as “A Celebration and Tribute to True Musical Innovation,” was envisioned as a way to highlight the accomplishments of hip-hop’s oft-overlooked pioneers. The event, held this past Friday at Boston’s Berklee Performance Center, started out as a jovial celebration of turntables, technique, and musical engineering technology. By the time it was over, a schism had been exposed within one of rap’s most hallowed groups.
Run DMC in happier times
There was no sign of tension at the outset. Hosted by former Yo! MTV Raps star Fab 5 Freddy, the show began with Al Kooper, organist on Bob Dylan's 1965 hit "Like a Rolling Stone,” performing with a band comprising Berklee faculty members. Milestones awards – mounted silver headphones – went to rap legends Marley Marl and DJ Premier (the latter has recently produced Christina Aguilera and Lawrence indie-rap phenomenon Termanology), as well as Bruce Swedien, the man who recorded and mixed Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Local indie-rap stars 7L and Esoteric performed, as did talented saxophonist Michael Phillips and the Berklee Turntablist Crew, featuring professor Stephen Webber. A trio of legendary DJs — Jazzy Joyce, Jazzy Jay, and Grandwizzard Theodore — held an clinic that drew a clear line between the improvisational principles of jazz and hip-hop.
But controversy swirled during the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to the late DJ pioneer Jason W. Mizell – better known as Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay. (Jay was murdered in a New York City recording studio in 2002.) On hand as a guest presenter for the award was Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.
DMC took the stage in a light straw hat and a Run-DMC T-shirt and had nothing but kind words to say about his slain bandmate. “He fulfilled his destiny,” he said, explaining how Run-DMC became one of the most beloved hip-hop acts in history. “He went out doing what he loved,” McDaniels continued. “He was a b-boy, he was a thug, but he was positive.”
But Jam Master Jay’s mother, Connie Mizell, had harsh words for the presenter. She, and other members of Jay’s family, received a large ovation as they approached the stage to collect the award. It was the first time DMC and Mizell had been face to face since Jay's death. Mizell commented on this as she took the stage, and DMC walked off as she walked on. By the time they picked up the trophy, DMC was nowhere to be seen.
"I know you're shocked," Mizell said with a smile. "I'm Jam Master Jay's mother." The audience erupted in applause.
Mizell then turned her comments to DMC, and jaws fell all over the auditorium. "I haven't seen D at my house" since Jay's death, she said. "I thought he would have thought enough of me to say hi." She then ridiculed DMC, saying that if McDaniels had died, Jay would have taken care of his family financially. She inferred that DMC had not done so, and was critical of DMC’s T-shirt with Jay on it. "[Jay] was saved," she said in closing, after her stinging remarks to DMC. "He knew who Christ was."
Fab 5 Freddy was speechless as Mizell was slowly helped from the stage. He mumbled that hadn’t been told beforehand that Mizell was in attendance.
The crowd appeared stunned; hardly anyone seemed to pay any attention to the next act on the bill, a showcase for the amazing DJ skills of Roc Raida and Grandmixer DXT.
DMC and his two-person entourage were seen after the show coming out of McDonalds and making a quick and quiet exit. Mizell was praised by audience members for “keeping it real.”