“The Day Jam Master Jay Died” by Kevin Coval

Kevin Coval


woke unsure how to pay rent
check hadn’t come in from county
too many months living like artist
with no net to break the fall

went to my brother’s class at Kelvyn Park
taught Luis Rodriguez in freshman honors
two poems about neighborhood folk / one
heroin-addicted guitar player and the other
man angry in Humboldt Park killing a car

gave a reading at Wright College
theater full of aging teens and faculty
after the set this skinny white kid comes over
gives me props for a poem about graff writers
i ask if he writes, ELOTES he says
no shit i say i’ve been digging you
for years over red and brown line tracks
first seen you up on that truck at Chicago
and Halsted / that’s me
he said

ate with Eboo downtown near Loyola
he lectures to a class of grad students
about discovery and inheritance / he is brilliant
in describing our engagement with modernity
we encounter the vastness of cultural practice
and build bridges back home
he says

i think of Isabel / young writer at Kelvyn Park
Bindi between her eyebrows / picture of Lady Guadalupe
in her notebook / she reads the Bhagavad Gita in Spanish
with her Aunt who teaches Yoga at the Church
and i tell this class my path back to Judaism
was paved in breakbeats

walk to the train
get home / call my girl
she lives in Brooklyn
on my bed / she tells me

Jam Master Jay was shot
his head spilled onto the control panels
of his studio in Queens

it’s fucked up she said
it’s fucked up i said

said we’d talk tomorrow
hung up and my apartment was silent
like there was no music in my apartment
my apartment was silent like my childhood
memories silenced tonight like the music


Chuck D said John Lennon was killed today
and i miss Pac and Big more than ever
i am Holden Caulfield watching hope break in the stalls of public bathrooms
i am Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth reminiscing over the fallen body of b-boy
Trouble T-Roy and dying hip-hop birth sites falling wayside to the pounding beats
of green-fisted real estate agents and the hard crack rock drug wars america wages
on her children creating culture with turntables

we have been here before

and i want Scott La Rock back to break up all this violence
i want Big L to throw a peace sign up in the air and DREAM
and Ramon and all the other graffiti artists killed in the line of their calling
to come back and bomb the World Trade Center
with the biggest streaked wildstyles the sky has ever seen:
a mural for the forgotten spray painted on the clouds
a gold chain cast across the sun
a single shell toe held up in the air

it was Jam Master Jay who introduced me to the culture
who soothed me over the bridge of whiteness and rock
it was his cool lean arms wrapped around chest / head back
in black fedora / no laces in his adidas / he stole electricity
to light the block parties / reparations / for all the stars exploded
before he could play the last song they requested / he’d send shine
beams on vinyl / into the distant homes of the sun starved
and let us bask in his light scratching scarce sounds / found
digging the landfills / of america’s sonic consciousness

it’s not bad meaning bad but bad meaning
it’s not bad meaning
it’s not bad meaning
it’s not

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

Rattle Logo