A court has heard that Run-DMC star Jam Master Jay was shot dead more than two decades ago by his godson as revenge for being cut out of a drug deal.
Karl Jordan Jr, 40, and another man, Ronald Washington, 59, have gone on trial in New York accused of murder.
In their opening statements on Monday, prosecutors claimed the pair carried out an “execution” that was “motivated by greed and by revenge”.
However, their lawyers told the jury they did not kill the pioneering DJ.
Jam Master Jay, real name Jason Mizell, was 37 when he was shot in the head at his recording studio in Queens, New York, in October 2002.
He was one third of Run-DMC, the influential hip-hop group known for 1980s tracks such as It’s Tricky, It’s Like That and Aerosmith collaboration Walk This Way.
They spoke against drug culture, even recording a “Just Say No” public service announcement in 1988. But prosecutors said Mizell had become involved as a middle man in cocaine deals to support his lifestyle and those of others close to him as the group’s music career faded.
They said Mr Jordan, who was 18 at the time, and Mr Washington, a friend who was staying with Mizell’s sister, thought they would be part of a deal worth nearly $200,000, and were angered when they were cut out.
They plotted to kill him after being “left with nothing”, New York prosecutor Miranda Gonzalez told the jury, according to the Reuters news agency.
Another man, Jay Bryant, will face a separate trial in 2026. He is accused of entering the studio through the front door and letting Mr Jordan and Mr Washington in through a locked back fire exit, before Mr Jordan allegedly shot Mizell with a handgun.
“He would be murdered in his own music studio, by people he knew,” Ms Gonzalez told the court, the AFP news agency reported.
‘No clue who did it’
But defence lawyer Ezra Spilke called the prosecution’s account of events “one version of many”, and said the accused pair “have no clue who did it”.
There is no forensic evidence connecting his client, Mr Washington, to the murder, only “ageing memories”, he said.
Mr Washington was an alcoholic and relied on Mizell to keep a roof over his head. “Why bite the hand that feeds you?” Mr Spilke said. “Why kill the person you depend on?”
He told the jury: “Mizell was a beloved artist, but convicting the wrong person… does not solve the tragedy. It just adds another one to it.”
Mr Jordan’s lawyer John Diaz noted how “the narrative has changed over time” and that some prosecution witnesses had co-operated with federal investigators in exchange for leniency in their own criminal cases.
The trial is expected to last four weeks.