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The Legacy of Ecstasy of Whodini

By Jay Quan

(L-R) Jalil Hutchins, Drew “Grandmaster Dee” Carter, John “Ecstasy” Fletcher. Photo: YouTube screenshot

John Fletcher, best known as Ecstasy from the pioneering rap group Whodini, died Dec. 23 at the age of 56.

Whodini is one of the most distinctive and original tandems in rap music. Hitting the scene in 1982 with a dedication to the late Mr. Magic – a legend who is credited with bringing rap music to commercial radio, Jalil Hutchins and John “Ecstasy” Fletcher stood out from their contemporaries in both style and substance.

Their debut full-length, self-titled album was released in 1983 and it made noise mostly underground with Magic’s Wand and The Haunted House of Rock. Two very important factors separated Whodini from other rap groups out of the gate.

In 1982/83 most rap artist were releasing material on Sugar Hill, Enjoy, Profile, Tommy Boy or one of the other independent record labels who released and distributed rap recordings at the time.

Even though they hailed from Brooklyn, New York Whodini entered the American market as an import act. Jive/Zomba a Europe based label eventually become gargantuan signing rap acts and distributing small rap labels in the late 1980’s, but Jalil confidently boasts to me “Whodini set it off for Jive in America. No one heard of Jive until Whodini! Later you saw Billy Ocean and everyone else, but we set them off in the Black market.” The advantage that came with the Jive affiliation was one of musicianship and quality. Magics Wand was produced by the great Thomas Dolby, and The Thompson Twins were musicians on the first Whodini album.

Ecstasy says that the reason that the sound of the singles”Friends,” “Big Mouth” and “5 Minutes of Funk” was so good when people sample them is because the source material was recorded on Solid State Logic (SSL) consoles, Fairlight Computers and other technologies that hadn’t reached the states yet.

The Whodini formula and magic took shape on Whodini’s second album titled “Escape.” Super producer and musician Larry Smith had just entered into a partnership with future Def Jam founder Russell Simmons and Kurtis Blow. Rush Groove Productions produced and mixed Run DMC’s first two singles, “It’s Like That/Sucker Mc’s” and “Hard Times/Jam Master Jay.” Within this time frame Mr. Magic introduced Jalil to Russell Simmons and Russell introduced him to Larry Smith. Smith started sending music to Jalil to write to and the Whodini sound was birthed. The Escape album is also where the look of Whodini started to take shape. Where Ecstasy wore no head piece on the debut album, the second album found him rocking his now trademark leather “Zorro” hat.

Songs like “The Freaks Come Out At Night,””Friends” and “5 Minutes of Funk” are where the public started to notice the golden voice and effortless flow of John Fletcher. The flow was so dominant that Jalil says that when he wrote a lyric he would ask Ecstasy, affectionately known as Ex to flow on the track, just so that Jalil could get the proper cadence and key down.

These reference tracks would form the basis of the Whodini formula with Jalil as the main writer and Ecstasy as the tone setter. This formula would prove extremely successful for the next three Whodini albums, making them a fixture on the largest rap tours and Black radio, where rap music was still not welcomed fully with opened arms.

Ecstasy who says that he came up on 5 dollar Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 tapes took the cadence of “Jive Talking” radio disc jockeys like Hank Span, Jocko and Gary Byrd and added a melodic tone that separated him from the other MCs of his era. Jalil proudly communicates his partners skill set: “Ecstasy rhymed in key. When I say in key, I mean he rapped syncopated in key upon the music scale. Later on you had LL Cool J, Public Enemy and cats like that who could do it – but most cats can’t rap syncopated and go up and down the music scale.”

In the wake of Ex’s passing the overwhelming sentiment from those of us who grew up on Whodini is that our parents liked them. The music was positive was usually socially redeeming. The visual was also very important to the appeal of Whodini across generations. The leather pants, baggies, dress shoes and Ecstasy’s leather hat would not be at all out of place on stage with Frankie Beverly and Maze. The Zorro hat was powerful and a form of branding early in the genre.

It’s fair to say that Ex’s hat is as influential and iconic as L.L. Cool J’s Kangol or Run DMC’s fedora’s. Beyond Grandmaster Mele Mel’s collaboration with Chaka Khan on I Feel For You and Grandmixer D.ST’s work with Jazz giant Herbie Hancock on Rockit there weren’t many collaborations that crossed genres in the 1980’s. Ecstasy’s flow and cadence were responsible for the success of Midnight Star’s 1988 hit “Don’t Rock The Boat.”

To witness the greatness of Ex’s vocal tone and delivery also check out “Fugitive,” “One Love,” “Funky Beat,” “Friends” and “5 Minutes of Funk.”

Rest well John Fletcher, and thanks for the music.

The hip-hop world remembered Ecstasy. Here are some quotes:

“In a year that all of us will never forget and couldn’t wait to end…ended with one of our own, the Ecstasy of Whodini…A true pioneer, a very talented performer, a trendsetter, a gentleman..The perfect partner in one of the greatest duos in hip-hop history. I was blessed to know him and got to spend some time with him back in the Fever days. My condolences go out to his immediate family. Jalil & Grandmaster Dee and the whole hip-hop community.”
–SAL (Disco Fever) “Legends Never Die” Lelee (SWV)

“Ecstasy, aka John Fletcher, was Brilliant& Magnetic! His smooth delivery and witty word play is still considered one of the best voices in Hip Hip.” –Irving Pantin, hip hop photographer

“Ecstacy. In a lot of ways he was so ahead of his time as far as that flow. Ecstacy had a perfect voice for hip hop. Prior to Whodini, everybody tried to rhyme like Mel. Whodini had a very mature sound that’s why your parents can groove to them. I think it was him that separated that group from the pack. Nobody rode a track as perfectly as Ex. He was so ahead of his time and it’s just sad he didn’t get his roses while he was here. But more importantly than all that the man that he was was inspiring. In this dog-eat-dog industry all the beef between acts in that era, he remained above the bullshit. As big a Star as he was he was always the same dude every time you saw him.” –Dynamite of FURIOUS 5

“Ecstasy gave one of the best representations of style, finesse, and approach to manipulating the English language applied to rhythm. He will forever be a true artist and one of the greatest artist of our culture in our time.” –GrandMixer DXT

“My Brother Forever. “ONE LOVE” –Jalil of Whodini

(L-R) Founder/CEO/Owner at RAPAMANIA Van Silk, actress Bernnadette Stanis, Ecstasy

“My brother for Life. Always been a #Humble person. The last time we seen each other it was 2018 at the Black Expo and we took a photo together with Thelma aka Bernnadette Stanis from “Good Times. ”MISS YOU XVAN SILK (RAPAMANIA INC)

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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