The blogosphere is weeping over the loss of legendary rap star John ‘Ecstasy’ Fletcher, who was found dead in his Atlanta-area home Dec. 23.
Ecstasy was part of the Brooklyn rap trio Whodini, who had hits throughout the 1980s, including ‘Friends,’ ‘The Freaks Come Out at Night,’ ‘One Love,’ ‘Five Minutes of Funk,’ ‘Big Mouth’ and ‘Funky Beat.’ Fletcher and his fellow bandmates M.C. Jalil Hutchings and Drew ‘Grandmaster Dee’ Carter rocked the mic with electrifying iconic performances at Fresh Fest 1984, which featured Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, The Fat Boys, Newcleus & the Dynamic Breakers, New York City Breakers and Turbo and Ozone from Breakin’ fame.
Known for wearing shorts, cowboy boots and a Zorro hat, Fletcher’s swagger, good looks, soulful voice and smooth delivery made him a sex symbol among early hip-hop fans. Whodoini’s live shows were legendary, holding their own with superstar groups like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys and a young Todd ‘L.L. Cool J’ Smith,.as evidenced by being included on the legendary 1986 Raising Hell Tour.
Managed by Russell Simmons and a part of the Jive Records family, Whodini! made history and made stars in the process. They were one of the first rap groups to successfully blend rap with R&B/Soul, churning out hit after hit. While many rap artists of that time displayed braggadocio, Whodini promoted partying, having a good time and weaved tales of complicated friendships and relationships, making brilliant use of iambic pentameter, rhythmic rhymes and visual storytelling. Whodini’s ‘Magic’s Wand’ is the first rap song with a music video that was not performance based but gave a visual narrative.
‘The Most Important Factor in Your Child’s Education is You’ produced by production legends Larry Smith and Thomas Dolby (yes, the iconic artist), ‘Magic’s Wand’ is one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop history. The song highlighted their relationship with rap pioneer Mr. Magic’s iconic radio show ‘Rap Attack’ on WBLS that featured fellow rap trailblazers DJ Marley Marl and Tyrone ‘Fly Ty’ Williams. Whodini made six studio albums, four of which were certified platinum. Whodini’s self-titled debut was recorded in Europe, produced by German uber-producer Conny Plank, demonstrating their ability to successfully blend Europop, Synthpop, R&B, Soul, West African oral traditions and Caribbean beats and rhythms like their industry counterparts Afrika Bambaataa and Newcleus to create rap hits.
Their albums included Whodini (1983), Escape (1984), Back in Black (1986), Open Sesame (1987), Bag-a-Trix (1991) and their comeback album Six on Jermaine DuPri’s So-So-Def label, which produced the hit single ‘Keep Running Back.’
DuPri got his start in the industry as a backup dancer for Whodini in the early 1980s, and the group’s energetic performances also were buoyed by other outstanding back up dancers like Shiller Shaun ‘Kangol Kid’ Fequiere and Fred ‘Doctor Ice’ Reeve (Jalil’s younger brother), who went on to form one half of the popular rap group UTFO, whose hit ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’ is a hip-hop banger and classic.
In 2007, Whodini was honored at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors. In 2012, the rap legends were featured on TV One’s UnSung series, presented with the Icon award at the Underground Music Awards and inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. In 2018, the pivotal group received the Hip-Hop Icon Award at the Black Music Awards ceremony held in Nashville. Despite their legendary albums, performances and influence on the rap musical genre, Whodini never won a Grammy.
John ‘Ecstasy’ Fletcher was 56 at the time of his death. A cause of death has not been released at this time.
(Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is founder/editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual. Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter @TheBurtonWire.)