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IN MEMORIAM: Rap Legend, Whodini’s John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, dies at 56

by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. — 

The blogosphere is weeping over the loss of John “Ecstasy” Fletcher of the legendary rap group Whodini! Fletcher, known as “Ecstasy” was found dead in his Atlanta-area home Wednesday. 

The Brooklyn rap trio Whodini! 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 MC 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. Their 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 were braggadocious,  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 actually visualized a story. Produced by producing 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.

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.

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 producing the hit single “Keep Running Back.” DuPri got his start in the industry as a backup dancer for Whodini! in the early 1980s.

Whodini’s energetic performances were buoyed by outstanding back up dancers like DuPri and Shiller Shaun “Kangol Kid” Fequiere and Fred “Doctor Ice” Reeve (Jalil’s younger brother). The two were originally known as the dancing duo The Keystone Dancers. They went on to perform for Whodini, eventually forming one half of the popular rap group UTFO, whose hip-hop classic “Roxanne, Roxanne” is a hip-hop banger and classic.

In 2007, Whodini! was honored at the Vh-1 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 epochal 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. A cause of death has not been released at this time.

Rest in power.

(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.)

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