John Fletcher, a.k.a. Ecstasy of the Group Whodini, Dies at 56
John Fletcher, who, as the ecstasy of the foundational hip-hop group Whodini, drove some of the genre’s early pop hits, wear an extravagant zorroesque hat all the time, died on Wednesday. He was 56 years old.
Jonnelle Fletcher, his daughter, confirmed the death in a statement but did not provide the cause or the place where he died.
In the mid-1980s Whodini – originally composed of Mr. Fletcher and Jalil Hutchins, who later became the DJ Grandmaster Dee (née Drew Carter) – released a number of major hits, including “Friends” and “Freaks Come Out” at night “and ” One Love “. Whodini presented himself as a street-savvy cultured man with a pop ear, and Mr. Fletcher was the group’s oversized character and the liveliest rapper.
“I can’t sing,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1987. “But one day I heard someone rap and said to myself,” I can do that. “I rap on the pitch. I try to be unique. I have my own style.”
John Fletcher was born June 7, 1964 and grew up on the Wyckoff Gardens projects in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He first worked with Mr. Hutchins, who was from nearby Gowanus, when Mr. Hutchins was trying to record a theme song for the newly influential radio DJ Mr. Magic.
This collaboration received a lot of local attention and Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Hutchins were soon signed by Jive Records, which they named Whodini. They quickly recorded “Magic’s Wand” by Thomas Dolby and “The Haunted House of Rock,” a Halloween song.
“Ecstasy really was one of the first rap stars,” wrote Barry Weiss, the executive director who signed it, on Instagram. “Not just a brilliant voice and word smith, but also a woman and sex symbol for ladies when they were very rare in the early days of rap. Whodini has helped lead a female audience to a traditional male art form. “
Most of the group’s earliest material was recorded in London when Mr. Fletcher was just graduating from high school. The self-titled debut album in 1983 was produced by Conny Plank, who also played the bands Kraftwerk and Neu! Whodini toured Europe as well before achieving real success in the US.
“We didn’t go to university or college, but that was our education just to see the world,” Fletcher said in a 2018 interview with YouTube channel HipHop40.
For his follow-up album “Escape” (1984) Whodini began working with producer Larry Smith, who amplified his sound and gave it a little appealing scratch. (Mr. Smith was also responsible for Run-DMC’s breakout albums.) “Escape” contained the songs that would become Whodini’s landmark hits, particularly “Friends” and “Five Minutes of Funk” (released as the downside on the same 12 inch album) single) and “Freaks Come Out Night”.
A skeptical song about deception, “Friends,” was a blast on its own and had robust afterlife as sample material, particularly in Nas and Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).”
“Five Minutes of Funk” – which became even more popular as the theme music for the long-running hip-hop video show “Video Music Box” – used a clever countdown motif that was woven through the lyrics. “When creating this song,” Fletcher told HipHop40, “we imagined the projects booming out of the windows as we walked through the song on a summer day.”
As hip-hop gained worldwide attention, Whodini was always at the center of the action. The group was led by aspiring impresario Russell Simmons and appeared on the first Fresh Fest tour, hip-hop’s premier arena package.
But when Run-DMC took hip-hop to more edgy terrain, Whodini stayed committed to smoothness. “We were the rap group that bridged the gap between the bands and the rappers,” Fletcher told HipHop40, adding that he and Mr. Hutchins were aware that hip-hop was still struggling to gain acceptance Obtaining radio programmers wrote songs accordingly: “We wanted to curse, but we couldn’t curse.”
Mr. Fletcher was also a major innovator in introducing melody to rapping. “Ecstasy was the lead vocalist on most of the Whodini songs because anything we could play could rap right in key,” Hutchins said in an interview with hip-hop website The Foundation.
“Escape” went platinum, and Whodini’s next two albums “Back in Black” (1986) and “Open Sesame” (1987) both went gold. On “One Love” (from “Back in Black”), which had streaks of sound that would soon merge as the new Jack Swing, Mr. Fletcher was pensive, almost somber:
The words “love” and “like” both have four letters
But they are two different things overall
Because in my day I liked a lot of women
But just like the wind, they all blew away
Havelock Nelson and Michael A. Gonzales described Whodini in their book “Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture” (1991) as “a beautifully preserved building in the middle of the Brooklyn ghetto sky, where the sympathetic Characters float gently through a turbulent sea of hardcore attitude and crush-groove madness. “
This was not least due to the style of the group. Whodini dressed with flair: leather jackets, sometimes without a shirt; flowing pants or short shorts; Slipper. Most importantly, Mr. Fletcher’s flat leather hats, which became his trademark, inspired by a wool gaucho he saw in a store on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn that he had remade in leather. Soon he had several.
“He had it in red; she had in white; two in black, one with an African headdress, ”Hutchins said in a 2013 interview with Alabama website AL.com. “He had several, but the original was his favorite.”
Whodini was also one of the first hip hop groups to use dancers in their stage shows. A young Jermaine Dupri got one of his earliest breaks as a dancer for the group. He later repaid the favor and signed Whodini to his label So So Def, on which 1996 the last album “Six” was released. Whodini was also a frequent occurrence in the 2000s.
Information on the survivors of Mr. Fletcher in addition to his daughter was not immediately available.