John Fletcher, the rapper better known as Ecstasy from the 1980s hip-hop group Whodini, died on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. He was 56.
“One Love to Ecstasy of the Legendary #Whodini,” Questlove wrote on Instagram Dec. 23. “This man was legendary and a pivotal member of one of the most legendary groups in hip hop. This is sad man.”
Fletcher, along with fellow rapper Jalil Hutchins formed Whodini in 1982 in Brooklyn, New York. Together, they were one of the first groups to add R&B elements to their music with singles such as “Five Minutes Of Funk,” “Friends,” “Big Mouth,” “Freaks Come Out At Night” and “One Love.”
Between 1982 and 1986, the group released three albums including their self-titled debut in 1983, Escape in 1984 which went platinum and Back In Black in 1986. Fletcher often wore a Zorro hat on stage and the group helped introduce producer and songwriter Jermaine Dupri to the business as he starred as a dancer on their tours.
While not as well-known as early hip-hop pioneers like Kurtis Blow or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Whodini were among the most popular and influential early rap outfits, via hit singles like “Friends,” “Freaks Come Out at Night,” “Magic’s Wand” and “The Haunted House of Rock.” The group’s combination of rapping and singing and its synth-heavy sound were a staple in early ‘80s nightclubs and brought the group one platinum and two gold albums. “The trio, along with producer Larry Smith, made the first hip-hop records that black radio embraced,” veteran writer Nelson George wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Fletcher formed Whodini with singer-rapper Jalil Hutchins in Brooklyn, NY in 1982 and signed with the influential Jive Records shortly after. The group debuted with the single , releasing its first single The group — managed by Russell Simmons, who also managed Kurtis Blow and the then-nascent Run-DMC — debuted with the single “Magic’s Wand,” a savvy tribute to early hip-hop DJ Mr. Magic and followed with a self-titled album (including production from white electronic music artists Conny Plank and Thomas Dolby) in ‘83.
Veteran executive Barry Weiss, who signed Whodini to Jive, remembered that time in an Instagram post. “It all started with this record,” he wrote. “Jalil showed up with some guy named Ecstasy. [Jive] had no money and no contract for him, but [we] threw the rule book out the window when we heard his verse and his voice. We came up with the name Whodini, threw caution to the wind and watched as these two kids out of Brooklyn conquered the world and set the pace and tone for a generation of rappers that came after them.”
Indeed, Whodini’s breakthrough came the following year with “Escape.” Produced by Larry Smith (Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC), it included such smashes as “Freaks Come Out at Night” and the cynical “Friends,” which is one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop, appearing in tracks by Kanye West, Dr. Dre, Tupac, Nas and more than 150 others.
With his trademark Zorro hat, Fletcher was the focal point of Whodini.
The group followed in 1986 with the Smith-helmed “Back in Black,” and were second on the bill on Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell Tour” that year — in a reflection of their status, they were billed above LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. However, the group’s popularity had begun to fade, despite their influence on the New Jack Swing style of the early 1990s, and several attempts at a comeback were unsuccessful. Their final album, 1996’s “Six,” was produced by hitmaker Jermaine Dupri, who cited them as a major influence on his own work with KrissKross and TLC, and even briefly worked as a dancer for the group early in his career.
While Whodini largely remained on the nostalgia circuit in recent decades, they did get well-deserved recognition at several points, at VH1’s Hip Hop Honors in 2007 and at the Black Music Honors in 2018, where they received the Hip-Hop Icon Award.
In a statement, Hutchins said: “‘One Love’ to one of Hip Hop’s Greatest! There will never be another.”
In an official statement from Fletcher’s family, Jonnelle Fletcher wrote: “The African and Native American ancestors have gathered around and chosen this day, during the Winter Solstice, Dec 23rd, 2020 to call upon a most endeared, generous, and sincere soul who graced The World’s heart through performance, hip-hop, family, children and grandchildren.
“John ‘Ecstasy’ Fletcher was a beloved man, the life partner to Deltonia and ex-husband to Carla, twin brother to Joseph, artist, friend, and lifetime performing partner to the Legendary Jalil of Whodini,” the statement continues. “Whodini set a Hip Hop course of legendary status that we are all sure to pass on to our grandchildren.
“Please send love and prayers to our family, and with open hearts we ask the ancestors to cover his soul in peace and tranquility. Play his music if it moves you, and know he’ll be hearing you on his way home this day, Dec 23rd.”