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Coming out of the fertile early-'80s New York rap scene, Whodini were one of the first rap groups to add a straight R&B twist to their music, thus laying the groundwork for the new jack swing movement. The group consisted of rappers Jalil Hutchins and John "Ecstasy" Fletcher, adding legendary DJ Drew "Grandmaster Dee" Carter, known for being able to scratch records with nearly every part of his body, in 1986. Whodini made its name with good-humored songs like "Magic's Wand" (the first rap song to feature an accompanying video), "The Haunted House of Rock" (a rewrite of "Monster Mash"), and "Freaks Come Out at Night," and their live shows were the first rap concerts to feature official dancers (U.T.F.O. members Doctor Ice and Kangol Kid). Following 1987's Open Sesame, Whodini went on hiatus due to problems with their record company, as well as to concentrate on new families. The group attempted a comeback in 1991 with Bag-a-Trix without much success, despite receiving their due as rap innovators. Five years later, Whodini returned with their sixth album, appropriately titled Six. The album disappeared shortly after its release.
Whodini is a hip hop group that was formed in 1981. The Brooklyn, New York-based trio consisted of vocalist and main lyricist Jalil Hutchins; co-vocalist John Fletcher, aka Ecstasy (who wore a Zorro-style hat as his trademark); and turntable artist DJ Drew Carter, aka Grandmaster Dee.
ContentsCareer1.1 Early years1.2 Escape1.3 Back in Black1.4 Touring1.5 Open Sesame and the New School1.6 The 1990s to present
Whodini was among the first hip hop groups to cultivate a high-profile national following for hip hop music and made significant inroads on urban radio. As they were contemporaries of other hip hop groups such as the Fat Boys, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Afrika Bambaataa, and Warp 9. The group was managed by Russell Simmons, brother of Joseph “Run” Simmons of Run-D.M.C. The group signed with London-based independent record label Jive Records in 1982; they enjoyed a string of hits for several years, mostly charting on urban and R&B radio stations. The bulk of production on their releases was done by Larry Smith, a bass player who also handled much of Run-D.M.C.’s early work.
In 1983, the group recorded the self titled album Whodini, and its first single "Haunted House of Rock" was a Halloween-themed number that even today is still played in some clubs. Synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby helped produce another of its singles, "Magic’s Wand", which was originally conceived as an advertisement for prominent radio jock Mr. Magic, who worked for New York’s WBLS radio. "Magic's Wand" also has the distinction of being one of Whodini's most-sampled songs.
In 1984, the group released Escape, which included "Five Minutes of Funk", "The Freaks Come Out at Night", the instrumental "Featuring Grand Master Dee", "Big Mouth", and the relationship-driven "Friends". Many of these songs were also groundbreaking in hip hop culture, as each one of the songs told a unique story from the urban perspective. The album ended up being certified for platinum-level sales by the R.I.A.A., selling over one million albums upon its release.
The instrumental version of "Five Minutes of Funk" was used as the theme music for WNYC TV show Video Music Box, an influential early hip hop music video show.
The vinyl album is long out of print and the CD (only released twice, once in 1992 and again in 2002) is also out of print and any copies of either of them are extremely valuable to collectors.
On May 17, 2011, Escape was released on CD with nine bonus tracks.
Back in Black
In 1986, the group released Back in Black and a number of songs from the album received heavy local New York airplay, such as "Funky Beat" and the controversial “I’m a Ho”. “Fugitive” was guitar-driven funk and "Last Night (I Had a Long Talk With...)" was introspective. Paul Kodish, drummer of Pendulum, was featured on the album.
From 1982 to 1986, the group was at its most productive; they toured with the more successful bands such as Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, the Fat Boys, and other prominent hip hop, R&B and funk bands. The group was involved in the first Fresh Fest tour, which was the first hip hop tour to play large coliseums nationwide. In July 1986 they appeared at Philadelphia's Spectrum Stadium in front of an audience of 18,000. They were the first Rap Act and Break Dance troop to Tour in the UK and Europe, with U.T.F.O also appearing with them as their break dance act. They played all over Europe to full venues as no one had seen this kind of music before.
Open Sesame and the New School
By 1987, the group had earned its share of gold singles and albums. With Open Sesame, its final release of the 1980s, the group had turned away from their once-playful simple beats and catchy rhymes of the old school and instead became vocally more harder and more instrument-driven, with guitars and horns and bells. They even began to sample, as a snippet of Cheryl Lynn's "Got to be Real" is heard on the song "Now That Whodini's Inside the Joint".
This new school style had been similarly done almost a year previously on the multi-million selling debut albums by L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys, as many groups had already turned to the kind of rap and rock music that crossed over easily, and Open Sesame failed to produce any real hits.
Although the group was still obligated to Jive Records, for the next few years the band eked out its tenure by occasionally only releasing singles, including “Anyway I Gotta Swing It” for the A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child movie soundtrack.
The 1990s to present
In the 1990s, the band made an attempt at a comeback, and in that same year the group signed with MCA Records and released Bag-A-Trix in 1991, which failed to have commercial impact, as it tried again to reinvent using the then-current sound of new jack swing.
In mid-1994, the group scored a hit single with "It All Comes Down to the Money", which was co-produced by Public Enemy DJ Terminator X on his album Super Bad.
Talks with Def Jam Recordings for a new deal stalled, and in 1996, the group was signed by Jermaine Dupri (mentor-producer of Kris Kross and Li'l Bow Wow) to his then Columbia Records-distributed So So Def Recordings imprint. (As a child in the 1980s, Dupri did a brief stint as a dancer for the group.)
Their album Six produced one single, "Keep Running Back", and appeared briefly on the R&B chart.
Since the Six album, the group has not released any new music, but its older songs have been featured in many various old school compilations and three greatest-hits collections have been released: The Jive Collection, Vol. 1 in 1995, Rap Attack in 2003, and Funky Beat: The Best of Whodini in 2006, which featured the seven-minute "Whodini Mega Mix", which was a medley of some of the biggest hits.
In recent years, Whodini still tours occasionally, and its old records still surface on pop and R&B radio, especially during old-school mix shows. The group's records have now become sample sources for contemporary emcees such as Nas, Master P, Prodigy, and MF Doom.
In October 2007, Whodini was an honoree at the 4th Vh1 Hip Hop Honors.
In August 2012, Whodini was presented with the Icon Award by the Underground Music Awards.
In October 2012, Whodini was inducted into the 4th annual Long Island Music Hall of Fame.Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 420. CN 5585. "Whodini on the Rap Sample FAQ".