John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, rapper and founding member of the pioneering hip-hop group Whodini, has died at the age of 56. The group’s Grand Master Dee confirmed Fletcher’s death to Variety. No cause of death was provided.
News of Fletcher’s death was first revealed by the Roots’ Questlove, with many others in the rap community also mourning the death of the Whodini rapper. “One Love to Ecstasy of the Legendary #Whodini,” Questlove wrote on social media. “This man was legendary and a pivotal member of one of the most legendary groups in hip hop. This is sad man.”
“RIP to Ecstasy from Whodini. One of the most underappreciated voices in hip-hop,” Q-Tip tweeted. “Too many hits!”
A TREMENDOUS LOSS OF OUR HEROES…
NO ONE DID IT LIKE THIS…
THE VOICE, THE ZORRO STYLE HAT,
THE ICONIC HIP HOP THAT WHODINI BRINGS TO HIP HOP…
SALUTE JALIL AND GRANDMASTER DEE…
LOVE TO THE FLETCHER FAMILY… pic.twitter.com/vdhDYwR7rw
— DJ Premier (@REALDJPREMIER) December 23, 2020
One of the first rap groups to break into the mainstream, the New York-based Whodini are best known for Eighties hip-hop classics like “Friends” — a crossover hit in 1984, pop’s greatest year — and “Freaks Come Out at Night,” both from the then-duo’s 1984 LP, Escape. Fletcher served as co-vocalist in the group, with the rapper notably appearing onstage with his trademark Zorro-like hat.
Whodini — Fletcher and Jalil Hutchins, the main creative force behind the group — came out of the early-Eighties New York hip-hop scene that produced Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, and Run-DMC; with the latter group, Whodini shared a manager (Russell Simmons) and a collaborator (producer Larry Smith).
After signing with the then-London-based label Jive, Whodini traveled to Europe to record their first, self-titled album, which was in part produced by “She Blinded Me With Science” hitmaker Thomas Dolby and krautrock legend Conny Plank. The LP spawned a couple of singles, including “The Haunted House of Rock” and “Magic’s Wand,” the latter a tribute track to DJ Mr. Magic that is also credited with being the first rap music video:
Their 1984 follow-up album, Escape, produced entirely by Smith, resulted in Whodini’s enduring singles “Friends” and “Freaks Come Out at Night.” In addition to being the group’s lone Hot 100 hit, “Friends” would serve as fertile sampling ground for generations of rappers, with Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Tupac Shakur, Nas, and Nipsey Hussle just some of the dozens to sample the track; other artists like Nate Dogg (“Friends”), Fabolous (“Frenemies”), and Will Smith (“Potnas”) would put their own spin on the single.
Over the next decade, Whodini would release four more albums, including their final LP, 1996’s Six, executive-produced by Jermaine Dupri. “My God, this one hurts me so bad, I can’t even believe I’m posting this, Ex you know I love you,” Dupri tweeted Wednesday following news of Fletcher’s death. “Thank you for every word, every conversation every good time, may your soul Rest In Power.”