John Fletcher, a.k.a. Ecstasy of the Group Whodini, Dies at 56

John Fletcher, who as Ecstasy of the foundational hip-hop group Whodini was the engine for a number of the style’s first pop successes, carrying a flamboyant Zorroesque hat all of the whereas, died on Wednesday. He was 56.

Jonnelle Fletcher, his daughter, confirmed the dying in a press release however didn’t specify the trigger or say the place he died.

Within the mid-1980s, Whodini — made up initially of Mr. Fletcher and Jalil Hutchins, who had been later joined by the D.J. Grandmaster Dee (born Drew Carter) — launched a string of important hits, together with “Mates,” “Freaks Come Out at Evening” and “One Love.” Whodini offered as street-savvy sophisticates with a pop ear, and Mr. Fletcher was the group’s outsize character and most vivid rapper.

“I can’t sing,” he told The Los Angeles Instances in 1987. “However I heard someone rap at some point and I mentioned to myself, ‘I can try this.’ I rap in pitch. I attempt to be distinctive. I’ve my very own fashion.”

John Fletcher was born on June 7, 1964, and grew up within the Wyckoff Gardens tasks in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He first labored with Mr. Hutchins, who was from close by Gowanus, when Mr. Hutchins was attempting to report a theme tune for the newly influential radio D.J. Mr. Magic.

That collaboration acquired important native consideration, and Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Hutchins had been quickly signed by Jive Information, which named them Whodini. They shortly recorded “Magic’s Wand,” produced by Thomas Dolby, and “The Haunted Home of Rock,” a Halloween tune.

“Ecstasy was really one of many first rap stars,” Barry Weiss, the chief who signed them, wrote on Instagram. “Not only a sensible voice and wordsmith however a women’ man and intercourse image once they had been very scarce within the early days of rap. Whodini helped usher in a feminine viewers to what had been a conventional male artwork type.”

Many of the group’s earliest materials was recorded in London when Mr. Fletcher was contemporary out of highschool. Its 1983 self-titled debut album was produced by Conny Plank, who had additionally produced the bands Kraftwerk and Neu! Whodini additionally toured Europe earlier than discovering true success again in the USA.

“We didn’t go to school and get a school diploma, however that was our training, simply seeing the world,” Mr. Fletcher mentioned in a 2018 interview with the YouTube channel HipHop40.

For its follow-up album, “Escape” (1984), Whodini started working with the producer Larry Smith, who amplified its sound and gave it a little bit of interesting scuff. (Mr. Smith was additionally chargeable for Run-DMC’s breakout albums.) “Escape” contained the songs that will grow to be Whodini’s seminal hits, notably “Mates” and “5 Minutes of Funk” (launched as flip sides on the identical 12-inch single) and “Freaks Come Out at Evening.”

“Mates,” a skeptical storytelling tune about deceit, was a smash in its personal proper and had a sturdy afterlife as pattern materials, most notably on Nas and Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).”

“5 Minutes of Funk” — which might grow to be much more extensively referred to as the theme music for the long-running hip-hop video present “Video Music Field” — deployed a intelligent countdown motif woven by means of the lyrics. “In creating that tune,” Mr. Fletcher advised HipHop40, “we pictured it blaring from the home windows within the tasks as we walked by means of it on a summer season’s day.”

As hip-hop was starting to achieve international discover, Whodini was constantly close to the middle of the motion. The group was managed by the rising impresario Russell Simmons and appeared on the inaugural Fresh Fest tour, hip-hop’s first enviornment bundle.

However as Run-DMC was taking hip-hop to edgier territory, Whodini remained dedicated to smoothness. “We had been the rap group that sort of bridged the hole between the bands and the rappers,” Mr. Fletcher advised HipHop40, including that he and Mr. Hutchins had been conscious that hip-hop was nonetheless struggling to achieve acceptance amongst radio programmers, and wrote songs accordingly: “We wished to curse, however we couldn’t curse.”

Mr. Fletcher was additionally a key innovator in introducing melody to rapping. “Ecstasy was the lead vocalist on most Whodini songs as a result of something that we might play he might rap proper to it in key,” Mr. Hutchins mentioned in an interview with the hip-hop web site The Basis.

“Escape” went platinum, and Whodini’s subsequent two albums, “Again in Black” (1986) and “Open Sesame” (1987), each went gold. On “One Love” (from “Again in Black”), which had streaks of the sound that was to quickly coalesce as new jack swing, Mr. Fletcher was reflective, virtually somber:

The phrases ‘love’ and ‘like’ each have 4 letters
However they’re two various things altogether
‘Trigger I’ve appreciated many girls in my day
However similar to the wind they’ve all blown away

Havelock Nelson and Michael A. Gonzales, of their ebook “Convey the Noise: A Information to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Tradition” (1991), described Whodini as “a fantastically saved constructing in the midst of Brooklyn’s ghetto heaven, personable characters floating gently by means of a turbulent sea of hard-core angle and crush-groove insanity.”

In no small half that was due to the group’s fashion. Whodini dressed with aptitude: leather-based jackets, typically with no shirt; flowing pants or brief shorts; loafers. And most crucially, Mr. Fletcher’s flat-brimmed leather-based hats, which turned his signature look, impressed by a wool gaucho he noticed in a store on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn that he had remade in leather-based. Earlier than lengthy, he had a number of.

“He had them in crimson; had them in white; two in black, one with an African headpiece on it,” Mr. Hutchins mentioned in a 2013 interview with the Alabama web site AL.com. “He had totally different ones, however the authentic one was his favourite.”

Whodini was additionally one of many first hip-hop teams to make use of dancers of their stage exhibits. A younger Jermaine Dupri bought one among his earliest breaks as a dancer for the group. He later repaid the favor, signing Whodini to his label, So So Def, on which it launched its remaining album, “Six,” in 1996. Whodini continued to carry out continuously into the 2000s.

Data on Mr. Fletcher’s survivors along with his daughter was not instantly out there.

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