John “Ecstasy” Fletcher of trailblazing '80s hip-hop group Whodini dead at 56

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·6 min read
Whodini'sJalil Hutchins (left) and John "Ecstasy" Fletcher (right) backstage in 1984. (Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Whodini'sJalil Hutchins (left) and John "Ecstasy" Fletcher (right) backstage in 1984. (Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

A who’s-who of the hip-hop community took to social media Wednesday to mourn the death of John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, best known as the charismatic, Zorro-hatted co-vocalist of the trailblazing Brooklyn rap trio Whodini. Questlove of the Roots was the first to break the sad news via his Twitter and Instagram accounts, posting, “One love to Ecstasy of the legendary #Whodini. This man was legendary and a pivotal member of one of the most legendary groups in hip hop. This is sad man.” The group’s Grandmaster Dee later confirmed the news to Variety, but no cause of death was given at press time. Fletcher was 56 years old.

Fletcher formed Whodini with vocalist/lyricist Jalil Hutchins and turntablist Drew Carter, a.k.a. Grandmaster Dee, in 1982, and they quickly became breakout stars of the ‘80s New York rap scene alongside Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa, Run-D.M.C., the Fat Boys, and LL Cool J. Managed by Russell Simmons, they released R&B/electro crossover club hits that laid the blueprint for the New Jack Swing movement, including “Friends” (which went to No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart), “Freaks Come Out at Night,” “Five Minutes of Funk,” and “The Haunted House of Rock.”

Whodini’s debut single “Magic’s Wand,” co-produced by British synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby, was the first rap song to be accompanied by a music video, and Whodini were pioneering onstage as well: Their live performances were the first rap concerts to feature the dance crew UTFO, and future super-producer Jermaine Dupri got his start in show business as Whodini’s backup dancer at age 12. Dupri was of course one of the many artists to pay homage to Fletcher, posting a flashback tour video on Twitter with the heartbroken caption: “My God, this one hurts me so bad, I can’t even believe I’m posting this, Ex you know I love you, thank you for every word, every conversation every good time, may your soul rest in power.”

On their official Twitter account, Public Enemy wrote, “Ecstasy was my brother. Been on the phone all morning. Ecstasy was one of the greatest to ever rock a microphone. Whodini broke barriers, set trends and looked out for us as we came up. PE returned the favor we sampled Whodini, and brought them on tour. We had a real brotherhood,” while that group’s Chuck D also posted, “1987 I entered the @Defjam tour w PE. I tended to be nervous looking at 15000 fans in front of me every night. There were 2 MCS that directly mentored my calm that summer. 1 was @RealDougEFresh, the other was Ecstasy of Whodini. Always there to reassure w advice.”

A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip called Fletcher “one of the most under-appreciated voices in hip-hop,” LL Cool J called Fletcher “one of the most important people in this culture to me,” and Ice Cube thanked Fletcher “for showing us how to do it.” Other musical heavyweights paying their respects included Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, and Sheila E.

Over the course of their career, Whodini released six studio albums, four of which were certified platinum; their final LP, 1996’s Six, was issued on Dupri’s So So Def label. Whodini were also one of hip-hop’s most-sampled artists; “Friends” alone was sampled more than 150 times, most notably on tracks by Kanye West, Nas, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, the Pharcyde, Public Enemy, Nipsey Hussle, Will Smith, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Fabolous, Nate Dogg, and E-40. The group appeared on 2007’s VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and received the Hip-Hop Icon Award at the Black Music Honors in 2018.

Check out tributes to John “Ecstasy” Fletcher below:

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