Whodini co-founder John ‘Ecstasy’ Fletcher Dead at 56

John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, rapper and founding member of the pioneering hip-hop group Whodini, died at 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 Roots’ Questlove, with many others in the rap community also mourning the death of rapper Whodini. “One Love to Ecstasy of the Legendary #Whodini,” Questlove wrote on social networks. “This man was legendary and a key member of one of hip hop’s most legendary groups. This is sad, man. “

“RIP for Whodini’s Ecstasy. One of hip-hop’s most underrated voices, ”Q-Tip tweeted. “Many hits!”

One of the first rap groups to enter the mainstream, New York’s Whodini are best known for eighties hip-hop classics like “Friends” – a crossover hit in 1984, pop’s best year – and “Freaks Come Out at Night, ”Both from the 1984 LP of the then duo, Escape. Fletcher acted as co-vocalist in the group, with the rapper notably appearing on stage with his hat similar to Zorro, his trademark.

Whodini – Fletcher and Jalil Hutchins, the main creative force behind the group – emerged from the New York hip-hop scene of the early 1980s that produced Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC; with the latter group, Whodini shared a businessman (Russell Simmons) and a collaborator (producer Larry Smith).

After signing with the then London label Jive, Whodini traveled to Europe to record his first self-titled album, which was partly produced by “She Blinded Me With Science” hitmaker Thomas Dolby and krautrock legend Conny Plank. The LP spawned a few singles, including “The Haunted House of Rock” and “Magic’s Wand,” the latter a track in tribute to DJ Magic Mike who is also credited for being the first rap music video:

His next 1984 album, Escape, produced entirely by Smith, it resulted in Whodini’s enduring singles, “Friends” and “Freaks Come Out at Night”. In addition to being the only hit by the Hot 100 group, “Friends” would serve as a fertile sampling field for generations of rappers, with Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Tupac Shakur, Nas and Nipsey Hussle just a few of the track’s dozens of samples; other artists like Nate Dogg (“Friends”), Fabolous (“Frenemies”) and Will Smith (“Potnas”) would put their own touch on the single.

In the following decade, Whodini would release four more albums, including the final LP, from 1996 Six, executive production by Jermaine Dupri. “My God, this one hurts me so much that I can’t believe I’m posting this, Ex you know I love you”, Dupri tweeted Wednesday after the news of Fletcher’s death. “Thank you for every word, every conversation, always, that your soul rests in power.”