John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, co-founder of the trailblazing hip-hop group Whodini, is dead at 56. Fletcher was a towering figure in the history of rap, known for his playful storytelling and flamboyant Zorro hat. Questlove of The Roots was among the first to share news of his passing on Instagram.
“One Love to Ecstasy of the Legendary Whodini,” he wrote, referencing the group’s 1986 hit “One Love”. Questlove added, “This man was legendary and a pivotal member of one of the most legendary groups in hip hop. This is sad man.” Fletcher’s cause of death has not been made public.
Fletcher and his friend Jalil Hutchins founded Whodini in 1982 in Brooklyn. The duo became a trio in 1986 with the addition of DJ Drew Carter, aka Grandmaster Dee. Together they built a national following with hits like “Magic’s Wand”, “The Haunted House of Rock”, “Freaks Come Out at Night”, as well as their only Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Friends”/”Five Minutes of Funk”. Throughout, Whodini took an eclectic approach to hip-hop that paved way the way for new jack swing by incorporating contemporary R&B sounds into a jazz and funk palette.
Whodini released their final album Six in 1996, though they had continued to intermittently tour. Over the intervening years, they’ve become one of the most-sampled artists in hip-hop. Via WhoSampled, the group has been sampled over 400 times, including on Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Real Friends”, several Tupac songs such as “Troublesome ’96”, Kesha’s “Tik Tok”, “Where Is the Love” by Black Eyed Peas featuring Justin Timberlake, “Boyz-N-the-Hood” by Eazy-E, Beck’s “Gold Chains”, Will Smith’s “Potnas”, as well as tracks by J Dilla, DJ Shadow, and many, many more.
In 2018 Whodini was given the Hip-Hop Icon Award at the Black Music Honors ceremony in Nashville. In an emotional acceptance speech, Fletcher said, “They told us they thought this hip-hop thing was a fad, and that we couldn’t sell out arenas. And we proved them wrong.” Revisit that speech and a selection of Whodini’s classic songs below.