From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Whodini is a hip hop group from New York that was formed in 1981, made up of Jalil (Jalil Hutchins), Ecstasy (John Fletcher) and Grandmaster Dee (Drew Carter). In keeping with 1980s trends, Whodini’s cuts tended to be synthesizer-driven with a heavy electronic drumbeat. The sampling technology that became identified with hip-hop music hadn’t really become prominent during Whodini’s early days, and its works were thoroughly original compositions. “Haunted House of Rock” was its first single, a whimsical Halloween-themed number. Synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby produced another of its early singles, “Magic’s Wand.”
Along with Run-DMC and The Fat Boys, Whodini was among the first hip-hop groups to cultivate a high-profile national following for hip-hop music and made significant inroads on Urban radio. The Brooklyn, New York-based trio consisted of vocalist-chief lyricist Jalil Hutchins; co-vocalist John Fletcher, aka Ecstasy, who tended to wear a Zorro-style hat as his trademark; and DJ Drew Carter, aka Grandmaster Dee. Contemporaries of Run-D.M.C., they were managed by Russell Simmons, brother of Joseph “Run” Simmons. The group signed with London-based indie Jive Records in 1982; they enjoyed a string of hits, mostly charting on Urban/R&B stations. The bulk of production on its releases was done by Larry Smith, a bass player who also handled much of Run-D.M.C.’s early work.
In keeping with 1980s trends, Whodini’s cuts tended to be synthesizer-driven with a heavy electronic drumbeat. The sampling technology that became identified with hip-hop music hadn’t really become prominent during Whodini’s early days, and its works were thoroughly original compositions. “Haunted House of Rock” was its first single, a whimsical Halloween-themed number. Synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby produced another of its early singles, “Magic’s Wand,” which was originally conceived as an advertisement for prominent radio jock Mr. Magic, who worked for New York’s WBLS. The group cultivated a female audience with such relationship-themed cuts as “Friends” and “One Love.” Backstage partying was extolled in the mildly controversial “I’m a Ho.” “Fugitive” was guitar-driven funk.
From 1982 to 1986 was the band’s heyday, touring with Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, the Fat Boys, and other prominent R&B and funk outfits of the 1980s. The group was involved in the first Fresh Fest tour, which was the first hip-hop tour to play large coliseums. The instrumental to its hit record "Five Minutes of Funk" was used as the theme music for WNYC TV show Music Box, an influential early hip-hop music video show. Its albums Whodini (1983), Escape (1984), and Back in Black (1986) were all well-received by hip-hop fans and youthful R&B enthusiasts, but full-fledged crossover fame seemed to elude them.
The group had earned its share of gold singles and albums by 1987, when the hits started to slump. Open Sesame, their release that year, failed to produce any hits. After that point, the band eked out its tenure on Jive by occasionally releasing singles, including “Anyway I Gotta Swing it” for the Nightmare on Elm Street 5 movie soundtrack.
In the 1990s, the band made a handful of attempts at a comeback. In 1990, it signed with MCA Records and released the Bag-A-Trix LP in 1991, which promptly failed to have commercial impact. In mid-1994 it did score a hit single in “It all Comes down to the Money,” co-produced by Public Enemy DJ Terminator X. Talks with Def Jam for a new deal stalled, and In 1996, they were signed by Jermaine Dupri (mentor-producer to Kris Kross and Bow Wow) to his then-Columbia Records-distributed So So Def Recordings imprint. As a child in the 1980s, Dupri did a brief stint as a dancer for the group. The album Six birthed “Keep Running Back,” a brief R&B charter, before quickly sinking down. Curiously, its old label, Jive, which initially consisted of a near-exclusively hip-hop roster, scored a mega-coup by signing Britney Spears, soon followed by The Backstreet Boys and NSync.
In recent years, Whodini still tours occasionally, and its old records still surface on pop and R&B radio, especially during old-school mix shows. Interestingly, its records have now become sample sources for contemporary emcees like Nas, Master P, Prodigy, and MF Doom.
In pop culture
- Whodini was the first hip-hop group to include official dancers in its live show. The performers were Doctor Ice (Jalil's younger brother) and Kangol Kid of UTFO.
- Whodini's "Magic's Wand" appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the radio station Wild Style, Style.
- Whodini's "The Freaks Come out at Night" also appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories on the radio station Fresh 105 FM.
- The hip-hop supergroup The Firm sampled Whodini's song “Five Minutes of Funk” in its song “Five Minutes to Flush,” a parody of a drug dealer who had five minutes to flush all his drugs down the toilet before the Feds came a-knockin'.
- In a second-season episode of Everybody Hates Chris, Chris got two tickets to a Whodini show from a shop owner, who thought the show was about the magician.
- In the movie Next Friday, Day-Day and Roach were singing Whodini's song "Friends" while tied up when The "Main" Joker (played by Jacob Vargas) told them to shut up and said "I don't even like Whodini".
- In the movie Friday After Next, when Day-Day and Craig are being shown the shopping center Moly quotes Whodini's "The Freaks Come out at Night".
- Bone Thugs N Harmony recorded "friends" and remixed it on The Art of War.
- A young Jermaine Dupri appears as a dancer in "The Freaks Come Out at Night" video.
- In MF DOOM's song "Deep Fried Frenz" Whodini's "Friends" is sampled in the chorus and the opening
- The song If I Ruled The World by Nas samples "Friends"
- Jermaine Dupri's verse in Welcome to Atlanta samples the intro to Five Minutes of Funk
- Will Smith's song "Potnas", about friendship, samples "Friends" and quotes it's chorus at the beginning
- The baseline from "Friends" is sampled in Tupac Shakur's Troublesome 98'
- Pastor Troy remixed "Friends" into a song entitled *Benz*
- Battman D.E. GannaBanna remixed "Friends" For His Song "Ex-Girlfriend"