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Whodini is a hip hop group that was formed in 1981. The Brooklynmarker, New Yorkmarker-based trio consisted of vocalist and main lyricist Jalil Hutchins (one of the few rappers at the time to go by his real name); co-vocalist John Fletcher, aka Ecstasy (who wore a Zorro-style hat as his trademark); and turntable artist DJ Drew Carter, aka Grandmaster Dee.

The Early Years

Whodini was among the very first hip-hop groups to cultivate a high-profile national following for hip-hop music and made significant inroads on Urban radio. As they were contemporaries of other hip-hop groups such as the Fat Boys, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five and Afrika Bambaataa, they were managed by Russell Simmons, brother of Joseph “Run” Simmons of Run-D.M.C.. The group signed with London-based independent record label Jive Records in 1982; they enjoyed a string of hits for several years, mostly charting on Urban and R&B radio stations. The bulk of production on their releases was done by Larry Smith, a bass player who also handled much of Run-D.M.C.’s early work.

In keeping with the 1980s trend, Whodini’s albums tended to be synthesizer-driven with a heavy electronic drumbeat. The sampling technology that became identified with many hip-hop songs and with many bands was barely prominent in their music, and subsequently they never fully relied on it to create their sound. Their music consisted mostly of original compositions.

In 1983 they recorded the self titled album "Whodini", and their first single "Haunted House of Rock” was a Halloween-themed number which even today is still played in some clubs. Synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby helped produce another of their singles, “Magic’s Wand,” which was originally conceived as an advertisement for prominent radio jock Mr. Magic, who worked for New York’s WBLS radio. "Magic's Wand" has the distinction of being one of Whodini's most-sampled songs.

Escape

In 1984 they made Escape and many of the songs on this album are now considered classics, such as "Five Minutes Of Funk", "Freaks Come Out at Night", the instrumental "Featuring Grand Master Dee", "Big Mouth", and the relationship-driven "Friends". Many of these songs were also groundbreaking in the hip hop culture as each one of the songs told a unique story from the urban perspective. The album ended up going platinum, selling over one million albums upon its release.

The group began to cultivate a largely female audience, and their multi-layered beats and synth-driven sounds were a hit in dance clubs, as it fit perfectly in between the end of disco and the growing punk-rock era. When 12-inch versions of the songs came out on vinyl record for deejay use, the music, with their long instrumental breaks and infectious drum beats, were also great for breakdancing, which began to increase in popularity at the time.

The instrumental version of "Five Minutes of Funk" was used as the theme music for WNYCmarker TV show Video Music Box, an influential early hip hop music video show.

The vinyl album is long out of print and the CD (only pressed twice, once in 1992 and again in 2002) is also out of print and any copies of either of them are extremely valuable to collectors.

Back In Black

In 1986 they made Back in Black and a number of songs from the album received heavy local New York airplay, such as "Funky Beat" and the controversial “I’m a Ho.” “Fugitive” was guitar-driven funk and "Last Night (I Had a Long Talk With...)" was introspective. By this time they had established themselves along the American East Coast of one of the premier rap groups of the time and were well-received by hip-hop fans and youthful R&B enthusiasts, but crossover fame seemed to elude them as other rap groups from New York enjoyed success nationally and even worldwide.

Touring

From 1982 to 1986, they were at their most productive; they toured with the more successful bands such as Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, the Fat Boys, and other prominent rap, R&B and funk bands. The group was involved in the first "Fresh Fest" tour, which was the first hip-hop tour to play large coliseums nationwide.

Open Sesame and the New School

By 1987, the group had earned its share of gold singles and albums. With Open Sesame, their final release of the 1980s, the group had turned away from their once-playful simple beats and catchy rhymes of the Old School and instead became vocally more harder and more instrument-driven, with guitars and horns and bells. They even began to sample, as a snippet of Cheryl Lynn's "Got To Be Real" is clearly heard on the song "Now That Whodini's Inside The Joint."

Unfortunately this New School style had been similarly done almost a year previous on the multi-million selling debut albums by L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys, as many groups had already turned to the kind of rap-and-rock music that crossed over easily, and "Open Sesame" failed to produce any real hits.

Although they were still obligated to Jive Records, for the next few years the band eked out its tenure by occasionally only releasing singles, including “Anyway I Gotta Swing it” for the Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child movie soundtrack.

The 1990's to Now

In the 1990s, the band made an attempt at a comeback of sorts, and in that same year they signed with MCA Records and released Bag-A-Trix in 1991, which failed to have any real commercial impact, as they tried once again to reinvent themselves using the then-current sound of New Jack Swing.

In mid-1994 they scored a hit single with “It all Comes down to the Money,” co-produced by Public Enemy DJ Terminator X on his album Super Bad.

Talks with Def Jam for a new deal stalled, and in 1996, they were signed by Jermaine Dupri (mentor-producer to Kris Kross and Lil' 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.)

Their album Six produced one single, "Keep Running Back" and appeared briefly on the R&B charts before quickly sinking. (Curiously, its old label, Jive, which initially consisted of a near-exclusively hip-hop roster, started scoring mega-coups by signing Britney Spears, who was soon followed by The Backstreet Boys and NSync.)

Since the "Six" album, they have not released any new music but their older songs have been featured in many various old school compilations, and three greatest hits collections have been released: "The Jive Collection, Vol. 1" in 1995, 2003's "Rap Attack" and "Funky Beat: The Best of Whodini" in 2006, which featured the seven-minute "Whodini Mega Mix," which is a remixed version of some of their biggest hits.

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. Their records have now become sample sources for contemporary emcees like Nas, Master P, Prodigy, and MF Doom.

In October 2007, Whodini was an honoree at the 4th Vh1 Hip Hop Honors, acknowledged for its much-deserved, sometimes overlooked yet enormous contribution to the history and development of hip-hop music.

Trivia and usage of Whodini songs 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, Wildstyle.
  • 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 group 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 Houdini.
  • In the movie Next Friday, characters Day-Day and Roach were singing Whodini's song "Friends" while tied up when "The Main" Joker 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 re-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 its chorus at the beginning.
  • The baseline from "Friends" is sampled in Tupac Shakur's "Troublesome '96". In his unreleased song "Let's Be Friends", he also used the theme of "Friends."
  • Pastor Troy remixed "Friends" into a song entitled "Benz."
  • The Alchemist Samples "One Love" on the song YBE by rapper Prodigy.


Discography

Album information
Whodini
  • Released: 1983
  • Chart Positions:
  • Last RIAA certification:
  • Singles: "Magic's Wand", "Rap Attack", "The Haunted House of Rock"
Escape
  • Released: 1984
  • Chart Positions: #35 US, #5 Top Hip-Hop/R&B
  • Last RIAA certification: Platinum
  • Singles: "Freaks Come Out At Night", "Big Mouth", "Five Minutes Of Funk", "Friends", "Escape (I Need A Break)"
Back in Black
  • Released: 1986
  • Chart Positions: #35 US, #4 Top Hip Hop/R&B
  • Last RIAA certification: Platinum
  • Singles: "Funky Beat", "Growing Up", "One Love"
Open Sesame
  • Released: 1987
  • Chart Positions: #30 US, #8 Top Hip Hop/R&B
  • Last RIAA certification: Gold
  • Singles: "Be Yourself"
Bag-A-Trix
  • Released: 1991
  • Chart Positions: #48 Top Hip-Hop/R&B
  • Last RIAA certification:
  • Singles: "The Party Don't Start", "Taste of Love"
Six
  • Released: 1996
  • Chart Positions: #55 Top Hip-Hop/R&B
  • Last RIAA certification:
  • Singles: "Keep Running Back"


Compilations & Greatest Hits

  • 1995 - The Jive Collection, Vol. 1
  • 2003 - Rap Attack
  • 2006 - Funky Beat: The Best Of Whodini (Greatest Hits)



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