1983, Hip Hop is coming out of the Old School period where rappers and DJs mainly performed live, there are very few studio albums between the creation of rap around 1975 and the beginning of the 80s. While rap was born out of a fission between Disco/Funk and what would become Hip Hop, some people had little faith in the emergence of this budding genre. In New York’s African-American clubs, there were two choices: Disco/Funk or Hip Hop. However, it was rap that would supplant the latter in the mid-80s and even more so in the 90s.
At the beginning of the 80s, some groups will start to rap on productions that oscillate between Disco, Electro, Funk and Hip Hop, but especially to record them in studio, the most notable are Sugar Hill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five or The Fat Boys. What we must remember from this period is that rap is looking for its true identity, Disco/Funk influences are still very present. This period will be called the New School as opposed to the Old School period which consisted almost exclusively in rapping live in Hip Hop/Disco parties.
Whodini is one of the best examples of this fusion and the still unfinished birth of Hip Hop, which will be ousted a little later by artists like Run DMC, LL Cool, The 2 Live Crew. In a way, Whodini is a pioneer and innovative group for Hip Hop while keeping a very Disco/Electro touch.
Composed for this album of Jalil Hutchins and John “Ecstasy” Fletcher (RIP), the group will integrate many R&B loops in its instrumentation, which will contribute in particular to the rise of the New Jack Swing. The beats produced by figures of the New Wave/Synthpop like Thomas Dolby or Conny Plank will be characterized by very electronic synthesizer chords. And it is well the particularity of this album which proposes Electro productions with rapped verses, never realized at the time on a studio album. In this sense, Whodini contributed to the rise of rap to the general public with a hybrid mix.
Although the album was not a huge commercial success overall, the two hits from the album are still memorable. The Haunted House Of Rock features horrorcore rap specifically designed for Halloween with many references to horror movie icons like Dracula and Bloody Mary. Besides the Halloween theme quite innovative for the time, the synthesizer line with perfectly mastered sound effects is simply amazing and oscillates between Disco and New Wave.
WhodiniWelcome to the place where all the creatures meet
The last building to your left on a dead-end street
You’ll find skeleton bones outside on the pavement
And torture chambers down in the basement
Cobwebs hangin’ over your head
And music bein’ played by the Grateful Dead
The other single Magic’s Wand presents a tribute to one of the pioneers of Hip Hop, Mr Magic, with a Pop synth chord and Electro sound effects realized by Thomas Dolby. The effect of this song is immediate with an effective rap and a catchy loop typical of the Electro/Disco parties of the time. Accompanied by a video clip, some will attribute to the track the status of first Hip Hop song to have obtained a video clip, even if it is debatable knowing that Rapper’s Delight also had its clip, although it is a recording of a live performance.
Apart from these two iconic singles, the album drops slightly in intensity, but the whole is still well executed with a coherent background. It can be hard to appreciate the excess of synthesizer and new wave loops, yet tracks like Nasty Lady will stand out with the addition of sound effects, which cause a catchy vibe over a rap/singing mix. Yours For A Night offers R&B sounds for an excellent funky track and a well mastered vocal. It’s All In Mr Magic’s Wand presents an Electro/Funk synthesizer and rhythm with a catchy drum for an effective rendering.
On the contrary, Rap Machine is more raw with a slamming drum machine and a combative rap, the robotic voice and synthesizer effects are still present. On Underground, the high-pitched synthesizer loop contrasted by the modified low voice that repeats “underground” presents an interesting originality. After the verse sung with a modified voice, the synthesizer chords are reminiscent of an electric-style jazz improvisation with sound effects before the chorus. Everything is only contrast and originality in this piece.
After this first album, Whodini will meet a bigger success on his second album, Escape, which will be certified platinum. This second album, produced entirely by Larry Smith, will keep the backdrop of synthesizers while integrating all the more R&B/Funk and slightly Rock sounds, approaching Run DMC style. It is necessary to recognize that it is more accomplished on the musical level, but the first album remains more innovative and one cannot deny its many contributions for the Hip Hop with a hybrid sound Electro/Hip Hop, without forgetting its contribution for the New Wave and the New Jack Swing. The synthesizers and the disco touch will probably be hard to swallow for some, but it is a page of rap that should not be ignored. And if you like Electro/Disco, this album will be a delight.