When folks discuss the early glory days of hip-hop; one group seems to always be forgotten amongst the typical list of legends like Run-DMC, LL Cool J and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five-Whodini.
The Brooklyn-based trio matched Run-DMC hit for hit for a couple of years in the early-mid Eighties, although they never crossed over to the mainstream in the same manner that Daryl, Joe and Jay did. They did, however, score a fairly length string of hits on the R&B and dance charts, starting with “Magic’s Wand” (produced by Thomas “She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby) and continuing through “Five Minutes of Funk” (which went on to glory as the theme song to the long-running NYC video show “Video Music Box”), “Friends” (memorably sampled by Nas & Lauryn Hill on their hit “If I Ruled the World”), and “Funky Beat” (the video for which featured teen idol Malcolm-Jamal Warner). Featuring hyper-articulate and smooth rappers Ecstacy and Jalil (along with green-eyed heartthrob DJ Grandmaster Dee), they were a staple in teen magazines as well as urban radio.
1986’s “One Love” (which received it’s own revival of sorts when Nas & Q-Tip interpolated the chorus into one of Illmatic‘s best songs) stands as one of the trio’s crowning achievements. The song was one of the first to cleanly split the difference between hip-hop and R&B, with the two emcees rapping over a synth groove that came within a slight tempo shift of being appropriate for the quiet storm. The song’s lyrics were quite advanced (and mature) for their time, and the message of the song still resonates today. As one of the first “rap ballads”, it’s arguable that this song greased the skids for LL Cool J’s smash “I Need Love” a year later.
Unfortunately, this song pretty much marked the end of the line for Whodini. Within a year, artists like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and Eric B & Rakim changed the face of hip-hop, and Whodini kinda got left in the lurch. They recorded for another five years or so, scoring a handful of minor hits, then temporarily disbanded. They resurfaced in the late Nineties, signed to Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def label (Dupri began his career as a dancer for the group in the mid Eighties), but a comeback album failed to catch fire and the group was relegated to the oldies circuit.
Nevertheless, “One Love” holds up a lot better than many songs from the early days of hip-hop because of it’s groove, maturity and message. The Cosby sweaters and Ecstacy’s hat, though? Yeah, those might be a little played out…