Mr. Magic RIP


This morning, Mr. Magic will be buried in Brooklyn. He died last week of a heart attack, at age 53. Pretty much the inventor of hip hop radio, John Rivas got his start on the airwaves with the “Disco Showcase” on New York’s WHBI in 1979, hosting under the moniker Mr. Magic. In 1982 he launched the now legendary show “Rap Attack” on WBLS along with DJs Marley Marl — who would himself become a legend as the producer and helmsman of the Juice Crew — and Fly Ty. The show ran from 1982-1984, and subsequently moved around, touching down at both WHBI and WDAS. It ended sometime in the late 80s.

“Rap Attack” was the first spot on commercial radio where you could listen to hip hop and Magic launched many a career playing the demos of up and comers, some of whom would go on to great things. He quickly became associated with the Queens-based Juice Crew, which comprised such legends as MC Shan, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, Roxanne Shanté, and Master Ace. Several of these would become signature artists of 80s hip hop and remain amongst the genre’s greatest.

In the culture’s true spirit of competition and celebration of excellence, Magic was also known for his often bluntly expressed critical opinion on air, and as such contributed to the rise of one of the all-time greatest MCs, KRS-One. First by dissing (and, I seem to remember, physically *breaking*) his and DJ Scott LaRock’s wax debut, “Success is the Word” (1985), and then by promoting MC Shan’s now classic, Marly Marl-produced “The Bridge” (1985).

The latter, a tribute to the early days of Queens Bridge hip hop, was taken by KRS as a claim that hip hop had originated there and an opportunity to claim fame for his native Bronx and he used it to launch his career by blasting back, initially with the first single he and Scott released as Boogie Down Productions, “South Bronx” (1986), subsequently, and in response to Marly and Shan’s “Kill That Noise” (1986), with the great “The Bridge Is Over” (1987). Perhaps the most iconic battle of battle of hip hop history, these ‘Bridge Wars’, as they have become known, went on for several years and involved an extensive roster of Bronx and Queens artists. Magic’s role, along with rival and BDP associate DJ Red Alert of KISS FM, was as the essential facilitator, prefiguring many hip hop radio DJs since.

Radio was fundamental for the growth of hip hop as a culture and Mr. Magic was its most important pioneer. His memory endures.

Check out Magic’s peeps, Whodini’s classic tribute “Magic’s Wand” here, read the legendary DJ Premier’s tribute here and listen to Jay-Z’s words on him here. Here’s KRS and Marly Marl on the Bridge Wars from the documentary Beef, and this excerpt from the upcoming book The Big Payback, but most importantly, go explore the online Rap Attack archives at Old School Hip Hop Tapes here, and here.

0 Responses to “Mr. Magic RIP”


Comments are currently closed.