Friday, October 2, 2009

I Miss Mr. Magic (March 15, 1956- October 2, 2009)

For those who don't know, John Rivas, better known as Mr. Magic, "The God Pops of Hip Hop," passed away early this morning, October 2nd, 2009. His contributions to rap music are insurmountable.

I've been rather conflicted all day while trying to wrap my head around such a great loss. I didn't really know whether to put my thoughts up here like this. This is solely to further pay homage to the man, and to help get correct info on his legacy out there.

First, I want to just say thank you to another hero of mine, DJ Premier, for putting together a concise and kind write up upon hearing the news.

I had the experience of a lifetime meeting Mr. Magic back in 2006. I didn't know what to expect. He was such a personal hero of mine, yet I was fully aware of his (as Premo put it), "direct and sarcastic" on-air personality. In other words, if he dissed KRS-One, he could most definitely do a number on me. However, he didn't. He was kind, funny, humble, and gave me the same respect I gave him. Magic, Fly Ty and myself immediately formed a bond that saw them entrusting me to preserve their old cassette tapes of the Rap Attack for the digital age... ultimately leading to us working together on the Down The Dial project.

I feel truly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Magic and Ty on Down The Dial, a project I had wanted to do for a long time. It was impossible for the concept to come into fruition without them, so without a doubt, as cliche as it sounds, they made a dream come true, and I will never forget that.

I'm getting ahead of myself here though. Let's talk about his contributions and back story.

I posted this audio back in an April write up (When Magic Met Cavett), but once again, here is an interview Magic did on the Dick Cavett Morning show in 1984. He talks about how he first got into radio, among other things.

Mr. Magic Interview with Dick Cavett (From April 20th, 1984 Tape)

(I apologize for a few of those "Will C." drops in the above audio. They were placed in there back in April, but under these circumstances, they seem rather obnoxious tonight).

The following information has all been dictated to me over the years by his business partner and friend, Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams, and I am striving to make this as accurate as can be from what I've learned from him and Magic himself.

John Rivas was born on March 15, 1956. This would make him 53... too young to go. As a radio personality, he was highly successful throughout the 1980s with his show Mr. Magic's Rap Attack (earlier named The Mr. Magic Disco Showcase). He was one of the original members of the Juice Crew, and, due to his booming voice and tendency to be outspoken on air, was dubbed "The Official Voice of Hip Hop."

His days on radio began on WHBI FM (Newark, NJ) as early as 1979, with the late DJ Junebug, where DJs would pay to play (approximately $75/hour at the time). The show aired from 2-4 AM. Rap music was worked into the Disco Showcase format whenever possible, but since there were not even enough rap records to fill an entire time slow (these were the early days for rap on wax), it was not uncommon to also hear records by popular R&B, soul, and even rock groups getting spins.

With the death of DJ Junebug, an up-and-coming DJ was brought on board- the now iconic DJ Marley Marl. With a dedicated fan base, the show now known as the Rap Attack was gaining momentum, and moved from WHBI to 107.5 WBLS (New York). With that came the transformation from paying to play to being paid to broadcast to a bigger audience.

In 1984, the Rap Attack show had some of the highest ratings in the city. However, as I have been told, WBLS' General Manager, Charles Warfield, was not particularly into rap music. He wanted Magic to host the station's newest easy-listening format show, The Quiet Storm. Upon refusing, Magic was fired from the station. In other words, he stuck up for what he believed in, a music culture many of us love, and had plans to keep his mixshow alive and well.

Settling in back at WHBI with his show, his momentum would not cease. With further success, he began broadcasting on WDAS in Philadelphia, WEBB in Baltimore, and Z100 in Columbus, Ohio, helping spread the music to different parts of the United States. His success, coupled with the fact that WBLS needed somebody to compete with DJ Red Alert at 98.7 KISS FM (among other NYC hip hop DJs), led to him being hired back by WBLS. He returned on May 10, 1985, and aired on Fridays from 10:00 PM - 2:00 AM, and Saturdays from 8:00 PM - 12:00 AM.

The Rap Attack show was very exciting for listeners. You never knew what Magic was going to say. Sometimes he would dis records, but more importantly, he was instrumental in breaking countless records in the region, from UTFO's Roxanne Roxanne to the Disco 3's Fat Boys. Check it out below (from the April post here Cavett Conclusion / Fat Boys World Premiere / Busy Bee (Suicide Era) on Rap Attack)

Fat Boys Interview and World Premiere (04.20.1984)-

He was also instrumental in breaking the group Whodini, who dedicated an entire song to him. Check his appearance in the Magic's Wand video:

The Rap Attack's last show aired on Saturday, February 18, 1989. By the Nineties, Magic was recognized as one of hip hop's most important figures. He was alluded to in lines like Biggie's "Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl," (Juicy) and Nas' "I miss Mr. Magic!"(Halftime).

Magic's production alias was M². Under that name, he helped produce rap hits like The Force M.D.'s Let Me Love You and the Fearless Four's Problems of the World Today. This is further discussed in another April article here, The Production Alias (though I can't believe I completely blanked on mentioning Problems of the World Today there!).

I am only scratching the surface on this man's influence. More will be said. More audio will be posted. Damn, even my last post from 09.21 was about Magic, so you know there's more to come on this matter. So many shows, so many great moments... too many long forgotten. But, maybe this post is pointless. Not to quote Premier again, but he said it best when he stated "True hip hop heads know that his history is so long." Very true. With that being said, if any of you heads spot anything in t
his write up that you believe to be false or misleading, shoot me a message. Let's focus on paying our respects to this great man and keeping his legacy alive the right way forever.

We love you Mr. Magic, and this is for you...

"WHBI Rewind & Classic Sign Off 1981" / "Super Blast" (From Down The Dial)-

Whodini- "It's All In Mr. Magic's Wand"-

Stay tuned


  1. Fantastic stuff Will, a genuine insight into a great. I'll be upping my interview from last year later this weekend.

  2. Great post Will, a very sad loss, Sir Juice was a world class legend and a pioneer.

  3. You can call me cold blooded, but out of all the deaths this year nothing phased me until this one. Nobody will be painting murals of him on walls, or inspiring MTV specials -- but without him Hip-Hop might not have left NY; Marley's input definitely shaped the sounds of early Hip-Hop far into the 90s.


  4. Across the globe, there are way too many armchair experts, genre cheerleaders and general bench-warmers that say way too much, way too loud [to paraphrase Mr Brown].

    I can comfortably say that as a grown man with 28 years of Hip-Hop history behind me, I cant say that I know of many others that have offered so much coverage on one particular pioneer [apropo broadcasters/ djs] from the halcyon days of gold school Hip-Hop like yourself. Im really not hummin nuts here but your post regarding the sad loss of Mr Magic was rather touching. Your write up is far from conflicting in its execution old boy, ostensibly your grief is, and simply put, the post was greatly appreciated, as was DOWN THE DIAL...

    Thank-you so much for your passion, your talent and your great taste.

    Irish Craig

  5. Thanks - important history you're preserving here.

  6. I want to thank you guys for checking this out. Andrew, I'm really looking forward to reading the interview! Irish Craig, those were some extremely kind words you wrote... it means a lot to me that you would say that. I can't stress that enough. So yo, let's celebrate the good times of this man's life. I'm going to have to get some more audio up!

  7. More bad news: DJ Too Tuff has cancer:

  8. Will, I was linked to your dedication from Fat Lace, and was hoping to listen to the links you provided, but they seem to all be expired? any help

  9. Haroon, I heard. More awful news indeed.

    jbx, that is really odd, I don't know what's causing this problem with my divshare links. I'm going to work on them... hopefully they should be back to being live in no time. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  10. Wow such an in debt collection of the history of Mr. Magic one that he would most certainly had been proud of I'm sure!!Will thank you when I first heard the melodies of Whodini's Magic Wand went off in my head then the Juice Crew KRS One battle hit another. To note all the other important projects this man offered to hip hop has me stunned. I too have been down with hip hop for some 30 years now and and after reading your hip hop biography of Mr. Magic, I am blown away!! Thank You for your efforts and may Mr. Magic R.I.P

  11. Peace Will. Dj Emskee from the Underground Railroad show in NYC (WBAI 99.5fm). Dope video posts on Mr. Magic man!! I'm actually trying to get a hold of you to get a WBLS...In A Class By Itself T-Shirt. I HAVE to have one. Hit me when you can. or