Mr. Magic, R.I.P.

Rest in Beats
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 7, 2009


By the time this goes to press, DJs and designers will be mixing and manufacturing mix-tapes and shirts commemorating Mr. Magic, the seminal New York radio jockey who died of a heart attack at 53 in Brooklyn this past Friday. Some tributes will be tasteful (like the project that Magic commissioned Boston producer-rapper Will C. to compile last year), while others will be executed solely in the name of profit. None will adequately canonize Magic as the visionary he truly was.

The first personality to host a commercial radio show that played hip-hop exclusively, the man born John Rivas is a certified superlative. His Rap Attack — a varsity version of his off-frequency Mr. Magic Disco Showcase that began airing out of Newark in the late '70s — debuted on New York's WBLS-FM in April 1983. Magic, along with conspirators Fly Ty and Marley Marl, subsequently parlayed his famous taste and hot-and-cold charisma into the legendary Juice Crew, a cadre of primarily Queens-based MCs and DJs (including Kool G. Rap, Biz Markie, and Big Daddy Kane) that he co-founded, and that infamously feuded with the Bronx-based Boogie Down Productions in the first highly publicized hip-hop beef.

After leaving WBLS in 1989, Magic spent his career shuffling between frequencies in Baltimore and New York; he returned to the latter in 2000 to spin for the Emmis Communications-owned Hot-97, but lasted there just three years. Magic's long-time motto was "No more music by the suckers" — a position that hardly jibed with payola-fueled contemporary formulas. Indeed, his primary allegiance was always to the listeners. Magic even once (temporarily) quit WBLS in 1984 after directors demanded that he water down the program.

In the past few years — during which time he was unable to secure a radio gig — Magic tapped Will C. to vault and digitize his extensive archives, which had for decades been traded via cassettes by vintage fans. The first product of Fly Ty, Will, and Magic's efforts, a compilation called Down the Dial, is a phenomenal testament to how drastically this particular luminary influenced his genre. Several obituaries noted that Rivas was renowned for his profound arrogance; to that I say: so is every hip-hop DJ worth a damn, and, whether they realize it or not, Mr. Magic is the reason.

Related: Come clean, Fresh legends, Northeast newgrass, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Hip-Hop and Rap, Music,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE TRIALS OF NADIA NAFFE  |  March 04, 2013
    Young, attractive, ambitious, conservative, and black, Nadia Naffe should have been a right-wing operative’s dream.
  •   HIP-HOP TRIVIA GROWS UP  |  February 26, 2013
    In their fourth year of operation, the Hip-Hop Trivia squad is finally taking the night (somewhat) seriously.
  •   OCCUPY DENIED DAY IN COURT  |  February 22, 2013
    It took more than a year for Suffolk County prosecutors to come to their senses.
  •   CZARFACE SOARS ABOVE THE CLOUDS  |  February 11, 2013
    This week 7LES and Inspectah Deck drop Czarface , a full-length work of adventurous genius revolving around a metal-clad protagonist who feeds on destruction.
  •   THE BPD ADDS INSULT TO INJURY  |  February 05, 2013
    At times, this kind of decision makes you wonder whether the BPD is saving its best awards for officers who've been involved in the death of civilians.

 See all articles by: CHRIS FARAONE