As hip-hop mourns the loss of DJ Mr. Magic, TheUrbanDaily.com presents an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book by Dan Charnas, “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop,” coming out on New American Library/Penguin in 2010.
Charnas interviewed Magic in October of 2007 and in these following clips he tells the story of how “Lucky the Magician” became Mr. Magic and helped give birth to the group Whodini.
“Disco Showcase” was the brainchild of John Rivas, a DJ from Brooklyn who performed as “Lucky The Magician.” Lucky, too, dreamed of being Frankie Crocker, while he built custom speakers at S&H, an electronics shop in downtown Manhattan. He enrolled himself in a radio course at the New York School of Announcing and Speech, where fellow students told Lucky about a small FM station on the Upper West Side called WHBI that sold airtime for $75 an hour. If he could get S&H to give him $150 for four commercials, he’d be in business. With the fish shop across the street kicking in for a few more spots, he’d be making money. In the spring of 1979, Lucky the Magician shortened his handle to “Mr. Magic,” and launched his “Disco Showcase,” from 2 to 4 a.m. every Sunday morning. Even before the first rap record had been released, Magic brought breakbeats to the airwaves and rappers in to the studio for live routines. Soon, Sal Abatiello signed the Disco Fever on as a regular sponsor. With the release of “Rappers Delight,” “Mr. Magic’s Disco Showcase” became the world’s first rap radio show.
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Sal Abatiello’s Disco Fever nightclub was like a family. But the inner circle – Sal, Sweet G, June Bug, Magic, Flash, Melle, Mandingo, Bam-Bam – the guys who hung out until dawn, breaking balls, playing cards, drinking and sniffing – had a special designation. They called themselves the “Juice Crew.” Sal even made them special “Juice Rings” to commemorate their degenerate bond.
And so, one morning, after the Disco Fever closed, Sal Abatiello and Mr. Magic found themselves up at an Irish bar downtown, tossing back beers until 10 a.m.
“Oh man, I never went home,” Magic slurred. “I better call my mother.”
Sal watched Magic as he walked to the bar’s payphone, dialed, and connected with his mother.
After a brief exchange, Magic’s eyes went really wide, and he turned to Sal.
“Oh, shit, Sal!” Magic said. “Frankie Crocker called!”
“Called for what?” Sal replied.
Magic hung up the phone, fumbled for some more change, and dialed WBLS. Magic got Mae James, who wanted him to come in to meet with Crocker himself.
Magic already had a sense of how important he was – why else would Crocker be on his dick, and not the other way around? So Magic didn’t enthuse much in the meeting at WBLS’s Second Avenue offices, where Crocker offered him $750 a week to host two shows on Friday and Saturday nights at WBLS. But in truth, it was the break of a lifetime: Better time slots on a better station, the best station in the city. Magic accepted Crocker’s offer on the spot. Neither man realized that they had just made history again: In May of 1982, Mr. Magic’s “Rap Attack” became the first-ever rap show on a commercial radio station anywhere in the world.
For Magic, it was an opportunity to dramatically increase his audience and influence. For Frankie Crocker, it was a way to keep himself, and his station, relevant. But it was also a way to confine rap as well, to give it boundaries, to keep it from seeping into the regular programming. Friday and Saturday nights were the time for this rap stuff. The weekdays were still for real music.
Magic suffered two disappointments, however, in the transition to WBLS. First, he could no longer openly take sponsorship checks from record companies. Secondly, a young executive who headed the American office of a small British label had approached Magic, while he was still at WHBI, about making a record. But with Magic headed for commercial radio, the DJ couldn’t be a recording artist as well – a double-duty that might be viewed as a form of payola.
So Magic passed his opportunity to the guys in his crew, Jalil and Ecstasy. The record executive, Barry Weiss, instead found himself recording a tribute to Mr. Magic called “Magic’s Wand,” conjured by the duo who now called themselves Whodini, the first rap artists released by Weiss’ label, Jive Records.