By Jayson Rodriguez
“Every Saturday ’Rap Attack,’ Mr. Magic, Marley Marl …” — Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy”
Biggie immortalized him in rhyme, but by the time the Brooklyn MC name-checked Mr. Magic on 1994’s Ready to Die, the DJ was already a living legend. It was confirmed today that Mr. Magic passed away after suffering a heart attack. (At press time it was unknown how old he was.)
Magic, born John Rivas, was a pioneer in hip-hop and made his mark as the first DJ to host a mixshow hour on commercial radio, which was revolutionary in the early 1980s but as common as a rap CD with a “Parental Advisory” sticker on it today. Back in 1982 when Mr. Magic, along with Marley Marl as his DJ and Tyrone “Fly Ty” Williams as co-producer, kick-started “Rap Attack,” the program’s launch was arguably as significant to music history as when the Moonman planted the MTV flag in outer space.
“Rap Attack” was a cultural touchstone fondly remembered by countless rappers, breakdancers, journalists and fans who were transfixed by the early sounds of hip-hop transmitted through their speakers by Mr. Magic.
Aside from the musical nods (“Juicy” and Whodini’s “Magic’s Wand”), Magic was also known for his part in the watershed battle between the Juice Crew — founded by Marley Marl and featuring Big Daddy Kane, Craig G. and Kool G Rap — and KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions.
The Bronx collective allegedly first heard the Juice Crew’s MC Shan track “The Bridge,” an ode thought to be proclaiming hip-hop’s start in Queens, while pushing their demo to Magic. After feeling snubbed by Magic, who was affiliated with the Juice Crew, BDP fired back with the classic tracks “The Bridge is Over” and “South Bronx.” The tracks were spun heavily by Magic rival Red Alert, fueling the memorable “Bridge Wars” that lasted throughout the ’80s.
In the ’90s, tensions between the camps subsided and Mr. Magic began receiving acclaim as DJs like Funkmaster Flex ascended from mixshow spinners into prime-time talents.
This afternoon, Hot 97’s Mister Cee dedicated his mixshow hour to Mr. Magic’s memory, and on Twitter thousands of condolences have been posted by everyone from Talib Kweli to Styles P.
DJ Premier perhaps said it best when he blogged about the mixshow icon.
“He was known for his direct and sarcastic attitude on the air,” he wrote. “And every artist wanted his approval when it came to breaking new records.”
He was hip-hop’s Walter Cronkite and a respected voice gone far too soon. May his wand rest in peace.