Before we get into this post, I want to say rest in peace to John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, who passed away on December 23, 2020.
After starting their career on Jive and giving the label four albums in five years (between 1983 and 1987), with three of the four albums selling gold or better, Whodini were wily vets, who suddenly found themselves without a label home. With the emergence of artist and groups like LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and Big Daddy Kane in the late eighties, the sound of hip-hop begin to transform from a fun party feel to a more hardcore, lyric-driven genre. Whodini, who were all still in their twenties as the eighties ended, begin to be perceived as “old rappers” that helped pioneer the genre, but whose better days were behind them, and the industry no longer had a need for them. But the three-man team kept their heads up, regrouped and signed a deal with MCA, where they would release their fifth album in 1991, Bag-A-Trix.
Whodini would call on longtime collaborative partner, Larry Smith (rip) to help produce Bag-A-Trix, along with Fresh Gordon Pickett and Major Jam Productions. Bag-A-Trix would produce two singles that made minimal noise, and it would be the first Whodini album since their self-titled debut to not earn at least a gold RIAA certification. Bag-A-Trix was not only a commercial failure for the trio, but the critic’s reviews and the street’s reception of the album were not positive either, and soon, Whodini would sever ties with MCA, and once again be looking for a new label to call home.
I came across a used cd copy of Bag-A-Trix a few months ago and have never listened to the album before now. Hopefully, Whodini was able to pull a magic potion out of their old dusty Bag-A-Trix and make the album age well, but I doubt it.
The Intro – After a few opening words from Ecstasy, he and Jalil each spit a verse to flirt with the ladies over a stripped-down Larry Smith produced backdrop (Rev Run gets a co-production credit and a writing credit on this one) that minimalistically flips a couple of loops from a classic Barry White record (ironically titled: “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me”. By the way, Barry White might have the longest song titles in the history of music!) to damn near perfection. Jalil sounds like he had a mouth full of marbles when he recorded his verse, but everything else about this song was solid.
Judy – This was the second single released from Bag-A-Trix. Ecstasy, Jalil and Grandmaster Dee are all vying for the lust and affection of a brown-eyed, brown-skinned cutie named Judy. Ecstasy falls for her on the first verse, Jalil on the second, and we find out on the final verse that Grandmaster Dee has been hooking up with Judy long before Ecstasy and Jalil came into the picture. I’m curious as to why Dee didn’t tell Jalil he was hookin’ up with Judy, since he was riding shotgun in Jalil’s whip the night Jalil and Judy met. I’m probably putting too much thought into this, so, I’ll just chalk it up to the fellas did a poor job following through with the details in their storyline. Besides that minor mishap, and the fact that Ecstasy and Jalil both ape Kool Moe Dee’s flow and vocal tone (come to think of it, even the instrumental sounds like Moe Dee’s “They Want Money”), this makes for a mildly entertaining bop.
Freaks – Not to be confused with one of Whodini’s biggest hits, “Freaks Come Out At Night”. This was the lead single from Bag-A-Trix that Whodini uses to call out all those closeted freaks. If the Me Too Movement was around in the early nineties, they would have destroyed Ecstasy for his first verse, as he can’t wrap his head around why a chick named Pam, who’s already getting freaky with three other guys at a party, wouldn’t be okay with him joining in on the fun. Then he decides to creep up and start gyrating on her without first asking for permission, and when she rejects him, he response with: “Now hold up baby, tell me how you’re livin’, there’s three guys on you, so four should be thrillin'”. He ends his verse by asking: “Is Pam a freak or am I delirious?”. Well, both can be true: Pam is definitely a freak, and Ecstasy is delirious (and a creep) for thinking he could just push up on her without getting prior approval. Jalil’s verse is horrible, followed by a questionable second verse from Ecstasy (how can one be a feminist and a male chauvinist at the same time?), but worse than Ecstasy’s misogynistic antics and the horrible writing is the corny hook and the cheesy synth-heavy instrumental.
Smilin’ Faces Sometimes – Our hosts use this one to address all those people out there who smile in your face, but their hearts are filled with all kinds of deception. The credits list a bunch of different writers on this one, which might be why Jalil sounds so off during his opening bars (I couldn’t tell if he was rapping or spittin’ a spoken word). Larry Smith’s instrumental sounds like a natural progression of what I’d expect a Larry Smith instrumental to sound like in the early nineties, and that’s a good thing.
Bag-A-Trix – The title track finds Ecstasy and Jalil getting duped by chicks named Bubbles and Rainbow, respectively. Why any man would trust a woman with one of those two names is beyond me. From the zany backdrop to the silly rhymes and the throw away hook, this song is all kinds of horrendous.
Taste Of Love – The fellas get into their suave-romantic bag on this one, as Ex and Jalil take turns swapping cliché love bars to woo the objects of their erections out of their panties. The lyrics were cheese, but the old man in me semi-enjoyed the sophisticated sounds of Fresh Gordon’s instrumental and the sultry voices of Khadejia Bass and Julia Brereton (whom we last heard on MC Shan’s “I Want To Thank You”) singing on the hook.
Inside The Joint – Whodini tries to get fly and talk their boastful shit on this one, but that’s never really been their strong suit, and this song is not the exception.
Lover Or Friends – Ex and Jalil discuss the struggles that come with trying to maintain a romantic relationship while touring the globe for six months at a time. It appears that Jalil finds his Mrs. Right, but Ecstasy doesn’t, which might have more to do with his own indecisiveness: during his first verse he smashes his lady friend, then tells her they should just be friends before he skips town for six months to tour. Then six months later he comes home, and he’s hurt when he finds out she’s been dating other men. Negro, please. All in all, this is a cool little r&b flavored hip-hop joint that has aged fairly well.
The Party Don’t Start – Ecstasy and Jalil are joined by a Dynasty and Mimi on this posse affair aimed at getting the party started, or as the kids say, lit (Do the kids still say “lit”? Damn, I’m getting old). This might have gone over better in 1986, but by 1991 standards, Whodini and their guests sound like seventy-year old’s trying to sound hip. To add insult to injury, Fresh Gordon’s instrumental is horrid.
Day To Day – Whodini goes into their conscious bag on this one, as Ex and Ja tackle some of the issues that plaque the black community, like violence, unemployment and poverty. I’m always rooting for a positive hip-hop record, but you still must make the message entertaining or intriguing for the people to receive it; Whodini does neither with this one.
Milk My Cow – This may be the worst hip-hop song every created, and I’m not exaggerating.
Nite For Jammin’ – It’s Friday and Whodini is ready to step out for a night on the town. They wrote a song about it, you wanna hear it? Here it goes. I couldn’t really get into this one, but there is a smooth break at the beginning, in between verses, and at the end of the song that I thoroughly enjoyed.
That’s Life – Major Jam Productions hooks up a feeble New Jack Swingish instrumental that our hosts use to give shallow examples of the ups and downs that come with living this life. Next…
Bad Case Of Love – Whodini wraps up Bag-A-Trix with a spoken word storyline that finds Ecstasy and Jalil playing private investigators for their own agency, Whodini Private Eye. The duo is hired by a beautiful woman to track the activities of her husband that she suspects is cheating on her and their six kids (Jalil hi-larious response to finding out his client has six with: “I couldn’t believe that body had bore six kids, as boomin’ as it was”). The ending was a bit anti-climactic, but Whodini does a solid job of keeping the story interesting.
Bag-A-Trix begins with Ecstasy sharing a question that he says he’s often asked: “Who is Whodini?”, to which he replies: “Well, ya know…that’s one of those questions…that sorta make ya say…hmmm”. Ecstasy’s opening statement pretty much sums up Bag-A-Trix, as Whodini sounds like a group that once strived in an analog world and are now struggling to find their footing, placement and identity in a more advanced digital one. There are a few decent songs on the album, but most of Bag-A-Trix is plagued with cheesy instrumentation and dated instrumentals, while Ecstasy and Jalil spend most of the album sounding like old men trying to run in a five-on-five pick-up game in dress socks and loathers with a bunch of hungry young boys. Unfortunately, Whodini’s Bag-A-Trix didn’t come with that magic potion I hoped for.