It’s the mid-’80s and the scene is a strikingly more analog New York City. A low baritone voice resonates through radio speakers, announcing with pride: “Back by popular demand… it’s the official voice of hip hop… Mr. Magic.”
The final words, “Mr. Magic,” echo into infinity, and a young, confident individual cracks an infectious smile as he approaches the broadcast microphone. His unmistakable voice booms, “WBLS FM, 107.5 - Good evening to ya SUPER listeners! How ya doing tonight, all ya fly guys and fly girls? Once again, welcome to the world famous Mr. Magic Rap Attack. ‘Bout that time for my Engineer All-Star to put his golden mixing gloves on… we gonna have some fun tonight!”
Magic would throw jabs mercilessly, referring to Red Alert as “Red Dirt” or “Woody Woodpecker.”
The man is John Rivas, but he is known better as Sir Juice, the one and only Mr. Magic. It’s 1985 and he hasn’t even reached the age of 30, yet he already sounds like one of the greatest professionals to ever grace the radio waves. Mr. Magic possessed a gift of gab, and spoke to his audience with respect, a tone to his voice that let you know you were one of the chosen few tuning in to the coolest radio show of all time. Collectively referring to his audience as “Juice,” they were in on the secret, getting hip to the newest lingo and the latest sounds.
Magic’s show began as the Mr. Magic Disco Showcase – back when there simply wasn’t enough rap music to fill up a time slot. But by 1985, a few years had passed and Rivas was in his prime, approaching the pinnacle of his industry. He had been hired, fired, then re-hired again by WBLS, the “World’s Best Looking Sound,” in New York City. Along the way he also crossed paths with Marlon Williams, AKA the now iconic DJ Marley Marl, who was on the turntables every show. The two were kindred spirits, each taking advantage of the other’s talents to create something special.
Magic had an innate sense of how to make his show larger-than-life. Many close to him were awarded status as part of “The Juice Crew,” but for Magic, Marley, and his business partner Tyrone “Fly Ty” Williams, in 1985 it was also all about being “KISS BUSTERS.” It didn’t matter that DJ Red Alert, his peer over at 98.7 KISS FM, was an incredibly nice person and true gentleman. Magic would throw jabs mercilessly, referring to 98.7 as a “Sister Station” and to Red Alert as “Red Dirt” or “Woody Woodpecker.”
It was all part of the fun and spirit of competition for Magic, and with success came more confidence. Rap Attack sound bites that regularly played throughout the show would refer to him as the “God Pops of Hip Hop,” the real deal taste purveyor. If he played something on the air he didn’t like, he would let it be known. Even Public Enemy wasn’t safe, as you can clearly hear Magic’s voice on the group’s groundbreaking album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, stating, “I guarantee you, no more music by the suckers.” (The sound bite originates from a February 21st, 1987 broadcast of the Rap Attack.)
He had a knack for picking talent. And he loved to soup up their names.
For all the controversy and rabble rousing, Magic was also known as an irreplaceable friend to many. If you got to know him – and he saw you were a good person with talent striving to reach their dreams – he was in your corner. Many nascent careers were given legitimacy through Mr. Magic. He had a knack for picking talent. And he loved to soup up their names. Marley Marl became the “Engineer All-Star with the Golden Mixing Gloves.” Later, DJ Kevy Kev became “The Turntable Lord.” Talk to many of hip hop’s pioneers and you’ll find out that Mr. Magic was instrumental in an idea, a name, or a concept that is now in the history books.
It seems strange that Magic’s name doesn’t come up as often as it should, but I suppose it might have something to do with the nature of those invisible frequencies we call radio waves. You can easily add the classic albums of rap’s golden era to your collection. You can’t go into a store and buy a Rap Attack broadcast or relive what it was like to hear a world premiere for the first time. However, with younger generations continually going back to the past for inspiration, perhaps Mr. Magic is finally getting his proper respect due. I like to think that would make him feel divinely fulfilled. Though he is no longer here with us in the physical form, his legacy and presence looms over all that hip hop has become or ever will be. We love you Mr. Magic, and this is for you!
EXCERPTS FROM THE MR. MAGIC DISCO SHOWCASE AND RAP ATTACK
Mr. Magic Disco Showcase 1981 (Saturday, October 10th, 1981) • 105.9 FM WHBI
From the cassette vaults of Starrlite Gentry, a friend of Mr. Magic who just might have been his #1 super listener throughout the years. This is the oldest surviving recording of Mr. Magic’s show that has been archived, and it dates back to the Disco Showcase days. Check out how Magic says he just got back from the Lower East Side amphitheater where a motion picture called Wild Style was being filmed. Next time you see it, maybe you’ll notice Magic in a red shirt standing to the left of Kool Moe Dee right before everybody crowds the stage for the big finale.
Mr. Magic Rap Attack (Friday, February 3rd, 1984) • 107.5 FM WBLS
A few excerpts from a Friday show during Magic’s first stint on WBLS. Rivas used to have a private line where he would take calls from the listeners, and this particular night serves as a precious snapshot of some flashback requests and friendly callers. Also included is Magic’s signature sign-off words that would stick around until the Rap Attack’s final show in 1989: “Persistence always overcomes resistance, and any fool can learn from his own mistakes, but it takes a wise man or wise gal like you to learn from the mistakes made by others.”
Mr. Magic Rap Attack (Saturday, January 2nd, 1988) • 107.5 WBLS
Marley Marl recently said that Mr. Magic “rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. It was just in his nature.” Never was this more apparent than on the Saturday, January 2nd, 1988 edition of the Rap Attack when Sir Juice decided to do a Top 3 Wack Records of 1987 Countdown. Nowadays the Beastie Boys are globally revered as icons, but I wonder how they were feeling when their record “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” kicked off the countdown. Magic tells his audience to “sit back and do not enjoy, ‘cause it’s wack’d!” Others to fall victim to harsh words over the years included: Boogie Down Productions, Just-Ice, MC Lyte, MC Mitchski, Mikey D & The LA Posse, Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor, and baseball player Darryl Strawberry.