The Voice of a Generation
Mr. Magic, born John Rivas, was the first host on commercial radio to devote a program exclusively to rap when his “Rap Attack” began broadcasting on WBLS-FM in New York in April 1983. Disco and funk were then fading, and rap was emerging as a rebellious new art form in the streets, housing projects and parks of New York City.
But many radio stations and music executives were wary of the frank explosiveness of the new music. Mr. Magic played a role similar to that of Alan Freed in popularizing rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s.
“Magic was the guy who carried a flag for the music on the radio, exactly as Freed had done for rock ’n’ roll,” said Bill Adler, a former director of publicity for Def Jam Recordings.
Mr. Magic looked the part of a rap impresario, wearing rings on every finger and gold rope chains. He favored a sharkskin suit.
Mr. Magic’s big breakthrough came when WBLS-FM, a larger, mainstream New York station, decided to take a chance on rap, starting in April 1983. Soon Mr. Magic was engaged in spirited competition with a rap show on the station KISS-FM hosted by a D.J. who called himself Kool DJ Red Alert.
Mr. Magic gathered a sort of hip-hop collective that included artists like Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne and Kool G Rap, and was called the Juice Crew. (Mr. Magic was Sir Juice.)