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The Okayplayer Interview: Jody Watley Speaks On Rakim, Soul Train + Reclaiming The Name ‘Shalamar’

The Okayplayer Interview: Jody Watley Speaks On Rakim, Soul Train + Reclaiming The Name ‘Shalamar’

Jody Watley in the Soul Train tunnel

Jody Watley
Images courtesy of Jody Watley

For those who came late, Jody Watley is a name synonymous with soul, an icon of music, fashion and dance who set the defining trends of at least four or five distinctive eras of black culture—which is to say, American pop culture. Which is to say: global pop culture. Stepping into the spotlight at the tender age of 14, the Chicago native parlayed a stint as one of Soul Train‘s most original and recognizable dancers into an invitation to be the front-diva of Don Cornelius‘ disco-era brainchildren Shalamar–and never looked back. Shalamar not only established the blueprint for the ’80s boogie and r&b sound that would succeed disco, Watley herself embodied the integration of visual expression (dance, style and just plain swag) and music into a new kind of diva for the MTV era. Shalamar, however, was just the beginning. At every stage of her solo career, Watley established herself as an innovator, never merely a star, whether it was notching up the first official diva/MC duet with Rakim‘s cameo on “Friends” (1989) or witnessing her lyric on”Looking For A New Love” become an iconic line of dialogue (and then election slogan) for Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

She’s kept that spirit restless well into the new millennium, always eschewing formulas for success that were established by anybody else, seeking out collaborations with DJ Spinna and Mark de Clive Lowe and remaining intimately in touch with the underground laboratories of dance and fashion scenes. In 2015 her career arc is trending toward a perfect circle with the unveiling of Shalamar Reloaded, a new incarnation comprising Watley and new members Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy. Currently on tour for a live show that covers the full spectrum of Watley gems, including separate segments for her various careers, Shalamar solo and otherwise. That tour comes to New York’s renowned Lincoln Center next Thursday June 25th in special “Night To Remember” edition of Mobile Mondays’ silent disco series, so Okayplayer took advantage of the opportunity to get the backstory on any number of prophetic Jody Watley moments, starting with, How did you know Rakim was the greatest?

OKP: So while us Okayplayers are just old enough to fondly remember the video for “A Night To Remember” we’re really more from the “Hasta La Vista” and Eric B & Rakim era of Jody Watley…

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OKP: …so can we start there? That song (“Friends” featuring Rakim) is also special to a lot of DJs and record nerds because a lot of people say it was really the first combination of an established soul singer with a rapper making a cameo. The only other one I can think of that’s comparable was Heavy D and Janet Jackson

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