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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 f/ Eric B. & Rakim - "Friends" 12" cover
Jody Watley’s 1989 track “Friends” f. Rakim was the first credited duet between diva and MC.

JW: That was definitely after and when I approached the label and told them that I wanted to do it, they didn’t get it. I pitched it as a duet, actually, because there was nothing that I knew like it, and I was just hearing his voice. His voice is second to none. I thought it would be so…just, cool and leftfield–and luckily he was into the song and it worked out. The video that we did, we did in New York and it was really authentic as well. It was real B-boys and transgender people and drag queens–and a lot of people didn’t get it at the time. But “Friends” was very groundbreaking, because like you said it was soul and hip-hop; it was a pop hit, it was a dance hit it was an r&b hit and I was really proud of it. It’s a real song, and I always think if you’re doing things from an authentic place that it kind of transcends time. And now people are collaborating, even sometimes when they don’t need to.

OKP: It has became a standard template that’s still in effect, it was almost the template for radio remixes and tracks throughout the ’90s and 2000s. Did you ever feel that that was acknowledged? The person that’s most associated with that is probably Puffy, just because of Mary J. Blige and all those combinations with rappers, all of those Bad Boy remixes that dominated radio in the late ’90s. But certainly other producers throughout the decades have used that formula. Has any of them formally acknowledged your role in establishing that template?

JW: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that we get the acknowledgement that it deserves.

OKP: Just in terms of the behind the scenes history, was there a particular Rakim track or remix that grabbed you and made you think: That’s the voice I want to have on my song?

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JW: “Paid in Full,” for sure.  And that was the other thing—when I brought it up with MCA they said “Why don’t you do it with Will Smith?” because he was popular and commercial. And it didn’t work for me. No disrespect to him, but I’m a fan of Rakim! It’s just his voice and the lyrics that I had written to the song. I was just hearing his kind of menacing…his delivery. And it was so unexpected, that’s what made it special. For me, it was that I loved him and I wanted his voice on that record. He was the only one that could do it, and so I dug my heels in and eventually got my way, fortunately.

OKP: Were you guys sort of in the studio face to face at the same time, or had you laid the track and then asked him to come in?

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