Jody Watley, singer/songwriter/producer/businesswoman, is one of the architects of 21st century pop. From her groundbreaking marriage of rap & R&B (1987’s “Friends,” a collaboration with hip-hop legends Eric B. & Rakim) to her vision-forward marriage of high fashion, street fashion and music in the ‘80s (long before it became the norm), to her fusion of jazz and underground club culture with keen pop instincts, and the ease with which she crossed and still crosses genre, Ms. Watley forged the template that is now everybody’s playbook.
Winner of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1987, Jody Watley’s entire career has been about looking forward, drawing inspiration from personal heroes like Grace Jones, David Bowie, Diana Ross and jazz great Nancy Wilson – iconoclasts who were always ten steps ahead of the pack. The Chicago native’s eclectic repertoire – R&B, hip-hop, House, jazz, pop, drum & bass, ambient, spoken-word – is built on a positive vision and a strong taste for artistic and aesthetic risk.
Her self-titled 1987 solo debut – a showcase for her vocal chops and songwriting skills – was a beats & grooves tribute to her club kid roots, from the underground spots she frequented as a teenager to her stardom (while still a teen) as one of the most popular dancers in the history of iconic TV show “Soul Train.” It yielded the chart topping hits “Looking for a New Love” (which launched the Jody-penned phrase “Hasta la vista” into popular vernacular, becoming so huge that Arnold Schwarzenegger jacked it for his signature line in the movie The Terminator), “Don’t You Want Me,” “Most of All,” “Some Kind of Lover” and “Still a Thrill,” whose video was the first (and as yet unmatched) time a pop star flexed their skills at waaking, the underground Los Angeles dance that is a sibling to both breakdancing and voguing.
1989’s Larger Than Life, her blockbuster sophomore album, yielded the hits “Real Love” (whose influential music video – nominated for seven MTV Video Music Awards – was her second collaboration with acclaimed film director David Fincher, the first being her sleek video for “Most of All”), “Friends,” and the sultry ballad “Everything.” They were all huge hits.
Like many artists who top the charts, Ms. Watley soon found herself stymied by the limited vision of her label, who wanted to shoehorn her into formula. The albums Affairs of the Heart (1991) and Intimacy (1993) displayed her deepening songwriting skills and singing prowess, as well as her assured experimentation with layered musical textures, but label support was missing in action. The powerful, beat-driven spoken-word track “When a Man Loves a Woman” from Affairs sparked controversy for addressing AIDS and domestic violence long before they were topics of national conversation, and her skittish label turned its back on the track and album. Though Ms. Watley’s artistry continued to deepen and grow, she was hamstrung by her label’s lack of support and their adherence to the same narrow definitions of success that saw her leave iconic R&B group Shalamar at the height of its popularity in 1983. Her own definition of success centered then and now on artistic growth and freedom, not simply replicating whatever was or is hot at the moment.
After breaking from the majors and starting her own label Avitone Recordings in 1995, Ms. Watley began collaborating with a Who’s Who of visionary producers and remixers, many of whom were longtime fans and jumped at the chance to work with her: 4 Hero, King Britt, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez & Little Louie Vega, Mark de Clive Lowe, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Ron Trent, Moto Blanco, and Alex Di Ciò. Thanks to her non-stop touring, her global fan base remains as fervent as ever and they’ve made chart and club hits of Ms. Watley’s indie albums – Affection (1995), Flower (1998), The Saturday Night Experience (1999), Midnight Lounge (2001), and The Makeover (2006) – and her 2014 EP Paradise.
For the past five years, the ever multi-tasking Ms. Watley has focused on both her thriving solo career and the group project “Jody Watley featuring SRL.” Much like Prince had The Revolution, NPG, and Third Eye Girl (among many other projects and aliases) as extensions or branches of his music and creativity, Jody Watley feat. SRL allows Ms. Watley another outlet for her artistic expression. SRL members Rosero McCoy and Nate Allen Smith – gifted singers, dancers, and choreographers in their own right – bring their own cool style and vibe to Ms. Watley’s trademark high-energy, all-love live performances, and the trio’s critically acclaimed concerts draw SRO crowds around the world. With musical influences that include Kaytranada, Anderson Paak, and Little Dragon, they’ve released several chart-topping hit singles in Europe, including the Alex Di Ciò remix of “The Mood.” Their forthcoming album will be a seamless mix of dance grooves, funky beats, deep House, R&B, trap, rock, and ambient ballads accented with guitar flourishes.
Also in the works is Jody Watley: The Jazzy Sessions, a longtime dream project finally come to fruition. Fans were given a taste of what to expect from that forthcoming EP on the bossa nova tinged cover of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” which shot to the top of the jazz charts within weeks of its release. A lilting, gorgeously melancholy take on the classic tune, the track simmers with tension between the longing of the lyrics and the lush, languid music and arrangement. Though some newer fans were pleasantly surprised that Ms. Watley pulled off a jazz tune, longtime fans saw it as simply the artistic thread being pulled forward from Ms. Watley’s show-stopping cover of Cole Porter’s classic song “After You,” from the landmark AIDS benefit recording project Red Hot & Blue, released in1990.
What links “Waiting” to the rest of Ms. Watley’s far-ranging and impossible to pigeonhole catalogue (which has seen her hit the charts in every decade of her career, from 1977’s Uptown Festival album with Shalamar to 2018’s “Waiting in Vain” single) is the sincerity and honesty from which it springs.
“Everything I’ve ever done has been to be distinctively Jody Watley,” says the pop icon herself, “from my first solo album through right now. Everything that I will ever do always has to be authentic to me, work that I can always be proud of first and foremost. It’s not so much about, ‘Oh, this is going to be popular,’ or ‘Oh, this is going to be a big hit.’ It’s always been so personal to me, everything that I do. And the fans can feel that. They connect with the honesty.”
I’m doing this post for this Music Monday to drop some music history and knowledge behind my groundbreaking single “Friends.” A lot of misinformation and out right lack of knowledge; it’s my duty to not only always tell my own story but to make sure those who don’t know – learn it.
Excerpt from Okayplayer Ten Songs That Kicked Off Rap/Sung Collaborations in the 80’s. read full article : Okayplayer
“…The single was released in April 1989 and steadily rose up the charts. The video became popular on both BET and MTV, garnering a coveted spot on Donnie Simpson’s Video Soul Top 20… but the big news is “FRIENDS” with Jody Watley ft Eric B & Rakim managed to do WHAT NO PREVIOUS R&B/Rap collaboration had done before: crossover to the Hot 100 charts. “Friends” reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1989. When Jody Watley performed “Friends” on The Arsenio Hall Show, Eric B. & Rakim weren’t present but she performed Rakim’s verse effortlessly.
This monumental event in R&B/Rap collaboration history has largely gone overlooked close to 30 years after the fact.”
It’s definitely overlooked, and necessary to note. Saying it louder for those in the back – it was the first to crossover on three charts Top 10 and most significantly the Hot 100…paving the way for a new collaborations, easier access to Pop and R&B radio (eventually pushing out R&B – to become primarily all rap/hip-hop) previously had before balked at playing rap music at all, so a lot of the airplay initially had the no rap edit which is why many don’t realize the significance.
The video “Club Couture” was also notable.. my concept a real underground New York nightclub where everyone came to be fabulous, dance, perform – b-boys, and hop hop dancers getting their party on with voguers and ball kids, drag queens, transgender, mixed cultures all partying together.connected through music without hate being as you are – and fabulous as I came through in Gaultier couture from Paris – people weren’t ready. It’s still my hope. Everything I do comes from a place of being authentic – ‘Friends’ directed by Jim Sonzero was another example of that.
Arriving in style for the Rakim book signing..Rakim had no idea I was coming.
Initially I stood in live very low key with the other fans..the line continued to grow.
Eventually, I was taken in by Rakim’s manager as the word got out that I was in line..it was still a surprise though. Going back to choosing Eric B & Rakim to be on my single ‘Friends’ from my second solo album “Larger Than Life: which became a groundbreaking multi-chart Top 10 collaboration to working with him again in the 1998 ‘Off The Hook’ D-Dot Remix and video.. it was great say hi and let him know I was his fan back in the day and continue to be, to which Rakim told me “..you’re family..always will be.”
While standing in line I was also inspired and look forward to signing copies of my memoir in the near future.
Get the bestseller ‘Rakim: Sweat The Technique” life and writing manual.
Video of our reunion to follow in the meantime, here’s our classic ‘Friends’ Jody Watley featuring Eric B & Rakim.
Golden era Hip Hop, a couple of my personal favorites from Eric B & Rakim.
Sharing this from the fan page jodywatleystyle on Instagram – Jody Watley; 1993 Us Weekly. Photography Jon Ragel. Make-up by Collier Strong. Styling Jeannine Braden and Jody Watley. Hair by Jody Watley.
‘Soul Survivor’ interview feature talking about my ‘Affairs of The Heart’ –when magazines were interested in what you had to say about your music, writers cared enough to do their homework.. and focus was not celebrity gossip or how many social media followers you had.
Welcome October! Wishing former President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Peace Prize winner a Happy 95th Birthday!
I had the honor of his invitation to work on Habitat for Humanity back in the 90’s. Both President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter were super nice people, he’s a true humanitarian and man of the people.
My October greeting is on my Youtube Channel — Subscribe
The event, originally an outdoor event was moved indoors to the Cox Business Center. It was a beautiful thing to see a music event with major sponsors to make it a free city family friendly concert and also be in celebration of Tulsa’s own former NBA player and respected jazz musician Waymon Tisdale. I performed ‘Skin Deep’ in celebration of Tisdale because I’d done two Smooth Jazz Cruises around the time of the original release of “Midnight Lounge” – the message was appropriate as well.
It was really special to see The Whispers, my former label mates from back in my Shalamar, Solar Records years..Scotty with the classic response!
Hotel suite – on my way straight to stage.
SRL (Nate Allen Smith and John ‘Havic’ Gregory’) are ready too! A quick photo before heading to Cox Business Center.
I don’t throw ‘legendary’ around casually – this is pretty epic if you know the history of hits here. Jody Watley // Shalamar // Solar Galaxy of Stars Tour// The Whispers
Always – Own it.
Making it a night to remember — with Nate Allen Smith and John ‘Havic’ Gregory
Up Next October t:
October 13 – Detroit Soundboard Motor City Casino with Tony Toni Tony
Personalized shout-outs, greetings, birthdays, special occasions, inspirational messages for yourself or gift a friend, special person in your life .. you can book me among tons of others public figures, entertainers, actors, and more. Check out my profile – Cameo