More Than Friends: "A Variety of Party People in Unity"

"Friends," Jody Watley's hit single with Eric B. & Rakim, is known as the first R&B-rap crossover to achieve commercial success. To my ears, the song skates the lines between those genres and house music. Indeed, like most of Watley's hits, it landed on the Dance charts. The song's video, directed by Jim Sonzero, captures its broad appeal. "The video notably blends b-boys, drag queens, and a variety of party people in unity for a good time capturing a slice of New York nightlife at the time," Watley says. "Fabulous and street in its realness without pandering, being contrived or sending a negative message, certain stereotypes or coonery. Proud." 

That theme also comes out with the aptly titled, club friendly "Friends" Unity mix produced by André Cymone. However, there's another remix that deserves note in the annals of Long Island hip-hop history. I'm talking about the Extended Version, produced by Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, and Paul Shabazz of the Bomb Squad. Shocklee would, of course, later team with Eric B. & Rakim for "Juice (Know the Ledge)," one of the duo's biggest and final hits. But the "Friends" Extended Version is, I believe, the first release on which we can hear Rakim rapping over Bomb Squad production in all its deconstructive kinetic glory. 

Years after Eric B. and Rakim disbanded, the God MC would again collaborate with Watley for the remix to "Off the Hook," the lead single from her 1998 album Flower. The producer of that remix is D-Dot, another name that should be familiar to hip-hop heads, if for very different reasons. By the time "Off the Hook" released, practically every successful R&B album had at least one rap collaboration and vice versa. If "Friends" started the trend, Bad Boy Records' Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie helped to make it the formula for crossover success. While "Off the Hook" might not be as remembered in hip-hop circles, it still managed to hit number-one on the Dance charts. And it also provided Rakim the opportunity to reflect on his prior collaboration with Watley. "At the time, we didn't even realize what was going on," he told MTV News. "I wasn't sure our people was gonna accept it, everybody feeling me like one of the hardcore artists. But then ... it blew up."

One more deep cut while we're on the topic of Jody Watley: Those familiar with her full body of work know that she first rose to stardom as a member of Shalamar. The funk group has been sampled by all manner of rap producers. Whether Eric B. & Rakim ever made use of their records, I can't say. However, I can say that Hempstead rapper True Mathematics' 1988 single "For the Lover in You" is essentially a rap version of the Shalamar's 1980 track "This Is for the Lover In You," and in a final cherry-on-top-kind-of moment for this post, it's produced by none other than Hank Shocklee, Carl Ryder, and Eric Sadler. Hit the playlist below for all the above and then some.

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