Friends

Album: Larger Than Life (1989)
Charted: 21 9
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • In the early '90s, guest rappers showed up in lots of pop songs, typically dropping a verse on the bridge, and sometimes in the outro. Bobby Brown popped up in the Glenn Medeiros hit "She Ain't Worth It"; Q-Tip on Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart"; Michael Bivens on Motownphilly by Boyz II Men. But the first hit song with a guest rap was "Friends" by Jody Watley in 1989, featuring Eric B. & Rakim.

    Rakim was the real deal, a highly respected MC who could write line after line of intricate lyrics and deliver them without breaking a sweat. He drops two verses in this song, addressing a lover who turned against him.

    The rap gave the song lots of added flavor, but it kept the song off of many pop radio playlists, as many stations had a strict "no rap" policy. As these rap interludes became more common, more radio stations started to accept them, and for those that didn't, edits were often available with the raps removed. "Friends" was only available with Rakim's rap. Still, it went to #9 on the Hot 100, becoming the first Top 10 pop/rap collaboration.
  • Eric B. & Rakim and Jody Watley were both signed to MCA Records; it was Watley's idea to collaborate. "Rakim loved the song," she said in a Songfacts interview. "It's a song about betrayal."

    "'Paid In Full' was out at the time - it's one of my favorite rap/hip-hop songs," she added. "The tone of his voice, the delivery, his flow... he's the only person I envisioned on the song. There wasn't a guidepost on how those collaborations were supposed to be, so I sent him what I wrote:

    Have you ever been stabbed in the back
    By someone you thought was really cool?


    He said, 'Just tell me anything in particular that you want me to say,' and I said, 'No, you do your thing.' And he nailed it right from the first line: 'Friends are hard to find, so be careful.'"
  • Jody Watley got her start as a teenager dancing on Soul Train in the mid-'70s. In 1977, she was asked to join the group Shalamar along with her dance partner on the show, Jeffrey Daniel, and a male lead vocalist that changed a few times during her tenure. The group did very well, but Watley was mostly a backup singer and dancer. She left in 1983, sang on "Do They Know It's Christmas?" a year later, and released her first solo album in 1987 with the hits "Looking For A New Love" and "Don't You Want Me." Her first single from her second album was "Real Love," which was followed by "Friends."
  • Along with Eric B. & Rakim, Watley wrote "Friends" with André Cymone, who put the track together. Cymone, who performed with Prince in the early '80s, came up with most of the tracks on Watley's debut album, lacing it with a Minneapolis funk sound. Watley and Cymone were married from 1991 to 1994 and had a son together, Arie.
  • Watley and Rakim never performed this song together live. When Watley sings it, she often raps part of Rakim's verse, quite impressively. She did so when she performed "Friends" on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1989.
  • The video was directed by Jim Sonzero, who also did Mariah Carey's "Can't Let Go." It was choreographed by Tyrone Proctor, who like Watley, was a former Soul Train dancer. Shot in New York City, the video is an homage to inclusive club culture, with many dancers from the local scene appearing, and Watley as their queen, even arriving in a palanquin.

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