Force MD’s ~ Let Me Love You: The Greatest Hits (2001)

Posted on November 18, 2012

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As icons of old-school Hip Hop go, the Force MD’s are among the most underrated and underappreciated. In 1984, when acts like Run DMC, the Fat Boys and Whodini rocked the nation with harder-edged sounds, the Force M.D.’s became rap’s original brothers in harmony; with vocal styling that was rooted in Hip Hop, doo-wop, and 1950’s soul. And while the Fat Boys, Whodini and Run DMC represented more famed locales like Brooklyn and Queens, the Force MD’s were the first notable ambassadors from New York’s forgotten 5th borough: Staten Island.

Years before the UMC’s and Wu-Tang Clan stormed out of “Shaolin”, the Force MDs were putting it down for Staten Island. Comprised of brothers Steven (Stevie D.) and Antoine Lundy (T.C.D.), their uncle Jessie Lee Daniels (a.k.a. Jessie D.), and family friends Trisco Pearson and Charles “Mercury” Nelson, the MD’s began in the late 1970’s as the Force MC’s; blazing the talent show circuit on Staten Island, and making a name for themselves as consummate performers. The crew then honed their skills through street performances in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, and on the Staten Island Ferry to and from home; and after meeting with local DJ Dr. Rock in the early 80’s, the group changed their name to Dr. Rock & The M.C.’s, and began performing live dates around New York City. In 1983, the group signed with storied Hip Hop label Tommy Boy Records, and as the crew’s style came to incorporate many disparate influences, they changed their name to the Force M.D.’s, with the initials standing for “Musical Diversity”. For the next few years, the Force M.D.’s turned out both the R&B and rap worlds; showing sublime mastery of both genres, and scoring hit singles on the rap, R&B, and pop charts. In 2001, as part of Tommy Boy’s 20th Anniversary series, the label honored Staten Island’s Fab Five with a tight, 17-track retrospective, called Let Me Love You: The Greatest Hits.

The seventeen cuts found on Let Me Love You: The Greatest Hits cover 1984 through 1990; the entirety of the Force MD’s run with Tommy Boy Records. Most of the tracks come from the four albums the MDs cut for Tommy Boy, and deftly display the group’s zeal and artistry, and the timelessness of their best work. The first four songs, all produced by Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman, are from the MD’s 1984 debut Love Letters. “Let Me Love You”, the crew’s very first single, opens the set; and this cut is the perfect blend of attitude and harmony. While a melodic, mid-tempo R&B groove rumbles behind them, TCD, Jessie D., and the rest of the MDs harmonize wonderfully, and work their charms on girls attracted to men with material wealth. Up next is “Tears”, a doo-wop influenced cut that became the group’s first top-10 hit. “Tears” is a stirring throwback to a different place and time; the days of street-corner crooners and impassioned vocalizing, led by the stirring falsetto of Antoine “TCD” Lundy, and without question, “Tears” is the Force M.D.’s in their finest hour. “Forgive Me Girl”, a rhythmic thumper in the vein of “Let Me Love You”, finds Jessie D on lead vocals; making amends for stepping out on his girl, rapping and singing like fellow 80’s icon Ralph Tresvant (of New Edition), and offering blissful harmonies with the other MD’s over a speaker-rattling beat. And track number four – “Itchin’ For A Scratch” – is a ripe burst of old-school energy. The drums pound; the turntable cuts echo from ear to ear; the Far East synths warble; and the MDs bounce off the walls of the vocal booth; catching an infectious itch, and watching it spread across the world, even infecting cultural icons like Popeye, Mr. T, Michael Jackson and James Brown, who the MD’s take turns mimicking in rhyme.

The next few cuts come from Chillin’, the Force M.D.’s sophomore set from 1985, starting with “Here I Go Again”, a milky, romantic joint where TCD channels the great Smokey Robinson; making his falsetto flutter with subtle urgency at times, then letting it soar as the song reaches its climax. On “Force M.D.’s Meet The Fat Boys”, Staten Island’s favorite sons build with Brooklyn’s legendary chubbsters, over a big-bass beat and an interpolation of the Gilligan’s Island theme song. This cut is pure camp, as the M.D.’s and the Brooklyn trio link up on the Staten Island Ferry; Prince Markie Dee and Kool Rock Ski stop in to kick a rhyme or two, and the late Darren “Buffy” Robinson lives up to his alias the “Human Beat Box”; recreating beats and melodies with his mouth as only he could. And no Force M.D.’s anthology is complete without “Tender Love”, the magnificent quiet-storm classic written and produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. “Tender Love”, the M.D.’s only pop hit, is still the penultimate slow jam; driven by elegant, dark chords and intermingling vocals from the MD’s, led once again by T.C.D., who turns in one of the best performances of his career.

The rest of Let Me Love You, spanning 1987 to 1990, shows the M.D.’s gradual transition into adult contemporary R&B, and their experiments with the then-blossoming New Jack Swing sound. “Love Is A House”, a fluid number from 1987’s Touch and Go album, was the Force M.D.’s first #1 R&B hit, and for good reason. The graceful sway of its lush groove, combined with TCD’s emotive lead vocals and the MD’s pinpoint harmonies, make “Love Is A House” a cut you’ll have to keep on repeat, and one that hasn’t lost a bit of its luster over the years. “Touch And Go”, another top-10 R&B hit for the crew, moves with a mid-tempo creep reminiscent of Keith Sweat’s late 80’s sound, and shows the MD’s to be as adept at straight R&B as any group of their day. 1988’s “Deep Check”, written and produced by David Sanchez and Guy Vaughn, is a new-jack bubbler that’s strictly for the dance floor, and T.C.D. and the rest of the MDs sound right at home on this cut, using Sanchez and Vaughn’s percolating track to turn out the after-hours spot. 1990’s Step to Me, the MD’s final album for Tommy Boy, is represented by a handful of songs, including “Are Your Really Real?”, a club bouncer produced by Full Force, that sounds like a bonus cut from the New Jack City soundtrack. And, in a nod to their rap roots, the MDs summon Queens beat lord Marley Marl to produce “Step To Me”; and Marley’s simmering boulevard kick recalls his production on LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out album, and Marley also brings his Juice Crew disciple Craig G into the mix, to spit a few bars between the MD’s verses.

Let Me Love You: The Greatest Hits is a great sonic tribute to the Force MD’s, one of Hip Hop’s most uniquely talented groups. With the youthful exuberance of New Edition, the harmonic precision of The Delfonics, and the swagger of the Cold Crush Brothers, the Force M.D.’s had a mixture of style, technique, and artistic ambition that rap music had never seen before. There was no other group quite like them, and in the years that have passed since their prime, there’s been no group like them. Unfortunately, the Force MD’s have not received the props they so richly deserve; and, sadly, some of the group’s members won’t see their due in this life. In 1995, at age 30, Charles “Mercury” Nelson suffered a fatal heart attack. And in 1998, Antoine “TCD” Lundy, whose falsetto powered so many of the group’s classics, died from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Nonetheless, the Force MDs place in Hip Hop history cannot be denied, nor can their impact on the music be disputed. They put a borough on the map (Staten Island), they helped propel a new style of music (New Jack Swing), and they proved that HipHoppas could harmonize with the best of them. The Force MD’s were, are, and always will be, Hip Hop’s Brothers in Harmony. Respect due.

To listen to Let Me Love You: The Greatest Hits, click here.

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