Catching Up With The FORCE MD’s
When the Force MD’s hit the scene in the early 80s, their versatility and ability to fuse the sensual sounds of R&B with hip-hop elements brought a new wave to music culture. Stevie D, Khalil, T.C., Jesse, and later members Mercury and Trisco – products of the often forgotten borough of Staten Island, NY – made people around the world know their name and respect their craft.
For the artists, the music was beautiful, navigating from performances on the Staten Island Ferry to big city arena’s outside of New York. Their clout blossomed with melodic hits such as “Tears,” “Here I Go Again” and “Love Is A House,” which still ring the heart. But it was the 1985 release of “Tender Love” that caressed the soul and added a pique in their career. The Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced record became the No. 1 single on the soundtrack for Krush Groove, a cult-classic flick.
The business, on the other hand, was a beast that led to dark paths for some of the members as documented in an episode of the popular TV One series Unsung.
Force, as Khalil explains, stands for the struggle to make it – something the remaining living members have proved. The M.D. stands for musical diversity – a talent imprinted throughout the footsteps of their career.
With respect paid to fallen members T.C. Lundy, Mercury and their former deejay DJ Dr. Rock, JET caught up with Khalil and Stevie D to talk music as a savior and future endeavors.
JET: Force MD’s brought that hip-hop soul element to music in the 80s. Can you describe the times and how it influenced your music and sound?
Steve: There was a lot of talent in Staten Island, and we had to just be one of those stand-out groups. It was definitely the forgotten borough in New York, and I guess the other boroughs didn’t have any type of faith in us. But we had to let people see us in another way, be accepted outside of Staten and see how they felt about us. From us being from an R&B group called the L.D’s and then being in the rap group Force MC’s we had to prove our way in both R&B and hip-hop. When Doctor Roc and The Force MC’s went to Harlem world – which was a cultural mainstream hip-hop place – we stepped on the stage, performed and people from all races accepted us. The Staten Ferry was pretty much our training ground to becoming great entertainers.
JET: Where did the initial attraction to music begin and what influences helped to formulate your performance style?
Khalil: We mimicked a lot of groups during that time like Sam Cooke, Al Green, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley…we would perform their songs all the time on the Staten Island Ferry, and those songs helped to shape the Force MD flavor. That’s the nest we came out of.
JET: It’s interesting because folks never really know the story behind the music. As listeners we enjoy the music and then move on to the next thing. But for artists, the creation of certain songs can reflect something deeper in their lives. Why do you guys feel it was important to share the truths of your journey beyond the music with Tv One’s Unsung?
Khalil: Anytime you have a platform to tell your story, you always tell your story because other people are probably going through what you’re going through or will be. If you can add some type of assistance or be some type of light to help them out, it’s a powerful way of giving back. Each one gotta teach one. If we fall, we have to show the next person how to get up. After years, when the groups are not “popping” or in the public eye, you hear so many things and you don’t really know what the real is. So when you’re able to get the group to tell you out of their own mouths, you have the physical picture as well as a better understanding of what took place during their journey.
JET: Very true. We often hear these stories about the business being more prominent than the artistry. What, then, keeps the artist attracted to the art?
Khalil: Basically, we’ve been learning from the mistakes we made and always staying in-tune with the changes and different curves that the music industry is going through. Staying true to our craft and knowing how important it is to us helps us understand that we’re a brand. We have to build our own and always be the full runners of our vision. Having that understanding keeps us always performing and in a place where we can always do what we love to do. In life, success and having a career is doing what you love to do and making money. So we just stay in the loop, always polishing our craft and making sure that we have the right people around us to keep everything moving, [properly].
JET: Now, you guys know it’s impossible to have this conversation and not discuss “Tender Love!” The song simply cradles the ear and caresses the soul. In terms of true R&B ballads, can you share your thoughts on the difference in today’s R&B “love songs” and if you think it will ever return to the essence of what Tender Love provided?
Steve: “Tender Love,” that’s the song … what’s good about it is the melody. The soothing piano sound just breathes romance. It’s simple wording that’s just telling you, without being aggressive, “hey I wanna hit it.” It’s nice and relaxing. It sticks to people’s heart. The producers predicted that it wasn’t going to be a huge hit, but it became a classic hit. It was on the soundtrack of Krush Groove, which we were supposed to be in but they chose New Edition to do the movie and we were on the soundtrack, so we both won. [The reception of it] really freaks us out to this day – some 30 years later. It’s crazy.
Khalil: Let me add a lil’ chicken and grease on that a bit. “Tender Love” is a song that is like lyrical foreplay. You know what I mean? A lot of songs of that era became timeless and classic because of the art of writing at the time and musicianship. Comparing it to songs today, there’s a lot of great artists and songs, but there’s so much music coming out because of technology. It’s kind of like microwave music – it doesn’t last too long. We forget about the songs. Whereas, the ‘80s and early ‘90s is considered a classic time in music.
JET: So, you guys are back on stage, touring. Back in the day, you all were all over the place during shows – dancing, rapping, and singing. Is the show performance still the same?
Steve: We’re still high, energetic performers. People always say to us, “Dang, y’all can still move like that after all these years?!” (laughs). We have a high voltage stage show. We still have that singing on Staten Island Ferry showmanship experience to really keep us with the ability to deliver good shows. It’s great to get the feedback from the crowd and hearing them sing along to the songs after all these years. It feels really good, and we love it. We definitely think Unsung has made us even more busy – going to more places and spaces we haven’t been to in a while. We do it from the heart, and they can feel it.
Khalil: Sometimes we do different renditions of the songs. In certain arenas, we have to put like a kick drum in there and change the music a little bit or do certain breakdowns just so we can get the crowd more involved and engaged with the music. We’re always stirring something up in the pot.
JET: Nice! How did music save your lives? Through the rough of the industry, without music, what would you have done to feed the inner artistry?
Steve: It definitely saved me from being out in the streets. I could have been into worse things, and God steered me in another way. We were young teenagers and no matter what people do, guys want to be tough to impress the girls. So us singing was definitely something where we got a lot of attention, and it was positive attention. We gravitated towards that, and it’s something we love doing. We love the feeling people get when they’re enjoying us doing it. So it pulled me from all the negativity that I didn’t need. God put us here for a reason, and I think this is one of the reasons.
Khalil: Without music…there’s no life. Music is the backdrop of everybody’s life no matter who they are. Sometimes, if you lock into the right music, the right melody, it takes you to the right places. How it helps to save people are the stories that they lock into when they really start to connect with music. That can help make decisions. Music is an “out,” so when you lock into it or find another “out” it can definitely prevent a lot of things. But at the same time, you still have to make sure your priorities are right.
JET: In addition to Unsung and touring, the Force M.D. brand has expanded quite a bit. There’s the stage play The Force MD’s Music Academy, Steve has a book and the documentary Force MD’s Relived.
Khalil: We have definitely learned from the past. In this business, you have to strike when the iron’s hot, and you have to always create multiple revenue streams and expand your brand. So we have a play called Legends of the Forgotten Borough. It’s going to be on the road in the first quarter of 2016. We have the Music Academy, which is pretty much explaining to people different new models of the business as well as giving people a blueprint of success based on the struggles that we had in the industry. Steve’s book! Oh-My-God, it’s crazy! Then we have Force M.D.’s Relived – a 90-minute documentary that we premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and received three standing ovations. That’s coming out soon. But let Steve tell you about his book!
Steve: The book definitely takes you through a real journey including my life with my brothers and the group. It goes into great detail of how we got started. It almost reads like a movie. Reading the book, you can get a better feel of everyone’s personality. It keeps you glued to the pages. Hopefully, we can make it a movie. It could be about the first R&B/hip-hop group to grace the stage – like the Temptations of hip-hop! (laughs)