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FORCE M.D.'S (Buy CDs by this artist)
Love Letters (Tommy Boy) 1984
Chillin' (Tommy Boy) 1985
Touch and Go (Tommy Boy) 1987
Step to Me (Tommy Boy/Reprise) 1990
For Lovers and Others: Force M.D.'s Greatest Hits (Tommy Boy) 1992

This clean-cut quintet from Staten Island, New York (MD stands for "musical diversity") sets classic black vocal-group harmonies to a streetwise hip-hop beat. They rap occasionally, but even with the old Sugar Hill rhythm section (Keith LeBlanc, Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald, aka Tackhead) providing the backing on Love Letters, they're too sugary to throw down with much authority; their strength is an ability to wrap five fresh voices around a romantic ballad. On tracks like "Tears," "Let Me Love You" and "Forgive Me Girl," the infectious hooks and falsetto crooning defeat all critical cynicism. Elsewhere, the battle isn't so one-sided.

Chillin', the first record to be distributed by Warner Bros. under a deal with Tommy Boy, made the Force M.D.'s a major commercial entity, and with good reason. From the ridiculous rap of "Force M.D.'s Meet the Fat Boys" (partially sung to the melody of "Gilligan's Island" and guest-starring the tubby three) to the catchy, falsetto-over-scratch-beats title track, the versatile M.D.'s mix credible urban savvy with enough smooth showbiz to please hard beatboys and mature soul fans alike. "Tender Love," a hit single from the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis hit factory is spectacularly heart-rending; "One Plus One" and "Uh Oh!" are perfectly charming New Edition-styled pop with a bigger drum sound; "Walking on Air" might be mistaken for an O'Jays standard. (Anti-sexism footnote: the album was produced, arranged and mixed by a woman, talented T-Boy house producer Robin Halpin.)

Aided by a different production squad on each track, a more mature and sophisticated four-man Force M.D.'s slides completely into a smooth romantic Philly soul groove on Touch and Go. Silly gimmicks are nowhere to be found; all but the final vestiges of hip-hop have been erased in favor of slow-tempo easy-listening mainstream acceptability. Tinged with a hint of Prince, the delicate falsettos and close harmony arrangements work with the polite, melodic backing for a lightweight delight.

Step to Me returns the group's rap/soul/funk balance, and Full Force's production makes good use of it on "Are You Really Real?" and "Walking into Sunshine." Elsewhere, Marley Marl achieves a different but related effect by laying down mild hip-hop tracks over which the quartet croons. The seven other producers on the album's other songs follow a straighter soul path.

[John Leland/Ira Robbins]