Monday, February 20, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 3: Helpin' Marley Do the New Jack Swing

So, I was still young when I bought Force MD's Step To Me album (Tommy Boy, 1990), and honestly, I bought it before having heard even the single just because I was hoping they'd go back to some of their Hip-Hop roots and do some rapping.  That was a pretty optimistic blind-buy.  They changed their style album after album, but except for one brief Stetsasonic song, they never returned to their original, pre-major label music.  And that's fine; they made some great, classic R&B and some fun, pop New Edition-like music (come on, who doesn't like "One + One?").  And in 1990, they went full New Jack Swing.

This was their second album as a whittled down four-man crew, when their line-up consisted of just T.C.D., Trisco, Mercury and Stevie D.  So this was not only post DJ Dr. Rock, of course, but after Jessie had left.  Anyway, the A-side of this album is pretty okay, but the B-side basically sucks.  There's more of a leaning towards traditional R&B, which is fine; but it's not far enough to be actually good, and it ends with a modernized remake of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" with a corny rap verse (one of two cuts with them rapping that the MD's do deliver on this album, admittedly).  But, yeah, the A-side's better.  That's where their single is from, and they've enlisted some good producers including Full Force, who even sing with them on one song.

Oh, and they also got Marley Marl, which is how Craig G comes into the story.  Marley produced two tracks for this album.  "How's Your Love Life?" and it's not the better of the two.  It inexplicably starts with a keyboard refrain of "Hail, Britannia" before mixing in some hip-hop breaks with pop music about infidelity.  Marley does some cuts and it's not terrible - the MD's sound alright on their chorus over the "Peter Piper" bells, and there's some interesting live guitar - but it's disappointing.  The album's title track, however, is much stronger.  If Tommy Boy had given the MD's another single, that would've been it.  But unfortunately, this was the end of their major label run; and they didn't come back until years later with their oddball independent album, minus Mercury and Trisco.

"Step To Me" has a cool bassline and a smooth, coherent feel.  If "How's Your Love Life?" was a jumbled mess featuring everything including the kitchen sink thrown into a big, sloppy pot, this is a slick, refined song with some nice piano and sly vocals by the MD's.  It's also got two verses from Craig, so it's a little more than the typical R&B song with the token rap verse at the end that the genre would develop in the coming years.  And while lyrically, it's nothing amazing, he sounds really good. It almost feels more like a Craig G song featuring the MD's than vice versa, and could easily have fit right into Now That's More Like It after "U R Not the 1."  Everything about this song just clicks; you can see why they made it the title track.  And again, by all rights, it should've been a single, too.  "Are You Really Real?" (which even uses the same root sample that Teddy Riley did on "New Jack Swing") admittedly had more energy, and I dig it; but I could see a music video for this getting a lot more play on Video LP back in the day.  Sherry Carter definitely would've kissed it, not dissed it.

There's no 12" of this, though.  So interested heads will have to buy the whole album, which is fine for Force MD and new jack swing fans.  But if you're just into Hip-Hop and Craig G, you might just have to find an mp3 or something and call it at that.

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