Lean on Me to Men of Vizion: A Riff Retrospective

Reintroducing Riff

To say there's a dearth of true R&B guy groups in the marketplace today would be an understatement. The days of guys getting together in high school and forming a group to sing and do what they love seem to have come and gone, with groups today forming via labels and reality television. However, in this marketplace, the group Riff, the classic quintet that caught the world's attention with their appearance alongside Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me and then kept the attention with hits like "My Heart Is Failing Me," and "If You're Serious," is coming back with a vengeance.

These guys remind me of what R&B is missing today. As I sat down to talk with members Anthony Fuller, Dwayne Jones, Steven Capers and Michael Best, you could tell that these guys not only loved to sing, but more importantly, loved to sing together. They know how to have fun, cracking jokes as we prepared to look back at their career. The guys can laugh, but at the same time, they are able to get down to business and talk about what they've got planned for the future.

Today, Riff is back together. After their second album, To Whom It May Concern, released in 1993, the guys took time off from working in the R&B industry. Three of the members, Anthony Fuller, Dwayne Jones and Michael Best, went on to work with Men of Vizion on their second album, MOV in 1999. However, the men of Riff have reunited and are preparing to resurrect the classic R&B sound that's been missing from today's industry.

Here in part 1 of the interview, the guys talk about their formation as a group and their later involvement with the group Men of Vizion. Be sure to check back for part 2 when we discuss the group's plans for the future and their upcoming album.

Interview with Riff

This is Matt Fyffe, R&B Guru of RNB Haven DOT com. With me today are the men of Riff. The guys of Riff have been around since the late 80s, making their big debut appearing in the movie Lean on Me alongside Morgan Freeman. They went on to score success with two albums during the 90s, and hit singles like "My Heart Is Failing Me" and "If You're Serious." Today, Riff is celebrating a 20th anniversary reunion with all of the original men back in action. Guys, it's great to have you here!

Riff: For real, thanks for having us.

Before we get started, I thought it would be good if all of you guys could just introduce yourselves. I hear you calling each other nicknames, so what your nickname is and how you got it.

Mike Best: Alright, I'm first cause I'm special. I'm Mike "Slim Shot", how you guys doing out there?

Dwayne Jones: What's going on? I'm second in line yo, this is Baby Wayne.

Steven Capers: Smoove B man, AKA Steve Capers Jr.

Anthony Fuller: This is Anthony Fuller. Chilly Chill AKA Big Kill. And the reason I got the name is because I'm like smooth, I'm the laid back type. Need to go in when I need to go in, that's how I do it.

Mike: That makes Riff right there.

Mike Best

Probably torturing you guys, telling all of you to introduce yourselves without telling you an order or anything like that.

So I thought we'd start from the beginning. I understand you guys first formed in high school, going by the name of Playboys. What first gave you guys the idea to form a group and why Playboys?

Mike: Well, basically, we were attending the school, this was our first year. And one morning, I was basically called to the office to meet with Principal Clark. I got there, and there was two young ladies in the office. Mr. Clark assumed that I was a playboy because it was just two ladies in there that was kinda diggin me. And he thought that I was a playboy.

We had this thing that we had to sing the school song which was our alma mater. He required us to sing the song every morning. Everybody that went to the school had to know it, if not, they were gonna get kicked out of school. So it was my turn, I guess I was up to bat at that day, it was his turn to pick on me.

Fortunately, I kinda got outta singing it that day, pretty much told me that I had to the very next day or I was going to be kicked out of the school. That same day I went over by my cousins' house which is Anthony and Dwayne and we [did a] rendition of the school song together. Came back that next morning and it was show time after that. That's how we got our start. We pretty much sang it and everybody after that followed. They started singing it the way we did it.

Sooner after that, my cousin Buzz, Smoove B Capers joined, along with a guy, his name was Kenny, who's no longer with us right now. But that's how we got our start and that's how we got our name.

We were known as The Playboys for about four years, and then after that we were given the name Riff by our managers.

Anthony Fuller

Your description of that scene with the principal sounds a lot like the scene from Lean on Me with Morgan Freeman. Was that actually the inspiration for that scene?

Mike: Exactly, Mr Clark liked the way we sang it, he basically made us sing it everywhere we went. He made us sing it every assembly, program, in his office like maybe two-three times a week. He told us he was gonna have us written into the movie. So when the movie director, the producer and the writer came, we auditioned it for em, blew them away. And that's how we got our start.

In the scene, you're actually with Morgan Freeman. What was it like being there with Morgan Freeman?

Dwayne: Aw man Morgan is such a great, powerful actor. I mean his name speaks for itself. That was an honor to stand there and work with him and do a scene with him. I mean that's an unforgettable experience. It was great. I enjoyed it and I hope the public enjoyed it.

Did any of you guys get motivated after that and wanna try and be a movie star or did you just call it quits after that?

Dwayne: Well after that, we ventured off, did like two three major tours. We did sign a major deal once the movie popped off and we got established as Riff. We signed a major deal with SBK Record/ EMI and from there, we did three albums with two top ten hits. As far as acting and stuff, individually, musically-wise each one of us branched off, started doing production on our own.

It's hard to break into acting, I mean that's a very big business there. But besides that, each one of us has our own agenda on which direction that individually we want to take.

Mike: To sum up what he was saying, at that time, we were interested in what we were doing with Riff, we wasn't interested in doing the acting thing. That whole situation was a shock to us. We were living our dream. You understand what I'm saying? It was a lot of fun and the lights, the cameras. And we was like wow!

By the time we got to the stage though, that was like our home. We wanted to continue to do that piece of it right there. So we focused on doing the music. Right now, like Dwayne was saying, we all have our own individual production companies and stuff like that, and we probably get that chance to venture off and do some movies now. Cause you know, we still got that movie look, you know what I mean?

Anthony: Hey Matt, to add to what Mike and Dwayne was saying, the opportunities came. Don't think it didn't. All of us basically had a chance to audition for the movie Toy Soldier. I think Mike and Dwayne had the chance to really play the part. What had happened was because of the music career at that time. I mean the record company and our production company itself said that we shouldn't make that type of move because it would have been a conflict of interest. You know, trying to do both, rather than just focusing on our career.