IT’S BEEN 20 YEARS, SIX MONTHS, AND 21 DAYS SINCE 3 YEARS, 5 MONTHS AND 2 DAYS IN THE LIFE OF… DROPPED ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT RIGHT INTO THE THICK OF POP RELEVANCE. FRONTMAN TODD THOMAS AKA SPEECH DISCUSSES WITH RIP NICHOLSON THE BAND’S LONGEVITY AND THE CURRENT STATE OF CONSCIOUS HIP HOP.
SPEECH interviewed @ 10:00 AEST – Thursday 11th October, 2012
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press. [Print article here]
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
Yes, it really has been that long since Arrested Development broke through to the mainstream. Now the band is in celebration of this platinum milestone, which includes taking part in Sydney’s upcoming Cockatoo Island Festival.
“This has been a really big highlight in our career,” emphasises Thomas. “We feel like the fans have really been with us for 20 years, and this particular year, with the shows we’ve been doing, the fans have really shown their appreciation. And there is something about the fact that we persevered and stuck with our message and our vibe, which the fans are really resonating with. It’s one thing to do 20 years; its another thing to actually stick with your guns – musically and conceptually – from what you first started with. [That’s] what I think makes it so special.”
It took 3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days… for Arrested Development to score their first record deal, giving them the title of their debut which was released in March 1992. The following year they collected two Grammy awards and topped Billboard’s album and singles charts; they etched themselves into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and Rolling Stone and Village Voice voted them their respective best band of 1993. While this measures supreme industry success, Speech boils their immortality down to affirming their positive influence onto a culture widely stickered with Parental Advisory warnings by this stage in hip hop’s tryst with American history, inspiring well-known acts out of their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
“And they all came after us. You know, to me I feel like we opened the doors for groups like that,” opines Thomas on the influence his group laid out for hip hop, particularly in the Southern quadrant. “Goodie Mob – the fact that we came out first gave them a chance to come out and get a major label deal, in my opinion. Same with OutKast, Erykah Badu. I think the closest thing to what we did was the (Pharcyde’s) Labcabincalifornica record or maybe the Fugees (The Score) record. I think when Lauryn [Hill] talked about Zion [in To Zion], it tapped into some of the movement that Arrested Development brought to the table.
Theirs is a movement, not an alternate to gangsta rap, but a more Afro-centric representation of the other side of the dark moon with which rap has been portrayed. “I think it definitely was a cause to more than represent it. I wouldn’t call our style an alternative to gangsta rap but definitely a representation of other styles,” says Thomas, clarifying Arrested Development’s position. “So, there’s a difference because to me alternative means its either-or. And to me, what we wanna do is say, ‘No, there’s other sides to this. Check it out!’”
The most recent work of Arrested Development is packaged in their free-to-download mixtape Standing At The Crossroads, which, as their website reads: ‘signifies the degradation of the rap genre 20 years on from their debut.’ Stand-out track My Reflection carries with it a line to surmise where Speech and Arrested Development stand today; “If Jay-Z is Jehovah then I’m the anti-Christ / and if making mad dough is living, I’m the anti-life.”
“I actually like Jay-Z, but the truth is there’s more viewpoints to it,” Thomas explains. “Sell drugs, get ahead by selling drugs, start your label by selling drugs, then once you’ve made your money from selling drugs and you’ve got a nice record label and you buy some nice cars, then you really blow up and be an international mogul and just brag about all your riches while the rest of us all squalor in the mud That’s not my version of hip hop. To me my reflection is, ‘Gosh Jay-Z, you’re rich! But what about the people that decided not to sell drugs to make their living?’ I think people have forgotten the perspective of when you’re selling drugs, you’re selling drugs to the same community you’re in, so you’re killing families. That’s why to me the song Reflection is like, ‘What about the rest of us who ain’t living like that?’ I’ve done well, but I’m not living like Jay-Z by no stretch. I still take out my garbage every Thursday. So this record talks about some of the other viewpoints that get left behind in the present day hip hop population.”
After the success of 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days… carried the 10-plus group internationally, Arrested Development released their sophomore album in 1994, Zingalamaduni – a shadow of merit that sold poorly when compared to their first. Within two years the group disbanded, Aerle Taree forgoing his part in the group due to vocal constraints and DJ Headliner walking away with bitter disdain over finances. Speech advanced solo and Arrested Development did not record another full length until 2002’s Heroes of the Harvest. Despite the break-ups and make-ups, they furthered their catalogue with a handful more releases and today Thomas feels the reunion is in full strength.
“To me it feels more together than ever,” he beams. “The reason is because the passion of the group is the same, the mission of the group is the same but we have some new blood in it and that just makes it even more exciting and more fresh. It feels real – very real and very authentic.” And rather than rekindling what once was, Thomas explains, “It’s more about two things. It’s about reflecting and celebrating the music we’ve done over the years with a lot of our classics, especially the first album. We’re celebrating it. We feel very confident about what we’ve accomplished. And then at the same time we’ve got 13 new songs that we’re gonna give away free to fans. We’ll do stuff from that because it’s brand new and in my opinion does have a very current feel to it. I think between those two things, that’s what I feel this tour is all about. It’s about celebrating the music, celebrating 20 years and at the same time showing some new stuff that will interest people in the future.”
In 2007 Arrested Development toured with INXS and Simple Minds, and in late 2011 they graced our shores again for Sydney’s Raggamuffin Festival – an experience which fed into their new album by way of stand-out track Raga Coolangatta, inspired by general rap wordplay created in the beachy town of its namesake. Thomas also found the Australian hip hop scene to be very refreshing, separated from the overhype of most rap materialism.
“You guys are one of the saving graces of hip hop,” declares Thomas. “Anyone who really understands the art of it and loves the art of it and lives it, when you get to Australia it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a desert and you find an oasis. There’s a few other places like it, but there’s not many, and we appreciate it.”