Rap in the ’90s was great. Lyrical freedom was being utilized to the fullest and auto-tune didn’t exist yet. Several new artists emerged from the West Coast, creating the infamous Crips and Bloods riff and spawned angry lyrics from one side of the country to the other. Rappers often chose to reference unpleasant images of gang life, murder, and revenge.
Arrested Development went for a decidedly more positive approach.
“I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and most of the black communities were very poor, very ghetto—bars on the windows, porn for sale at the gas stations, right where kids can see it,” Speech, frontman for Arrested Development said. “We wanted to offer some light encouragement, not just dwell on the sadness of the situation.”
The group formed in 1988 and took a little over three years to obtain a record deal, resulting in their first album, accurately titled, “3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…” which featured their hit songs “Tennessee,” “Mr. Wendal,” and “People Everyday.”
“It was an absolute dream come true,” Speech said.
The album won two Grammys in 1993, one for Best New Artist and one for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Rolling Stone named them Band of the Year. Arrested Development had their most successful year in the history of the band, rapping about the homeless, global warming, and the idea that a better life can be obtained.
“Our music was going against the grain at the time,” Speech said. “And the world just sat at our feet to listen. We had to ask ourselves, ‘Is this real life, does this happen to everyone?’”
The group was also approached by Spike Lee and was commissioned to record a song for Lee’s film, “Malcolm X.”
“We were playing a show, and Spike was backstage, which we didn’t know,” Speech said. “And he came up to us afterward and asked us to write a song for ‘Malcolm X.’”
Speech had actually written a song and approached Spike Lee with it several years before, but never heard anything back about it.
“We hadn’t had much success at the time, so I don’t really blame him for not getting back to me,” Speech said. “He was very encouraging and very hands on with the recording process when we were all in the studio—he even does some chants during the song.”
Since the whirlwind of the first two years, Arrested Development has released several albums, with members releasing solo albums along the way as well.
The band also did a TV contest in 2005 and chose to donate their prize money, a sum of $20,000, to UNICEF.
“We were doing some research on the Congo, and women were just being terribly mutilated, and it was just kind of being accepted,” Speech said. “And UNICEF in particular was one of the organizations that was directly trying to fight against that.”
The group is currently on tour and celebrating their 20th anniversary.
“We’re having a party and we’re doing something we’ve never done before,” Speech said. “We’ll be performing our debut album on tour, in its entirety.”
Arrested Development wants to appreciate the album that brought them the most success of their career. They also want to continue making new music, so as a gift to their fans, they recorded 13 new tracks and will be offering free downloads of the songs at newarresteddevelopment.com.
If you decide to check out one of their celebratory shows around the country, you might notice that they are down one member: Baba Oje. Oje is one of the founding members of the group and is still in the band; however, at the age of 80, he can no longer actively perform.
“He is a monumental part of Arrested Development,” Speech said. “He has the wisdom and we have the energy.”
Even 20 years later the group is still finding positive ways to reevaluate their message, their members, and as of recently, their name.
“A couple years ago I was watching the Super Bowl, and the announcers kept saying, ‘Stay tuned for ‘Arrested Development’ after the game,’ and I was thinking, wait, is that us?” Speech said.
There was some issue with the use of the same name, but the group and the show came to an agreement and worked it out—positively, of course. Twenty years later is no time to get angry.
WHAT: Arrested Development with Mad Love
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 12
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox