With their Afrocentric themes, positive, socially conscious lyrics, colorful image, and sunny, uplifting grooves, Arrested Development, who will perform at Colony on April 15, hit the early '90s hip hop scene like a Day-Glo comet. Formed in Atlanta in 1988 by lead rapper Speech and turntablist DJ Headliner, the multigender, multigenerational troupe (an original member was sexagenarian "spiritual elder" Baba Oje) ruled the charts with the Top 10 hit "Tennessee" and its follow-up singles "Mr. Wendall" and "People Everyday," all of them found on their millions-selling debut, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of...
It's the latter track, a rewrite of Sly and the Family Stone's 1968 classic "Everyday People," that, arguably, best embodies Arrested Development's optimistic oeuvre. In 1993, the success of 3 Years, 5 Months... saw the band become the first rap group to win a Grammy for Best New Artist; the outfit also took home another Grammy that year, for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. In addition to composing a song for Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcolm X, the band performed for the likes of Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.
Alas, the glow was to go dim not long after the group had grabbed the brass ring. The response to their sophomore effort, 1994's Zingalamaduni, was lukewarm, and their earnest message was soon eclipsed by the hard-edged rise of gangsta rap. Internal strife saw the band disintegrate two years later, with Speech going on to a solo career. In 2000, however, the rapper reactivated the project (sans DJ Headliner) and recommenced recording and touring. Ahead of their visit to the Hudson Valley, Speech answered a few questions via e-mail.
Arrested Development will appear at Colony in Woodstock on April 15 at 7pm. Tickets are $45-$75. (845) 679-7625.
One could say your lyrical stance is even more relevant now than it was in the early '90s, given the present social climate. Did you at all envision this being the case when the group began?
I never could have imagined the acceptance we would get from our music, nor the relevance it would have years later. We knew it was exceptional and groundbreaking, but in my experience, that happens often and too many times such music gets overshadowed by clearly under-par material.
Arrested Development enjoyed several huge hits in America in the early 1990s, but since the band reunited much of its success has been in places like Japan, Indonesia, Australia, and Europe. What is it that you think makes far-flung audiences especially receptive to your music this time around?
Maybe because many of those fans don't know what the heck we're talking about! LOL! Nah, for real, they're less jaded and conditioned. Americans are force-fed.
In 1994, you shared the stage with Nelson Mandela in South Africa at an event benefitting the African National Congress. Amazing! What was that experience like? Were you able to speak with him?
Yes, it was very amazing, we've had Forrest Gump-like moments in our journey where we're, like, "God, why do you consider us to be worthy of this?" We spoke to him briefly and handed to him and the ANC a bunch of money to help keep Africans free!
In 2016, after not releasing an album for four years, you released two albums, Changing the Narrative and This Was Never Home. How did that come about? Why not release both together as a double album or hold one back until the following year?
Record sales are such that releases are less about strategy and more about publishing. We publish the music and let the crowd find it, when they find it.
Despite dealing with some heavy themes, your music always seems to have an underlying message of hope; "Let's Build" and "Better Days" from Changing the Narrative are examples of this. How do you keep that sense of hope flowing, especially in trying times such as these?
It's about placing the negatives to the side and focusing on the solution only!