Jun 25, 2015

#TBT: Arrested Development (@ADtheBAND); A Niles P. Joint.

Music, especially hip hop, is generally cyclical. The sounds of yesteryear come back in popularity as young up and coming artists discover classics at their own pace and emulate their newfound heroes. It would take me the entire article to list older acts that have influenced the current generation, so I won’t. Instead I want to take this Throwback Thursday to shine a light on a group that seems like they haven’t gotten their just due and would also be a good inspirational base for some young heads given the current social climate we live in today. I have to get unorthodox (for me at least) and head down south for this one.

Arrested Development literally caught lightning in a bottle in 1992-93. In the midst of a hardcore East Coast rap and West Coast G-Funk era, they came from a previously unheralded Atlanta scene with an earthy/Afrocentric vibe that fit in with the early to mid 90’s. There’s something to be said about serving a niche that has been previously ignored which is what AD did quite well. They did it twice in becoming the first major ATL hip hop act and making lighthearted yet thoughtful music that was in touch with their roots at a time when Black consciousness was very prevalent. The group itself seemingly had about as many as 7-10 members, plus frequent collaborator Dionne Farris. Speech was the main MC, Headliner was the DJ. Along with a handful of others, most notable was Baba Oje; he was the group’s spiritual elder and was well into his 60’s during their heyday. To really understand what Arrested Development was all about you have to look at their three biggest singles from their debut album 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in the Life Of…” The first single was Tennessee in which Speech, frustrated by the plight of his people,  goes on a spiritual journey to Tennessee, which is where his family had their roots dating back to slavery.

Next was People Everyday which sampled from Sly and the Family Stone. This was a case where the remix was more popular than the album version. While it sounds like an upbeat summer song (and is used as such) it actually tells a story about Speech having to chin check some dudes that disrespected him and his girlfriend at a park.  It was a subtle message that although AD was positive, they were by no means soft. 

Their third single Mr Wendal was just as poignant. It talked about a homeless man that Speech befriended. It also spoke about how society treats the homeless by looking down on them instead of considering them people and listening to them.

All of these singles seemed to really resonate with the people at the time as their debut album went four times platinum in the US and sold over 7 million copies worldwide and won two Grammys. This eventually led to an unplugged album that went gold and a personal invitation from Spike Lee to contribute to the Malcolm X soundtrack. Unfortunately, their follow up failed to chart and the group broke up in 1996. They reformed in 1996 (albeit without Headliner and some other members) and released a number of albums that did well in Japan and other overseas markets, with the latest coming in 2012. Speech also had a number of solo albums and Dionne Farris had some success on her own.
While I would love to see a young new act pick up where Arrested Development left off and release some positive/conscious/Afrocentric hip hop, I don’t know how they’d be accepted by the public. Would they be a breath of fresh air and achieve widespread acclaim and sales? Or would they get judged as being “fake woke” and assumed to be members of #HotepTwitter? In reality, Arrested Development was very earnest and positive without being preachy. They had a refreshing honesty about them that hasn’t been seen since. Also with current events, I’m surprised no one has taken the same stance of earthy Black Pride as AD. It would be cool to see a younger group follow their lead or even see a reemergence in American popularity from the initial group but this may be one trend that doesn’t come back around. Not everything is meant to. But for now take some time to salute the original Arrested Development (they came before the TV show and wound up suing over the name) and appreciate that what they did was so fresh it has yet to be replicated in hip hop.

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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