Arrested Development helps spiritual evolution
In the late 1990s, Arrested Development might have had the best seat in the house to watch hip hop evolve. After calming the gangster scene in 1992 with tracks like “Tennessee,” which played on Billie Holiday’s family tree twist in “Strange Fruit,” and the humanistic “Mr. Wendell,” the crew rested.
After all, 6 million albums sold could steer one straight into the commercialism pattern that Speech, the primary songwriter and self-described country boy, despised. So, he and Montsho Eshe, Rasa Don and Baba Oje, the band’s 71-year-old spiritual advisor, watched from the outside as hip hop steered in two directions: those bling-blinging on cable and those preaching freedom and spiritual evolution on stage.
As Arrested Development reunited in 2001 with three visits to Japan, they also performed with lyricists Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli. Freedom and spiritual evolution, it seemed, had more on their side than folk singers, REM and retired Sly and the Family Stone albums.
“We knew we had a lot more to say musically and lyrically,” Speech said on the phone, before a show in Bend, Oreg. “We were a group that accomplished a lot but didn’t do a lot of records. There’s more for us. Definitely. Our new album, we were able to make for human kind.”
The reunification marks a major hip hop player returning to a scene it helped create. The days of two turntables, a microphone and a hall of beatheads are being kept alive by a new entrepreneurial spirit. With the release of The Roots’ “Phrenology” and Kweli’s “Kwelity” last year, experimental beats were suddenly combined with drawn-out instrumentals and poignant lyrics.
“The whole energy and movement is influencing us in a great way,” Speech said. “It’s inspiring more than influencing. It has that type of energy that inspires everyone that hears it. There are songs that don’t inspire, per se, but still make you want to dance; but this music, even with Common’s new tracks, are pushing us in new directions.”
As Arrested Development continues its 38-city American tour, the crowds it expected aren’t the crowds showing up and knowing all the words. Twenty-somethings and teenagers, Speech explained, are singing all the words to “Tennessee” (including the classic: pause, “I am still thirsty,” pause) and the new tracks from Heroes in the Harvest.
Speech writes on the new album in the self-titled song “Arrested Development”: “People Everyday was our hit in “92 man/ I thought ya’ll I knew/ It’s been a long time since folks heard from us/ had a lot of beef but God straightened it up/ time flies and that’s why spiritual cleansing was needed…”
Another track, “Resurrection,” explains how music is manifesting itself as a lost hip hop fan calling the group to return.
“I couldn’t understand in hip hop, why we allowed it to be so disposable,” Speech said. “What happened 10 years ago was thrown away. There was rare artistic value. The new audiences aren’t just coming for classic hip hop and to get a taste of the old school, they’re coming for the artistic value of the group. Especially for hip hop. It’s a big stride and a great testimony of the artistic opportunities hip hop has.”
Arrested Development will be playing today at 8150 in Vail at 10 p.m. Call 479-0607 for more information.