It’s a pretty safe bet that an MC by the name Speech is not going to be short on thoughts or opinions.
In 1992, Arrested Development’s debut album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… said and did it all.
The band scored Best New Artist as well as Best Rap Single for ‘Tennessee’ at the Grammys. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame listed that song as one of the ‘500 Songs That Shaped Rock’. The album topped many end of year lists, including the highly respected Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll.
I honestly believe that even Dr. Dre realised that melody and hip hop could go together because of Arrested Development.Speech — The Music Show, RN
Looking back on these accolades, you’d think Arrested Development sailed into success. But there was some hard graft involved to get them to such lofty heights.
“We knew we had to work our tails off as lovers of the music in order to even get it accepted,” Speech told RN’s The Music Show in 2014.
“I remember the days when we weren’t even allowed to be on the Grammys during the broadcast. They would only give us Grammys off the air.
"I remember the days when many people were not believers in this music. They all thought it was gonna be just a short-lived fad.
"So anyone who really loved the music, we just had to get out there and be sort of evangelists for the music. I’m just really grateful that, all these years later, it’s still making such a big impact."
Arrested Development’s manifesto was a noble one.
"We celebrate life, death and the struggle of our ancestors,” he said. “We’re standing on their shoulders. We owe them a bit of respect."
Lyrically, the album dealt with social issues like homelessness, racial and gender inequality. These messages were all delivered with laid-back and infectious melodies. The band knew they had a strong point of difference that could influence other hip hop acts.
“We knew that the message was different and it was it hard to express in just regular rap form sometimes,” Speech said.
“My brother died the week after my grandmother died, so a song like ‘Tennessee’, for me it just wasn’t adequate enough to just rhyme on that record, I needed to put melody just to express more emotion other than just the words I was using.
"I honestly believe that even like a Dr. Dre realised that melody and hip hop could go together because of Arrested Development. That’s my opinion! I think he would ultimately use some techniques that I believe we brought to the forefront when he would do a lot of gangsta hip hop.
“Adding more melody to it would allow it to crossover. Allow it to be more palatable to wider audiences.”
With its defiant positivity, Arrested Development provided a much welcomed alternative to the domination of gangsta rap. And because they looked and sounded so unique against the prevailing hip hop style and aggression of bands like N.W.A., critics struggled to describe them. They were given labels like ‘alternative hip hop’, ‘progressive hip hop’ and ‘folk hip hop’. Speech says their focus was simple and clear.
“We just wanted to broaden the scope of what hip hop is considered as,” Speech said. “That’s what the real point of it was for us.”
In a time before Outkast, The Fugees, Erykah Badu, Common or Talib Kweli, Speech is firm in his belief that these groups were inspired by the foundation Arrested Development built.
“They wouldn’t have had the same reach if we hadn’t come out and did so well,” he said.
He makes a strong case for his band’s legacy, even if it may seem as though macho, nihilistic and materialistic indulgences and aspirations still overwhelmingly dominate the genre.
In 2016, Arrested Development’s calls for unity, compassion and equality are as relevant and needed as ever before.