13 years, 4 Months & 16 Days in the Life Of... Arrested Development

If a rapper spits in the forest, does it make a sound? For a brief period during the early 90s, Atlanta's famed hip-hop outfit Arrested Development proved that saturating rap with their socially consc

If a rapper spits in the forest, does it make a sound? For a brief period during the early 90s, Atlanta's famed hip-hop outfit Arrested Development proved that saturating rap with their socially conscious timbre makes an impact. Much like their contemporaries like Public Enemy, they stood out as an alternative to the popularized gangsta rap, quickly garnering two Grammies and ubiquitous praise for their efforts.

To date, the group's debut record "3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of..." has sold 2.7 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But in 1994, only two years after breaking onto the scene, Arrested Development went on indefinite hiatus and ceased to be heard from again -- at least on this side of the pond.

Unbeknownst to most fans, Arrested Development reunited in 2000 and has been touring and releasing albums virtually everywhere outside the United States, citing discontent with the music industry here. For the most part, their relative success has kept up with them. Just recently the group co-headlined a Jerusalem Rocks! concert with the Black Eyed Peas on their first ever sojourn to the Holy City -- fitting for a group with an uplifting message and even more so for Speech, Arrested Development's frontman, a newly ordained minister.

Now back with their first U.S. release in over 13 years, "Since the Last Time," the question persists for Arrested Development: can a group with a positive bent significantly impact the hip-hop community?

After the feckless hip-hop congressional hearings and a swell of racism-related public outrage (i.e. Don Imus, Jena 6), there seems to be no better time for Arrested Development's return.

This time around, Arrested Development is content with a slow-burning, well, development, as their new record probably won't receive a sales boost until they embark on a U.S. tour early next year. Then again, "Since the Last Time" has already hit #10 on the iTunes hip-hop charts and is starting to generate buzz with stations like BET and VH1. Not bad considering the lack of major label support and momentum.

Frontman Speech caught up with Billboard this past week to explain the prolonged absence.

It's been a long time. What've you been up to?

A lot of things actually. I started my own record label called Vagabond Records and Tapes -- it's a very indie thing, very grassroots... I wasn't really feeling the music industry in 2000 in America, but my solo career does very well in Japan. so when Arrested Development started talking about getting together my first thought was, "Why don't we do some stuff over there?" So we started to tour Japan and we brought it to Europe after that. Then we started doing Australia, and now we're full circle.

Why did a critically lauded group with such vast potential break up so suddenly?

You know, we started off at such an early age -- many of us were eighteen, even fourteen or fifteen years old. I was talking with Michael Stipe from R.E.M. and one of the things he said to us was that his group had a chance to build their career and that its gotta be hard for us to just come out the gate with such a big record, and it really was. The whole fame thing was very taxing on our spirits and it just took us off-guard and showed a lot of our immaturities.

Basically we just started getting tired of the music industry. We released two albums and an unplugged record, I produced another recor, and I think after that we all just sort of got tired. The record label asked us to do a third record and nobody wanted to go in the studio -- we just opted to chill out and that's exactly what we did. A lot of us fell in love, we got married, some of us had children, and that changed our whole lives.

How have you tried to adapt this time around?

We've tried a lot of different things with some of the albums we didn't release here, but with this album that we released in America we purposely tried to catch the vibe of what we did in the '90s and just bring it up to date. Our album cover is sort of reminiscent of our first album cover and we really just tried not do the "same old, same old" but still give people what they remember just to catch them up to our career.

A lot of people still look to you to revive a genre mired by womanizing and depravity.

Sometimes we tackle issues like that, like glorification of the pimp and the gangster, but that's not the point of the group. It's really just about us moving forward and offering hope for many people who are literally hopeless. There's been this low self esteem, this sort of underclass that's developed within African Americans since slavery and that's why we named the group Arrested Development. Our music was always and still is a voice to try to reverse the stagnant effect in a lot of our communities.


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