Arrested Development brings the ’90s to the Belly Up
So I was chatting with Speech, the lead rapper in Arrested Development, about his show tonight at the Belly Up. I was thinking to myself, “Tennessee … Tennessee.” You know the song.I remember it from middle school. It was right around the time I got showed-up lip-synching a ’50s song, “Blue Moon,” when some other kids busted out the backward clothes and a little dance routine to “Jump, jump” by Kris Kross.Ouch.”I don’t know if you remember the days you first went to middle school,” said Speech (born Todd Thomas). “It’s like going to college.”Remember middle school? Most of the time I try not to, but the music sticks.He was talking about his own kids, the oldest of whom just started middle school. Speech took a break from touring to go home to Atlanta and walk his kids to school. “They rhyme and stuff, my son and my daughter have a little hip-hop group,” Speech said. “They do their thing. They don’t let me watch a lot. I only get to see it when they finish practicing. Having a dad in the music world, they want to develop their own thing.”Arrested Development was pretty much the hottest group of 1992. It was the year of their first album, “3 years, 5 months & 2 days in the life of …” which had three top-10 tracks – “Tennessee,” “People Everyday” and “Mr. Wendal.” They won Grammys for Best Rap Album and Best New Artist. Oh yeah, and Rolling Stone named Arrested Development band of the year. The group’s 1994 album, “Zingalamaduni,” didn’t sell well, and by 1996 Arrested Development was no more. They could have gone the way of any number of rap groups or bands that rip out a hit album and then disappear into obscurity. Arrested Development, however, has made a comeback – mostly international, but a comeback nonetheless. In 2000, they got back together and they’ve been going strong since. “This group has been around for 17 years,” Speech said. “In hip-hop that’s a great achievement. We’ve been doing shows around the world. We just went to Morocco, to Germany.”Arrested Development is releasing a new album this fall, but there isn’t even a U.S. release date set. “We’re releasing this record in Europe on Sept. 17,” Speech said. “We’re releasing it everywhere but the U.S. People are hip about the music. It’s getting big play overseas.”Maybe Arrested Development is doing better internationally because of the group’s philosophy: It’s just not what gets airtime. “We’re just trying to be ourselves,” said Speech. “We want to be who we are and not try to be someone else. Here’s a group of people, many of whom go to church, are involved in activism. My mom owns a newspaper in Wisconsin. I’ve grown up around that. As the lyricist in the group, it’s just about being real. We just want to keep it real for who we are. In the hip-hop game, we want to bring that other side to it, philosophically take it to the next level.”As Speech put it, Arrested Development knows the formula for a hit record but has stayed away from that. They’re not interested in all the commercial craziness, though they’re still having commercial success. “For us, it takes a lot of guts and balls to do what we’re doing,” he said. “It may or may not be the most popular route in hip-hop. But we’re not on a desert island. Every show we do is incredibly packed.”For Speech, it’s all about that live show. “People see the depth and the talent of the group,” he said. “Some people know us from one or two songs. When they see us live, they get the point of what we’ve always stood for.”So tonight, at the Belly Up, it’ll be the small venue. All the better. “We’ve been to the Belly Up,” said Speech. “This will be our third time. Love that venue. Sometimes a little too low in volume. We’re hoping to crank it up.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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