When Atlanta hip-hop group Arrested Development rose to the top of the charts in the early 90’s, the diverse collective was like a fish out of water in many different ways.
At the time, hip-hop was not the dominant force that it is today.
Not only was Arrested Development’s 1992 debut effort 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of… competing for the hearts and minds of music fans in the midst of the grunge rock movement out of Seattle, their socially conscious, politically-tinged lyrics were also out of step with the likes of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and others in then prolific gangsta rap genre.
“The landscape was totally different then compared to what we see in hip-hop now,” affirms Arrested Development co-founder Todd “Speech” Thomas in advance of his group’s show at the Evolve Festival on Sunday.
“Southern rap wasn’t a thing in the early 90’s. It was all about the coastal identities – East Coast vs. West Coast – the South wasn’t a factor whatsoever. Deeper than that, however, hip-hop had a serious attachment to bravado, which wasn’t necessarily what our lyrics focused on either. There wasn’t a lot of hip-hop at the time that talked about spirituality and political agendas. That’s what we wanted to bring to the table as a group.”
Formed in 1988 in their hometown of Atlanta, Arrested Development initially centred on Speech and DJ Headliner. As the duo took to performing shows, Speech says they often called upon people of varying artistic abilities to join them on stage, whether that meant enlisting a dancer, vocalist or artist.
According to Speech, the group’s ranks swelled to upwards of 20 members, before they downsized to a core lineup of six. It took the band three years, five months and two days (hence their debut album title), but they did eventually secure a recording contract for the release of their first album.
In spite of the various forces seemingly conspiring against the band, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of… proved to be a commercial juggernaut for the group. Buoyed by no less than three chart-topping singles including “Mr. Wendal,” “People Everyday,” and “Tennessee,” Arrested Development’s debut effort sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone.
Among other achievements, Arrested Development took home two Grammy Awards in 1992, one of which saw the group became the first rap act to win a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
“I believe that when we started winning awards, earning press and accolades along the way, a lot of the hip-hop world grew scared of us because they were afraid of what the genre could become. We were very much an anomaly, swimming against the waters of gangsta rap, which was very much dominant at that time. It was a pretty heady time for us as a group. The success we saw was surreal, and I’m afraid we paid the cost of that to some extent afterwards,” Speech says.
The rapper says that while the group was basking in the limelight in public, things were somewhat unraveling behind the scenes.
“We had internal problems that, looking back, maturity would have helped us work out. We were young and immediately found success,” Speech says.
“I remember Michael Stipe from REM telling me that he felt his group was lucky in the chance they had the opportunity to creatively find themselves before they hit the mainstream. We were thrust right into it, right from the get-go, which led to feeling pressure when it came time to make the follow-up album.”
After the group’s 1994 album Zingalamaduni failed to match the success of 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of…, Arrested Development would go their separate ways just two years later.
“Looking back, that second album wasn’t about trying to make excellent music. It became an uphill battle of people wanting to change the organic flow of the group in favour of recognition and respect. It was a hard period for us.”
Since reuniting at the turn of the century, Arrested Development has released more than a half-dozen efforts, in addition to maintaining a regular touring schedule. Following their performance in Moncton this weekend, the group will embark on a brief European tour.
What: Arrested Development, performing as part of the Evolve Festival
When: Sunday July 17, 10:30 p.m.
Where: 274 Girvan Road, Beersville, N.B.
For ticket information and a complete schedule, visit www.evolvefestival.com