Arrested Development’s Speech just walked off the stage at B.B King Blues Club in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. After performing a two hour set filled with old hits like “Tennessee,” “Everyday People” and “Mr. Wendal” as well as some new, the group’s leader headed backstage.
It’s been 24 years since Arrested Development emerged on the hip-hop scene with a trailblazing sound. But now Speech is looking towards the future with his new crew, 1 Love, Tasha LaRae, Fareedah Aleem, Za’ and JJ Boogie, who perform under the same moniker and will be releasing two albums this month.
The first, Changing The Narrative, will be released this week for free while the second, This Was Never Home, will be released through regular mediums in the following week.
As DJ Prince Hakim closed out his set with a mix of music from the golden era of hip-hop, Speech vibed with The Boombox backstage to discuss why he’s giving away free music, how Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are revolutionizing music and his finding faith in 1996, while rocking a hoodie that read “Racism Sucks.”
Check out a few photos from the concert above and get into the interview below. Also, check out a few videos from the concert at the end.
The Boombox: So, you have two albums coming out. How does the Web free up an ever-changing artist when it comes to promoting/distributing music and connecting with fans?
Speech: Everything is different about it. Nothing’s really the same as the past where now it’s back to how it was before we was ever famous. It’s just for the love of the music. We don’t know how it’s going to sell. We’re not really concerned about it, to be honest. We just feel like there’s so much in us that we want to get out. We know we have a legitimate gift and legitimate voice. So we just want to put it out there. We want to try to make as much impact as possible. We know that there’s a void in revolutionary hip-hop music in this day and age. And yet the need for the music couldn’t be more relevant. We feel like there’s something we need to do. We feel good about it, but it’s totally different than anything we used to do in the ’90s. Everything is different.
You mentioned the lack of revolutionary music — I’m curious how you feel about the return of political records in popular music — Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, J. Cole, Usher’s “Chains”, Common and John Legend, etc. How does you feel about it?
You mentioned Usher, but I don’t know the Usher song. I think that Common is a brilliant lyricist. Brilliant artist. He’s inspired me time after time. I’m very grateful he’s out there. I feel like as he’s sort of dwelled into the acting and everything else, I don’t feel his presence in the music scope as much as I used to. Cause I’m a Common fan from back in the day. But Kendrick, I think is extremely talented. I think probably one of the most talented, well definitely, one of the most talented MCs ever, but clearly one of the most talented right now. He is revolutionary in a sense of today’s music scape and the textures that he uses, the lyricism that he displays, it’s revolutionary musically. And J. Cole, same difference. I think that in this landscape, people like a J. Cole and a Kendrick Lamar come off even more revolutionary than they would have back in the ’90s. Cause in the ’90s there was so much that was diverse. That a To Pimp a Butterfly or anything else would have just been one of the many things that’s diverse and crazy. Like ‘wow it’s taking a lot of chances.’ Whereas today, there’s not as much of that. So when that happens it magnifies it. You get what I’m saying? And then when I talk about revolutionary, I’m speaking more than just daring musically and challenging lyrically, I’m talking about literal, fundamental change music that’s literally for the change of black people that carries on the tradition of Harriet Tubman, who was literally for the freedom of black people or Marcus Garvey, who was literally for the freedom of black people. Black Panthers, The Move Organization, Assata Shakur, so on and so forth. So when I speak revolutionary, I’m really coming from that perspective as opposed to just the musical standpoint and the lyrical prowess and the ability to challenge people musically. So that’s what I’m really speaking on. I think there’s a void there.
I read a piece on Rapzilla about you converting to Christianity. How was that like and how has it changed you?
Literally, fundamentally. Christianity, when done truly, a lot of people really don’t know what Christianity is. It’s a very popular concept but it’s not a very popular practice. It’s like Gandhi said, “I love your Christ, not too fond of your Christians.” So, I think the truth is that Christianity, if practiced the way Christ teaches it, it has no choice but to revolutionarily, fundamentally change your entire being. And it changes your entire outlook on this world, what’s most important, what’s least important. Money, riches, fame, power, gets turned upside down. And power becomes internal, and your connection to God becomes your power as opposed to your influence in this world. In this world, to live is the most prized position. In Christ, to die is. So not always to die physically, but even that because then you live with Christ. But even in a more fundamental way, to die to yourself everyday. To take on the characteristics of Christ. That is of more worth than to live for yourself everyday. So it’s a very different philosophy. It’s Eastern — a lot of people get confused about Christianity — thinking that it’s a Western or white man’s religion, it’s the furthest thing from fact. It literally could not be further from the truth. It’s impossible. It’s the furthest thing. There’s a lot of misconceptions about Christianity, but yes, I’m Christian.
How is Speech in 1992, when you first came onto the hip-hop scene, different from Speech in 2016? How are they the same?
Well, I feel like I continue to grow. I’m learning a lot. The thing about being out for as long as we have — 24 years — is you start to see a cycle. The cool thing is that you get to see that we all just play one act in a big play. And what I mean big play, I mean from the beginning of time and now. We just have one act. So it lessens our significance in a good way and it also increases our significance in another way meaning because we only have one act, you better come in here and do something. Cause you got one act and after that some people gonna take the play from you and you have to sit back down. No one has control of that — that’s just how it is. Being in this industry for so long, I realized, number one, I got a gift. While I’m here, I gotta give it and I can’t hold back. So even for the people reading this, I feel like the key is that they gotta understand when you’re younger you don’t totally get it because you think ‘I’ve got so long before I’m 50 or 60′ or whatever that you feel like that’s forever. But then when you get on that other side of it, and you’re 47 like me, and you’re looking back to when you was 24 and all of that. It’s like ‘Word, okay.’ We all get to that place. So, now you’re looking back and you’re realizing, ‘okay I gotta really give it. I gotta bring it.’ And every moment that I’m here, I want to make sure I bring it fully. You start to realize this is not our home, which is the title of our second album. We’re just visiting, period. That’s true for all of us.
Is that a philosophy you’ve taken with you from ’92 ’til now?
I think so. It trips me out like when I’m…like we did a lot of classics tonight. We did maybe about 20% new joints and 80% old joints and when I’m listening to my own lyrics that I wrote back in the ’90s, I feel like a prophet in a sense that I’m prophesying stuff that didn’t happen yet, but it happened later. I’m not saying that I truly know the future, I’m not saying that. but it feels very inspired because a lot of the things that I’m saying when I was your age (24), is coming to pass.
Do you think there’s been a resurgence in an interest towards classic hip-hop?
Rightfully so, I don’t think they’re going to ever do it again. Cause I mean they gotta do what they gotta do. But I do think that they’re appreciating it a lot more. I feel it as a ’90s artist. I feel that resurgence of respect. People are curious about what that was about back in those days. My only hope would be not only to respect us but to imitate that same diversity of thought. Cause the thing that made the ’90s magical, it wasn’t just that there was some great music being done. The reason the great music was being done is cause we were allowed to do it. We were congratulated by doing it. We were rewarded, the more unique you were, the more you were rewarded. So that automatically creates more unique artists. However, the more status quo you are today is more celebrated. You get to get more popularity, you get more recognition if you think of your art as more of a business you will likely do better today. You will have your brand tight or you will you know stick to your lane in a sense and not really show your whole humanity. So you might have a wife and children at home but you’re not necessarily going to show that. You’re going to talk about I go to the club and sleep with women all night, even if that’s not what you do. But you’re going to keep saying that because that’s a winning formula for you in your mind. It’s a different…the reason it was a golden era back in the ’90s, is because we had diversity of thought. We had 2 Live Crew who was talking about strip clubs and booties, then we had MC Hammer who was just dancing and having fun, then we had Arrested Development who was kicking knowledge and you had A Tribe Called Quest which was sort of a mixture of kicking knowledge and just some boom-bap hip-hop. You know, you had Public Enemy. You just had all these bands, but all of us toured together. Big tours, not just clubs. I’m talking 20,000 seaters. And on the radio. Public Enemy, on the radio. Not just MC Hammer on the radio, but Public Enemy on the radio. Public Enemy was selling millions of records as well. That’s where I want us to get back to. A place where everybody got a slice of the pie. Right now, out of hundreds of artists, you got a J. Cole and a Kendrick Lamar that’s kicking anything that seems to have deeper depth to it. Maybe Chance [the Rapper], you know stuff like that. It’s not a lot though — to me.
And now you’re dropping two albums. What are they going to sound like and why are you dropping the first one for free?
The first album is called Changing the Narrative. I think it’s brilliant. It’s has a lot of funk and soul and jazz samples. The reason we dropped it for free is because we sampled the snot out of everything and we didn’t want to pay for all the samples. It’s too expensive. (laughs) You know what I’m saying? We wanted to drop it for free, it’s just creativity. So we did one of the songs tonight — sort of half did it. A song called “Unstoppable.” Then, the second album this week is called This Was Never Home. And that’s more synthesizer based, programming, beat programming and we’re gonna sell that joint. So the first album, Changing the Narrative, is really just talking about encouraging everybody to wake up from the American dream and realize the American reality so we can really realize real dreams. You know. And then This Was Never Home. It’s on two levels. On a spiritual level, that this is not our home, the Earth, just being here in the flesh is not our home and that our purpose is in heaven with God for eternity. This is just temporary. And even if someone doesn’t believe in the God part, or eternity. The fact is, they still gotta believe that this is temporary cause it is. Then, it also relates to black people in this country and it’s my conviction that this is also not our home. Since we were stolen and brought here, we never were intended to be a part of this country’s vision. And as long as the majority is in power, it is still not their intention to make us equal players in this system. And all we have to do is look at the evidence. At every chance, even with all the riots that we’ve had, all the marches that we’ve had, police are still brutalizing us. Even with all the riots, the marches, the Black Lives Matter movement, the majority of the country still doesn’t even get what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about. They still are like perplexed by it. It’s still confusing to the majority of America. You can ask them, they don’t get it. They think it’s some type of evil, angry… it has some angry in it. But they think it’s some type of anti-American. It’s crazy. They just don’t get it. All of these lives that have died, all you have to do is look at the evidence. So the evidence says that this is still not our home. Yes, we live here. I live here. My kids are born and raised here. But it’s not our home. And Nina Simone said it best: “You got to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.” And love has not been served to us since we’ve been here. So the solution is to focus on gaining true self determination, allowing this experience in America to be a detour from what we were doing before slavery ever happened.
Do you think we’ve made some progress though?
Without a question we have. However, and this is why I still say this is not our home, because every single one of those advances have been at the cost of blood, sweat, tears, death. Every one of them. None of them have just been handed to us. So, when we can say, yes we’ve made advances, we have. But it’s all at the cost of death. Just to give one example, nine lives had to die to get a flag down. When you think about what it takes to get a little bit of movement. And that was a little movement like that’s just a flag. It ain’t even no laws changed. Just a little flag. Nine people had to get murdered in a church to consider it. And even then…and you’re talking about this could be our home? How is this home when even then, after nine people died, most people didn’t want to change it. People were protesting taking that flag down. A woman got put in jail for taking it down. That’s not home. That’s enemy territory where you’re making some progress but they don’t want you here. And that’s the truth. I know there’s exceptions. But the majority, do not want us here. And we are trying to thrive in a place that is hostile to our thriving.
I’ve lived long enough to see that although it seems fresh to a younger generation, the Black Lives Matter is the same exact as I Am Somebody movement. It’s just repeating over and over again. The marches have turned into more marches. The riots, it’s the same riots. When are we going to change the narrative? We gotta start talking about something different if we want something different to happen. Cause at the end of the day what Black Lives Matter is begging for and asking for — and I’m not dissing that movement, I respect it throughly. At the end of the day though, they’re asking somebody to respect us. And to see our lives as mattering. We’re asking the police force, we’re asking our leadership in this country. But it’s a joke. The whole thing has become an utter joke unless we can start changing the narrative.
Would you want to collaborate with any emerging Christian rappers like Lecrae?
I have to be convinced to dig deep into Lecrae. I definitely respect him and I’m glad he’s there. And I know he’s a fan of ours because fans of his have went to his shows and said “Yo, he rocked ‘People Everyday’” and I talked to his DJ — DJ Promote — recently so I know that they are fans of ours. I don’t tend to gravitate towards Christian music even though I’m a Christian. I do like the whole Humble Beasts movement. They’re like Braille…anyway. I gotta get into it some more. The thing that turns me off about Christian music today is it seems a little fearful to me where it seems afraid to get dirty. And especially when it comes to race, it seems sterile. And that makes me not totally want to get down with it. That’s all. I might just need to hear other artists.
Like Lecrae did a Facebook post one day. And he said, but when I started talking about how black people are getting killed, even my Christian brothers and sisters — white and black — a lot of different nationalities all this anger and vitriol was coming out and [he] said “Why?” I’m not trying to start any beefs and he said “Why?” And he has a huge fanbase and tons of people started to respond and they were going into it. And I don’t know him personally so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him but I wonder what Jesus would do if he was living in this day and age. I wonder because part of me wants to feel like he would ignore all of the sort of political issues of the day and try to keep us on a spiritual plane and part of me feels like, he wouldn’t. He would get dirty in it all and demand true justice. And demand that people at least recognize their sin. I don’t know.