Exclusive: The Arrested Development frontman breaks down some of the standout tracks from his group's latest LP, including A.D.'s timely "Greener" single.
They’ve sold over five million albums, had a collection of top ten hits (“People Everyday,” “Mr. Wendal”), won Grammy’s (including one for their number-one single “Tennessee”), and even had a critically-acclaimed sitcom “borrow” their name, but most Hip Hop heads under the age of 25 are sure to have no personal recollection of the early ‘90s reign of Arrested Development. And so after a lengthy hiatus from recording together, the eclectic collective have flown under the radar of most heads for the past few years as they’ve worked to add on to the Arrested Development legacy, independently releasing a string of new group efforts including their latest, the recently-released Strong.
During a quick Q&A with HipHopDX last week, A.D.’s frontman, Speech, elaborated on the motivation behind his lyrics to some of the standout songs on Strong, explaining why he referred to himself as “Kanye East” and why the ATLien (by way of Milwaukee) believes Diddy determined the fate of Hip Hop’s current lack of diversity in the mainstream 17 years ago. Arrested Development’s lyrical lead also broke down why the BP oil spill may just make even the most reckless polluter pay close attention to the group’s latest “Greener” single. One of the forefathers to much of what’s left of experimental Hip Hop in 2010 further explained why artists like Nappy Roots, Talib Kweli, and the Black Eyed Peas have all paid homage to he and A.D., and why he believes one of his artistic offspring, K’Naan, is “the new Bob Marley.”
HipHopDX: Wanna start off on a different tip and ask you about the Showbiz remix of “Tennessee,” and the DJ Premier remix of “Ease My Mind,” were those remixes commissioned to show a harder, more underground [side] of A.D. back then?
Speech: You know it’s funny ‘cause Showbiz did that mix – [he] was commissioned by the label [to do that]… I think that since the very beginning of Arrested Development’s dealings with record companies we’ve – me and the record companies have always had talks about how to maintain what makes us unique in our music and at the same time reach as many audiences as possible within the Hip Hop genre… Just like anybody else, you utilize remixes for various different things. Some hardcore Hip Hop artists might utilize a remix in order to reach Pop radio. And we use remixes a lot of times to reach some of the more straightforward Hip Hop fans that’s out there. Same difference with [DJ] Premier, except I commissioned – I suggested him, because I’m a huge DJ Premier fan and we’ve toured together. Gang Starr – rest in peace Guru – and us, we were on the same label together. So we toured a lot of places together and did a lot of shows together, [and] so we’ve always had that relationship.
DX: And it seems like you’re keeping that sonic balance going ‘cause that joint, “The Trends,” from the new Arrested Development album, that sounds like one of those classic ‘90s maxi-single [remixes].
Speech: That’s literally – ‘cause I’m the producer of that track – that’s literally what I was going for. Yeah, I just, I like that sound. I feel like a lot of the new Hip Hop heads that’s out now, some of ‘em weren’t born, or were just born, when that era was starting, and I feel like it’s good to just bring that [feel back]. There was a certain type of free, feel-good vibe back in those days with some of the tracks that came out, and I wanted to bring that back with that song, with “Trends.”
DX: Due to the consolidation of radio beginning that year I always personally cite ’96 as the beginning of the end of more diverse Hip Hop, but why on the song do you cite 1993 as the year that the music industry began promoting “anything that would be contradictory to our victory”?
Speech: In ’93, ’94 we started seeing more of like what P. Diddy would later come out with, and sort of introducing…his concept of Hip Hop, which to me was more back to the producer-driven era instead of group-driven. Because, back in the late ‘80s early ‘90s you had producers but more than that you had groups that was coming with their own different sound. Main Source would come with a sound driven by [Large] Professor, but then you would have The Pharcyde. And that was driven by [J-Swift and J. Dilla] but also [the group itself]. Then you had De La [Soul], who was driven by De La but also [Prince Paul]. When P. Diddy came about it, it was more producer-driven to me. So it was just a different era. And a different philosophy for the music as well. So that’s why I cite ’93. When we were around during ’93 we started seeing this transition that was coming from that diverse feel of Hip Hop to more of a streamlined, ready for radio feel for Hip Hop. So that’s when I started to notice it.
DX: Just out of curiosity, why’d you refer to yourself as “Kanye East” on “Any Tree But That”?
Speech: [Laughs] Really, I just wanted to play on words, ‘cause I’m rising and the sun rises in the east. So, that’s it, just “good morning I’m rising [call me Kanye East].” And I’m playing on words from his song “Good Morning” as well.
DX: I just gotta say that with this BP oil mess watching y’alls “Greener” video is that much more powerful an experience right about now.
Speech: Isn’t it crazy? I mean, it’s absolutely crazy what’s going on right now. I feel you on that.
DX: It sounds like you were more inspired by…other things that led to “Greener,” it wasn’t necessarily oil per se.
Speech: Nah, it definitely wasn’t the oil thing. But I see that because of the oil thing I think people are definitely more aware of the consequences of when the environment gets bad, [and] how that affects real-life economy…as opposed to [being]…stuff [where] sometimes people can relate recycling or [going] “green” to cerebral concepts instead of very straightforward economic realities for real, hard-working people.
DX: Yeah, it’s all a corny concept until it cost you your job.
Speech: That’s exactly right. That to me is how we even approached the song, it was more so coming from a working man’s perspective. And a lot of the people that I know who aren’t cerebral with the concept – and some of ‘em don’t even agree with the concept yet, but are still understanding that we gotta do something. So it’s sort of a song for people riding the fence in a sense.
DX: Another video folks need to check out is the stream from the National Geographic event back in December for Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives album when DJ Kool Herc championed your most recent solo album, The Grown Folks Table. Given the distance contemporary Hip Hop artists have from the founders, what does that vow of support from Herc mean to you?
Speech: For me, it meant everything… I’ve always been a fan of [DJ] Kool Herc, but what I didn’t realize is Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, so on and so forth, some of the founders of Hip Hop, are also big fans of Arrested Development, and me as a solo artist. So, when I heard that he gave that love during that conference…I was so encouraged because to me, those are the people – Well first of all I come from a philosophy period in life, not just in Hip Hop, where we are standing on the shoulders of those that came before us. That’s my philosophy of life. But then when it comes to Hip Hop I believe the same thing. So people like DJ Kool Herc or Afrika Bam…Grandmaster Flash…Spoonie Gee…I mean [there are] so many different artists that I feel like I’m also standing on their shoulders, so when they give props like that, or love, it’s just a good feeling.
DX: And have newer acts who were clearly influenced at least in some part by Arrested Development, like Nappy Roots, given y’all that same support?
Speech: Yeah. It’s pretty interesting, we were watching – well I didn’t watch it, but some of our members was watching the Hip Hop Honors where they did the Dirty South tribute, and a lot of the programmers of some of [those] programs don’t really recognize us in that way. I mean they may give us a shout [out], which they did do. But a lot of the artists that we talk to who have [our influence], a lot of those artists do acknowledge us in that way: Nappy Roots, I mean so many artists have come up [to us], Talib Kweli, Mos Def…[artists] from different perspectives. ‘Cause Nappy Roots obviously [have] a southern vibe so that’s why they connected to us. But, Mos Def or a Talib recognized the message in our music and connected with us and thanks us for what we’ve contributed. Or, Black Eyed Peas recognizes us for the fact that we mixed men and women in the same group – Fugees, same difference when they were out as a group. Wyclef [Jean] to this day, and Lauryn Hill to this day [recognizes Arrested Development]. So I mean, there were various different things that I feel people that know us and know our history musically know that we contributed to the game.
DX: And I gotta note that A.D. must’ve had a huge impact in Canada [as well], ‘cause cats like k-os and K’Naan sound like they were heavily Speech-influenced.
Speech: Well K’Naan and k-os I know personally. And I feel like K’Naan to me is like the new Bob Marley. Because to me his rhyme skills are sick to me and his street sensibility is very much intact, and at the same time more than just the streets he’s able to have a sensibility for what’s going on throughout the world, especially in Africa. And I think that that’s been a long-time missing element from the worldview of Hip Hop music - and especially connecting African-American experience to what’s going on in Africa.
DX: I’m a personal huge fan of k-os. I did an interview with him earlier this year, and his music, it’s just a shame that stateside hip hoppers are kinda sleeping on it.
Speech: I agree. K-os is absolutely incredible. We were scheduled to do some things together – I think it was last year – and just hadn’t had a chance… We’ve had discussions to connect, but we just haven’t had a chance to yet.
Additional Reporting by Jake Paine.