Passion is the key to Arrested Development’s 30-year life span, according to the band’s frontman Todd Thomas, better known by his stage name Speech.
“We are still so passionate,” Speech said during a phone interview. “Our whole purpose was to make music that celebrated life, uplifted the community and gave some solution. And we’re still so passionate about that. I think that’s really the glue.”
The rapper of the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop group spoke to the Blues City Journal about Arrested Development’s impact, its preference to spread positivity through music and the state of modern day hip-hop:
You said Arrested Development made songs that wanted to celebrate life. Was that reactionary or a more write-what-you-know kind of deal?
Speech: Truthfully, it was both. It was a continuation of African culture. During the times of slavery, that culture was stripped from most African Americans, in particular. It was a reaction to what had become, especially in hip-hop, a culture of glorifying and talking about death and perpetuating violence in the lyrics. So, yes, it was sort of a reaction, but it was also just a continuation of the ancestral beliefs of celebrating life and life being valuable and sacred.
Is that still something Arrested Development strives for in the music it makes today?
Speech: Definitely! Every one of our shows, we call ‘em a celebration. It’s a celebration of life and of death and the struggles of our ancestors. We believe that when someone dies, they want to be with the ancestors. So we celebrate those things and the struggles of the ancestors because we believe that we stand on their shoulders. The accomplishments that they had, the sacrifices that they made, a lot of those were made for us. A lot of our ancestors never saw freedom, never saw equality, never saw Blacks and Whites coexisting in society in a more equal way. They only hoped for those things. We stand on their shoulders.
When the band first released its debut studio album, it was a stark contrast to gangsta rap. Do you think that message or focus has trickled down today?
Speech: I mean, of course you see some people that are very much influenced by what we did and what others had done. But in general, no. I’ll be honest with you, the world gravitates towards decadence more than it does enlightenment. When decadence shows itself to be what it always is, which is dangerous and devaluing and degrading, then we want to navigate towards enlightenment and understanding. In general, hip-hop has gone down as far as its values of life and its values of humanity and spirituality.
Is there room for hip-hop to grow in that regard?
Speech: Always! Always room to grow. Yes! There’s definitely hope. In fact, I believe that most people would want positive messages in things that revitalize their life instead of taking away from it. You also have other forces in this world. Huge corporations, to be honest, would rather have the degradation because it’s more senseless and dumbed down entertainment. What that dumbed down, senseless entertainment allows is for people to make dumb and senseless decisions. They buy bags from Gucci and buy diamonds and fashion becomes the thing that people worth instead of their humanity. That allows them to teach us and feed us what they want, instead of us being fed in a holistic way where we’re already full from our own sacredness, our own humanity. […] There are sinister forces out there.
Has Arrested Development ever been tempted by those sinister forces in the industry? How do you overcome that?
Speech: Definitely. The temptation is real because many times Arrested Development is overlooked or left out of the history of hip-hop. We’re not playing the game the same way. Yes, there is the temptation. We’re not tempted to wrap about death because we’re not tempted by that, but we are tempted by the accolades and the financial incentives that can come from that. Sometimes you think, “Wow! Did we ever choose the wrong path!” (laughs) But then I think you come back to your senses when you just step back from it all and start, again, to think about the most important things in life. You’ll never find someone on their deathbed talking about their money. They’ll be talking about their family and the people that mean most to them.