Speaking with Voices and Dollars
An interview with Speech from Arrested Development by Volumes writer Wm "Mon2" Miller.
The mid 80’s to the mid-late 90’s is known as the Golden Era of Hip Hop. During this period, each coast had their own sound, and the creativity was at an all-time high. Hip Hop was maturing and moving past the ABC style of rapping, and some of the great legends made their debut. One of the legendary groups that came out of this Era was Arrested Development. This supergroup blasted onto the national stage winning a NAACP Image Award (1993), a couple Grammy Awards, MTV Awards, Image Award, a Soul Train Music Award, etc. With songs like “Tennessee," “Mr. Wendel," and “People Every Day," they would go 4X Platinum (US), 2X Platinum (CAN), and Platinum in UK, AUS.
Arrested Development, or AD as they were also known, is a powerful mix of conscious, pro-black, Afro-centric, socially charged, activism music accompanied with live instrumentation sometimes blended with samples. Music made to fight all the enemies of the black community such as racism, homelessness, and economics. After a hiatus from 1995-2000, they came back with several albums, mostly overseas where they continued their success with top 10 hits in Asia. Now in 2018, they are back like they never left dropping two albums: “Changing The Narrative” and “This Was Never Home." Both of these albums are what we have come to appreciate about AD: conscious lyrics blended with great beats and rhythms. “Changing The Narrative” is filled with socially charged black power lyrics blended with heavy samples, live instrumentation, and very musical. The other album, “This Was Never Home," is a sample free project using mostly drum machine and synthesizers; the lyrics of this album challenge white supremacy, police brutality, today’s Hip Hop, and the lack of balance on the radio. AD has a way of giving the world not only what they want but also what they need. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Speech, the co-founder and lead vocalist of AD, about the state of music in 2018, here is a little bit of that conversation:
MON2: How do you feel about the state of music right now?
SPEECH: What changes the culture is the mainstream music. In other words, music that gets the most love is the stuff that usually defines the era. And so to me, the difference between when we first came out and even right before that, we called it the Golden Era of Hip Hop, artist like Arrested Development could co-exist on tour and on radio with artists like MC Hammer, Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, 2Live Crew; totally different styles of music, all Hip Hop but all coexisting on tour, on radio together. The cool thing was not only was the underground vibin’ to conscious music but also booty music, party music, and gangster music. Mainstream America had all these choices. So now, people have to search and most people don’t do that. In other words, you might and I might, but when you see stadium tours, it ain’t any of these underground artists that you and me are finding. That ain’t the people touring and that ain’t the people eating either. To be honest, only people eating is like 2% like Kanye, Jay-Z or Drake or Kendrick, Migos and stuff like that. Those are the only ones eating, everyone else is scraping. It is very different than it used to be. It needs to get back to that, where there is more diversity that is actually eating.
MON 2: Do you think we can get back to that?
SPEECH: We have to take back control of the music. We gotta start #1 speaking that that’s what we want. A lot of people are under the perception that what’s happening now is actually what people like. I think people underestimate how much large corporations are dictating for us what we should get into. As opposed to us dictating what we insist on getting into- there is a difference. We have to speak more with our dollars and our voices and say we are not taking it. We are not going to take this nonsense that you are throwing our way.
MON 2: Why do you think we stopped supporting artists like AD, Public Enemy, KRS-One, Souls of Mischief, Queen Latifah, and the 100’s of creative artists like them?
SPEECH: I think we underestimate a few things. We as a people underestimate the power of laws that are passed. In 1996, it was a law that was passed called the “Tele-Communications Act," that basically allowed for corporations to buy up as much media as they could in every city. They could own the video channels, the radio stations, the newspapers- where that used to be against the law because that’s basically monopolizing the mediums of the public. That act allowed companies like Clear Channel, Viacom to come in and buy up all these mom and pop stations, all of these competing video stations. The different DJ’s that once contributed to what the hits were, what the sound was gonna be, was now bought up by corporations not even based in that city. There was a time when on every coast the sound of Hip Hop was totally different. West Coast, East Coast, and Down South had their own sound. Now, all music is pretty much the same. It is all sort of that “Trap” type sound. Instead of the local DJ determining what was going to be played, the corporate main office determined what the playlist was going to be. So every city started having the same playlist. No more music activism in each city. DJ’s now are just happy to get on, don’t even necessarily care what they are playing.
From the young to the old, we have to remember to respect our legends and trailblazers, like AD. They helped pave that road that was once rocky. It is not completely paved for all of us at this point, but it was artists like Arrested Development, 2Live Crew, N.W.A., and PE that kicked in a lot of doors. So we should download and buy their albums, buy tickets to their shows, and buy their merchandise. Like Speech said, “we have to speak more with our dollars and our voices."