Can you believe it's been 25 years since the release of one of the early iconic hip hop albums? 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of... was one of the first albums that ignited knowledge and unity and allowed us to see hip hop through a different lens. With memorable tracks including 'Tennessee,' 'Mr. Wendal,' and 'People Everyday,' Arrested Development created a platform that not only generated a thirst for new perspectives, but also aroused a passion to create change beyond the appreciation of the music.
Arrested Development are set to hit Australian shores this month in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of their debut album. We sit down with leading-man, Speech, and chat on what we can expect from the upcoming tour, the way the group has evolved over the years and his thoughts on how we can evoke change as a society. Ayla Dhyani writes.
It’s been a minute since Arrested Development has been out here in Australia. Tell us what Australian audiences can expect from the shows.
Well, this particular tour is the 25 year anniversary of our first album 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of..., so we’re really going to focus heavily on (hopefully) the magic of that album for everybody. We’re bringing a big-band out. It’s going to be a very amazing live event and very energetic. I think people should expect classics, but we’re going to do new material that they wouldn’t have heard yet as well. It’s going to be a very high energy party. People should come prepared to dance and let loose. I can’t wait to get out there. We love it. It’s like a second home to us.
Considering we’re celebrating 25 years since the release of the album, has your attitude towards the album changed over the years? How do you perform it now in comparison to when it was first released?
I think we’ve gotten a lot better at performing this album. We’ve gotten better as musicians and as artists, so there’s a lot more integrity being put towards the music. It’s exciting. It’s funny because even though it’s been 25 years, I feel like I appreciate this album even more now than I initially did... and I appreciated it right off the bat! But I feel this album has aged well.
The group has always expressed essences of spirituality, tell us a bit about Baba Oje’s role within the group as your spiritual elder.
Baba Oje was first a guy I knew from college. He was 57 when I met him and he used to hang out with young people. I always dreamed of having an older person in a hip hop group. I always thought that would be really cool. I asked him to be in the group and he immediately said no, which of course made sense. I mean why would an old guy be in a hip hop group? Then he found out that my parents were Robert and Patricia Thomas and it turns out that he was the best man at their wedding! I didn’t know that he knew my Mum and Dad before I was born, so he decided to do it for them. It was an amazing experience having him with us around the world. He didn’t think it was going to work, but as soon as he got in the group, we got a record deal and started touring the world. As a member of the group, he was just amazing as a help-mate, as an advisor and as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. He’s that guy.
This album for me has always been very powerful. It was one of the first hip hop albums that I could really relate to on a lyrical level in regards to conscious thought and uniting the masses in a very positive way. Do you feel that the meaning and the revolution has changed over the years?
I think the message remains the same. Whenever we said revolution, we meant fundamental change. We feel that the message remains just as relevant as it did 25 years ago... and that sucks because you would want things to have transformed to that extent. There has been some really great advancements, and we don’t want to make it seem like there hasn’t, but the message is still very relevant. I’m really actually more proud of the music now than I was before. In our opinion, it holds up through the test of time. It was created in the late '80s and early '90s, and yet to me and the group it feels like it hasn't faded.
Looking back to when the group split in 1996, what was different when you reformed again?
There was a lot of things that were different. We were more mature as people and we’d been through a lot. A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to have your first album do well. Because it’s your first album, you don’t really know the industry or how things work yet. You make a lot of mistakes, and that’s what we were the victims of. There was a lot of immaturity. We were in a much better space when we got back together. We were able to know what some of the pitfalls were that we didn’t before and we were able to come at it with a lot more understanding, knowledge and excitement about the music again. It was a much better situation.
Tell us a bit about your production company, Vagabond Productions.
Vagabond started in 1994 as a company to just handle the business side of Arrested Development. My Mum and Dad are entrepreneurs and they were really big on making sure that I made wise decisions with the new-found money that I was all of a sudden making. I started Vagabond Productions as a means of doing that. Then we also started to promote shows. We promoted artists like Erykah Badu, The Fujis, Outkast, Ben Harper, The Pharcyde... there was lot of really great music that we were able to promote and bring to Atlanta, which is an amazing music city. We became more than just a production office for Arrested Development. We became an outlet for really great acts to get exposed. It definitely was an amazing experience. We still run Vagabond Productions. It’s the production house that produces all of our albums and all of our concerts. The whole staff of Vagabond is very involved in Arrested Development as well as my solo career.
As an artist with such a conscious mentality, how do you feel that we can evoke change as a society?
It’s a good question. To me music evokes a change of attitude and then people evoke change. People have to get involved. They have to get activated. Whether it means they join an organisation or whether it means that they vote based on knowledge of issues that are concerning them, people need to gain knowledge. So for us, we wanted to be that sound that inspires them. We wanted to make music that... hopefully... inspires people to want to change things, or reaffirm the things that they already want to see changed. That’s what we hope to do.
On a personal note, I feel that you have created that space to evoke knowledge through the music that you’ve created over the years. You always had a way of expressing the need for action and critical thinking beyond the experience of appreciating the music. So, I applaud you for that.
I appreciate that a lot. I really do. When I was a kid, my Mum and Dad used to sit down my brother and I at the breakfast table and they would talk about a lot of the problems that were going on. Particularly in the black community. They would talk about the problems, but they would not stop there. They would continue talking about solutions, and they would encourage us to start thinking about solutions. I really learned a lot about being able to discuss issues, but talk through how we can bring something positive out through our community. I learned that from my Mum and Dad. They were great examples.
What moves you?
I love beauty. I love beautiful people. I love beautiful sceneries. I love beautiful heart. I love nature and movies and just things that have been created. I really am inspired by things like that. And of course music moves me a great deal.
Arrested Development are hitting Australian shores this month. Jump on tickets below.
Thu NOV 9 - Sun NOV 12 // MAROOCHYDORE, QLD - Wanderlust Festival
Sun NOV 12 // SYDNEY, NSW - Metro Theatre
Mon NOV 12 // MELBOURNE, VIC - 170 Russell