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Interview: Arrested Development

9th September 2008

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It’s been twelve long years since we’ve heard anything from Arrested Development, one of the slew of important hip-hop outfits from the early nineties, who had more to talk about than weed, guns and biatches. Hip-hop’s done a lot of changing since then – and, some would say, not for the better.

Arrested Development

Phil Dixon caught up with them at Camden Town’s Jazz Café to see if these old skool stalwarts still have a place in a world of ringtone-made s**t-hop, or if they’re more important now than ever.

So I know you’ve probably had this question a million times before, but the new album is called Since The Last Time - so what’s been happening since the last time we heard from you?

SPEECH: We basically have been getting our feet wet on the road, you know, just doing a lotta shows and feeling a gooood, stroooong energy from the audience and just being motivated to just continue to record. And this album took us at least two years to write, it took us a long time to write on this record.

Was it an entirely musical decision or did you feel the need to come-back because of the state of the hip-hop scene today?

SPEECH: Well I think it was both. As we were just going about our lives the fans would come up and say, “Man, we really miss what you guys offer,” and that was inspiring us but also we knew as a group that there was so much more that we could do, that the story that we told back in the nineties wasn’t it for us, that we had more to do. Now, with the audiences and the vibe that we’ve been getting, it’s confirmed that we needed to have came back and that there’s still a space for Arrested Development in today’s hip hop climate.

And you’ve said that this album is your ‘best material to date’?

SPEECH: Definitely I feel like it’s our most… mature writing that we’ve done and also it’s got more members on it than ever before and that’s always exciting. It shows growth for us.

So with the way hip-hop’s been going, it’s always been in danger of going down the route of gangsta and ‘cream get tha money, dolla dolla bill y’all’, and now there’s a never-ending stream of these manufactured artists who are all chasing that one dream of getting money for themselves and it’s a more negative image. What kind of message do you think that’s sending out to the hip-hop audience these days?

BABA OJE: What’s the question?


ESHE: He can’t hear…

RASA DON: Unfortunately I think they start thinking that this is the only kind of music that’s alive and so I guess we need more groups like Arrested Development, which is one of the reasons why we felt we had to continue to play because, often, times we’re looking at a lot of groups who are out there but there’s still that gap and space for us to come and play. It’s like, ‘wait a minute, is there anybody gonna step up to the plate?’ So that’s where we feel like we had to come back out and at least so the kids don’t just see those images out there, they do have something that they can cling to, which is most times, in our case, like families introducing their kids to our music so you know it just kind of keeps going for us and keeps them having just a little bit of hope, you know?

And these days acts like Jurassic 5 and Talib Kweli, all the more old skool-focussed hip-hop acts, are enjoying a much more underground kind of success, they’re not as big as these big money corporate machines…

SPEECH: Yeah, I think the difference between when we started off in the nineties and where it is now is that you got right now most of the bands that are being exposed by major labels and major TV channels and stuff are groups that basically talk about one of three subjects - whether it be violence, materialism or strip clubs. So basically that’s sort of the thing that’s being pushed and pushed and you have the groups like J5 or Talib or Strange Fruit Project and on and on and on who do exist but they’re not being exposed as much. Well that’s what’s going on now but where we came from, A Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, Public Enemy, but also NWA, 2Live Krew, Ice Cube, Ice-T, all of these people co-existed on the charts. Not just co-existed as musicians but they had exposure. And what that told the kids, ‘cause you asking what is this telling the people that are listening now, what that used to tell the kids is that you can be who you are - if you were more like Ice-t well then go ahead and be more like Ice-T, BUT if you were more like a Tribe or Arrested Development, go ahead and be like that. But what it’s telling people now is that if you’re more like an Arrested Development or a Tribe, or whatever, you may not get any commercial success. And it’s an unfortunate time in our music business because a lot of musicians when they see that choice they say, “okay, if I decide to be more like this, I’m not gonna get on MTV, I’m not gonna get on blah blah, whatever the stations are, and so I might decide to go ahead and be more like that - which is maybe, whatever, like 50 Cent or something - so I can get some play.” And so people lack originality right now, people are afraid to be who they naturally would want to be.

You promote positivity in your lyrics, that’s the whole vibe that you guys put out there, but everyone knows it’s hard to be positive all the time - Do you ever just get completely cynical about the whole thing and think, “What’s the point of trying to put this out if no one’s actually listening?” or do you think it’s more important just to keep going?

SPEECH: For me personally as a lyricist, most of the songs that I’ve written come from a cynical point of view, I’m a pretty pessimistic person by nature. And the songs or music in general has been the thing that helps me to rise above it. See, Arrested Development’s music is not about positivity, a lot of people think that. Our music really is about rising above, it’s about negativity and then rising above it. It’s not just about positivity.

‘Cause to be honest positivity is sort of boring, it’s like if there’s no reason for your positivity… what brings power to positivity is if you understand that there is negative stuff out here. That’s when the positivity has a place to live, it’s like ‘Oh, there’s a purpose for that’, there’s a purpose for trying to rise above the depression or the cynicism, there’s a reason that you’re trying to rise above it.
We understand that there is negative realities in life and when you look at our lyrics, like the lyrics for ‘Tennessee’ is “Lord I’ve really been real stressed/ Down and out, losing ground/ Although I am black and proud/ Problems got me pessimistic/ Brothers and sisters messing up/ Why does it have to be so damn tough?” and on and on and on, it’s like, you know, ‘Give A Man A Fish’: “Lately I’ve been in a life-like limbo/ Looking out of a fudged-up window/ We’re not sure where our lives are going/ Friends it’s summer outside but yet we’re snowed in,” you know it’s like, but then on the chorus it’s offering some solution, it’s like we’re not saying that we’re just coming up with positive songs, it’s more so we’re telling the truth about our lives too, it’s like man, times can get tough.

And our new material’s the same way, it’s like you know, Nicha sings a verse, “I gotta change my ways/ I want to cry,” on a song called ‘Heaven’ and she’s talking about she wants to cry every day, you know it’s like… it’s real but then by the time you get to the chorus we’re trying to offer something. On ‘Tennessee’ it’s like, “Take me to another place/ Help me understand your plan, God,” you know, let’s try to get out of the wallowing and the depression. We all get depressed, we all get hard times.

RASA DON: We’re trying to take it to the next level, what are we gonna do about it?

I know you care a lot about the issues going on today, like I was reading on your Myspace blog about the situation in Sudan. Do you think there’s kind of a culture of ignorance these days? I mean young people are just not taking as much of an interest in these issues that need to be looked at. And with television and with all these channels people can select what they want to see and are just kind of ignoring what is right at their doorstep.

SPEECH: Yeah, I think… Oh, go ahead, please…

JJ BOOGIE: I was gonna say in America, the issue with Sudan isn’t really mainstream. It’s not something you see on the news every day, you have to be kind of a news buff to go out, look at underground websites to really see that, what’s going on there. It’s not a matter of people rejecting it, it’s just that the media are spoon feeding the war in Iraq or the economy or the elections coming up, you know it’s like that’s on the backburner, it’s not as important right now, you know. I think if they did move it up there then more people, you know, ‘cause Americans they wanna help but like if it was shown to them more, people would want it, would want to see it more in the news and would wanna help and make it a bigger deal.

So do you think it’s more of a media concept rather than what people choose to see?

JJ BOOGIE: Yeah, more so.

SPEECH: I think, for me I feel like, I agree with JJ, I feel like right now people are under the misconception that we have more information than ever. And the truth is we do have more media bits than ever, bites of information, little clips. But what that also does for everybody is it makes us more helpless because we know a little about a lot of things, but we don’t know a lot about almost anything. And so therefore we don’t know what to do about anything unless someone gives us some direction as to what to do. And so then people feel helpless.

They know that everything’s going wrong and they know that, man, a million people died today, but it’s just a little media bite and it lasts about two seconds and right after that, you know, ‘wow! There’s a brand new cool phone out!’ And all of that stuff is bunched up into one big sentence and no one knows how to make sense of any of it, and so they do the thing that’s easiest. And what’s easiest? Go out and shop, lemme go buy some phones.

The hard part is getting involved with the political process, but that gets a little too complex. And then it’s just like, whatever, lemme just throw some money at it and maybe this thing is easier, I’ll go get a phone today. And that’s where we’re at, so we all think we got more information and the truth is we just have bits of things and we don’t have the full story or understanding of what’s going on. The only people that understand it is the people that’s travelling to those places and going and seeing the issues and those people you see, they come back more passionate. (BAND MEMBERS: “Yeah. Right.”) They have a clear picture of what I can do. They see that their five dollars can help, that their day of time that they can give can help, but other people don’t really know what to do (ESHE: Yeah). And it’s a culture of helplessness. It’s sad.

Alright, so just to wrap it up: What does the future hold for the band, are you guys back in the scene now? Are you wanting to make your mark again? Or are you just taking it for this album and seeing where it goes from there?

SPEECH: No we’re definitely… we’re in this.

JJ BOOGIE: We’re gonna be the first hip hop band to perform on the moon!

(MUCH LAUGHTER) Well you’ve got to have ambition!

SPEECH: You gotta have a dream!

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