Arrested Development Biography

This rap collective from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is headed by Speech (Todd Thomas, 25 October 1968, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; lead vocals). He originally met DJ Headliner (b. Timothy Barnwell, 26 July 1967, New Jersey, USA) while they were studying at the Art Institute Of Atlanta. Speech, then known as DJ Peech, had already formed Disciples Of Lyrical Rebellion, a proto-gangsta outfit that evolved into Secret Society. They soon switched musical tack to a more community-conscious act, changing the name to Arrested Development and gradually picking up new members. These included Aerle Taree (b. Taree Jones, 10 January 1973, Wisconsin, USA; vocals/clothes design), Montsho Eshe (b. Temelca Garther, 23 December 1974, Georgia, USA; dancer), and Rasa Don (b. Donald Jones, 22 November 1968, New Jersey, USA; drums). They developed an Afrocentric outlook, and all moved into the same house while maintaining their own daytime jobs. Afterwards, spiritualist Baba Oje (b. 15 May 1932, Laurie, Mississippi, USA), whom Speech had known as a child, was added as the group’s symbolic head man. Influenced heavily by Sly And The Family Stone, when Arrested Development arrived on 1992’s music scene they brought an intriguing blend of charisma and wisdom.

While most modern rap uses urban dystopia as its platform, this group drew on a black country narrative as well as more universal themes. Speech penned a regular column for the 20th Century African newspaper and took his views on race issues on lecture tours. Cited by many critics as the most significant breakthrough of 1992, singles ‘Tennessee’, ‘People Everyday’ and ‘Mr. Wendal’ confirmed their commercial status by enjoying lengthy stays in the US and (for the latter two) UK Top 10. Their debut album (titled after the length of time it took them to gain a record contract after formation) also embraced a number of issue-based narratives, in particular ‘Mama’s Always On The Stage’, a feminist treatise, and ‘Children Play With Earth’, an exhortation for children to get back in touch with the natural world that surrounds them. After contributing ‘Revolution’ to the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, they released Unplugged, taken from their set at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theatre in December 1992, featuring an expanded 17-person line-up. The same year also brought two Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Rap Duo Or Group. Speech’s first production project, with fellow southern funk-rappers Gumbo, also met with critical approval. A second album, Zingalamaduni, Swahili for ‘beehive of culture’, emerged in 1994, once again extending their audience beyond the hip-hop cognoscenti. As well as introducing new vocalist Nadirah, plus DJ Kwesi Asuo and dancer Ajile, it saw the departure of Taree, who had gone back to college. The album was a commercial failure, and the members of the band went their separate ways at the end of 1995.

Speech released a number of solo records before resurrecting Arrested Development at the end of the decade. Most of the original members, minus Headliner, were back on board for the recording of 2001’s Japan only release, The Heroes Of The Harvest.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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