Arrested Development have had a colourful career: after appearing out of nowhere in the early '90s with massive worldwide hits like ‘Tennessee’, ‘Mr Wendal’ and ‘People Everyday’, they seemed like the future of socially aware hip hop. However, internal ructions tore them apart after their second album flopped – 1994’s Zingalamaduni – and business pressures set co-founders Speech and DJ Headliner at each other’s throats.
“It was very ugly and it didn’t have to be,” Speech sighs. “We had a very unique situation from most bands. We really came out of the gate with a big record and we didn’t learn a lot of things about the inner workings of the industry. And then you add to it that we’re young. We really were in our early twenties – like [Montsho] Eshe was 17. It was very tough to have that type of success and yet be so organic as a group.”
While Headliner never returned, Speech and most of the rest of the band got back together in 2000. “I think time really helped a lot, and we had a lot of fans that kept saying ‘well no one’s really taken your place.’ You know there’s bands like the Fugees which were incredible but they didn’t have a certain spiritual part to them that we had, and Black Eyed Peas didn’t really have a sort of message,” he explains. “There was a lot of groups that would come out that just didn’t necessarily fill the void that was left when we left the scene of music and we felt like we had a lot more to give.”
The band have remained independent since, with six albums in the intervening years (the newest, Standing at the Crossroads, can be downloaded for free at arresteddevelopmentmusic.com). Speech might have been surprised at how successful the band was back then, but he sees no place in the mainstream business for them now.
“I think that the messages of pop music, especially hip hop right now, just perfectly fits shopping and go to the mall and nothing matters,” he spits. “It’s just such a lethargic sort of lifestyle that it promotes and it seems really great for a lot of huge huge huge corporations.”
So what keeps the fire in the belly?
“We believe that we address issues in order to make our and people’s lives happier and better, it’s not that we just want to address them just for the heck of it,” he laughs. “I see certain things that are clearly not happiness; poverty; broken families; disease; mental illness; and to say ‘OK there’s a need to talk about these things that can help to heal the wounds’. The goal is happiness, the goal is peace and that is what gets me up in the morning.”