Arrested Development played Washington’s in Fort Collins on February 27, 2020, just days before COVID-19 shuttered the live music industry. Anyone who caught the show was greeted by the same positive, Afrocentric vibes the kaleidoscopic group has been transmitting since the 1990s. More importantly, their message of unity was still intact and hadn’t wavered over the last 30 years. Arrested Development’s 1994 single “United Front” (from the Zingalamaduni album) easily translates to today, lending their music a longevity that many groups don’t have the luxury of experiencing.
A Timeless Message
With lyrics like, “Totally confused, depressed ‘cause of the news/Watch TV, more bad is what you see/Everyone is lost and they’re looking for a savior/Everyone is blind and they’re looking for a leader,” the song is a sobering reminder of the United States’ ongoing socio-political mess.
“If I didn’t mention that the song was released in ’94, it could have easily been about today,” Speech tells BandWagon. “We need a ‘United Front’ to finally make the changes we deserve and our human hearts ache for.”
Arrested Development at Red Rocks
Fortunately for Speech, he frequently finds moments like that on the road. Arrested Development still packs venues across the globe, something Speech doesn’t take for granted.
In fact, they just returned home from Europe, where they were welcomed with open arms. They plan on bringing the same warm energy to Red Rocks Amphitheater on July 1 along with 311, J Boog and Matisyahu.
“It’s the most beautiful venue in the U.S., filled with the majesty of nature and bright red sandstone rocks, plus it’s acoustically perfect,” Speech says of the historic Colorado venue. “I’m looking forward to being in the sacred mountains because our music soars in this atmosphere. Just imagine our debut album cover and the openness of this venue—it’s a match made in heaven.”
But Speech could have easily sat that one out. While overseas, he experienced a medical emergency that required hospitalization. Although he’s feeling much better, his health woes aren’t exactly over. On Father’s Day (June 18), he took to Instagram to reveal he was walking outdoors for the first time in weeks. His breathing was noticeably labored but with a smile on his face, he assured his fans he was on the mend. At 54, he’s acutely aware of the importance of self-care, especially in light of his recent health scare.
“I proudly turn 55 this October—God willing,” he notes. “My self-care involves a lot of nature, prayer, meditation, reading, studying and concern for what I put into my body. During our tour last month I was rushed to the hospital for a respiratory infection. I could hardly breathe. My brother died from an asthma attack at age 29, so I take these things seriously. I was blessed to have been served for more than 10 hours in the British healthcare system for a whopping $0.”
“Go Baba. Go Baba.”
Speech, as he suggested, is no stranger to tragedy. In 2018, Arrested Development lost their longtime mentor and spiritual guru Baba Oje, a devastating blow to the whole band. He explains, “Baba was a big part of what Arrested Development was and is about—community, the elders and the youth united, embracing wisdom. It takes a whole village. We used to have an empty rocking chair on stage for him during our concerts, but as of the last few years, it’s an ending chant on our hit ‘People Everyday:’ ‘Go Baba, go Baba.’”
Despite Baba’s absence, Speech is still guided by his passion for the music, his bandmates and fans. He says, “There’s still a burning fire in my soul. Issues like banning Black books in schools, mass shootings every weekend in numerous inner cities, police brutality and killings of innocent Black women and children, the magnifying and promotion of violence and degradation within mainstream music are relevant issues of today, which our music has addressed since the ‘90s.”
Understanding How Hip-Hop Got Here…
Needless to say, the current rap landscape can be a place of frustration for Speech with the hyper sexualization of female rappers, vacuous lyrical content and seemingly never-ending stream of violence that has taken dozens of rappers’ lives over the last few years.
“I have mixed emotions about current hip-hop,” he admits, “but the biggest disappointment is the lack of continuum. When we were young, we were proud to continue the legacy of Afrika Bambaataa and The Cold Crush Brothers. We were even delighted to dig in the crates and push the envelope of older jazz, funk, soul and rock records. To this day, our generation features artists like George Clinton, Bob James and James Brown. This generation has generally divorced themselves from the continuum and pretend that they somehow got where they are on their own.”
The Old and The New
But rather than idle in disappointment, Arrested Development continues to make new music, material that will hopefully uplift people who are grew up with the band’s older material—including hits such as “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendal”—and new fans just discovering them for the first time.
“We’ve released our best music since the ’90s within the last three years,” Speech says, confidently. “People must go listen to Don’t Fight Your Demons and For The FKN Love albums. They are some of the most exciting and relevant songs of Arrested Development’s catalog. My label, Vagabond Records, is doing well, too. We actually care about the art and our fans.”