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[courtesy] Arrested Development Interview
Author: Adam Bernard

There was a time in hip-hop when everyone was singing about Tennessee, conversing with Mr. Wendell, and enjoying being Everyday People. That time was 1992, when Arrested Development's 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... was on its way to reaching quadruple platinum and a wide variety of hip-hop was heard regularly on the radio. Album sales numbers, and radio playlists, have changed for the worse over the years, but Arrested Development has stayed the positive musical force they've always been. The group is currently on a North American tour, and RapReviews managed to catch up with both Speech and Eshe to find out what else they've been up to, why they're bigger overseas than in the US, and what people can do to change the current landscape of the American music scene.

Adam Bernard: First off, I think a lot of people will be excited to hear you're continuing to write and record new music. What's the motivation behind what you're working on right now?

Eshe: We just have a whole lot to say. Over the years we've grown as artists, and as people in our personal lives, and we want to talk about it in our music and show our fans the growth and what we're about. We also want to give balance out here to the music scene. For us it's always about good timing, the vibe, and good music. We just love doing good music, period, and I truly feel like that's the motivation.

AB: Your presence hasn't been that big in the US in recent years, but you've been touring a lot overseas. Why do you feel the overseas market has been more receptive to your work?

Speech: I think that they've been conditioned differently than we have in the United States. The United States has been, over 15 years, beaten into submission to accept this lack of balance that's going on in the music industry. There have always been artists, ever since I was a kid, that have had different things to say. We're not saying that artists that talk about booty and all of that have no place in the industry, but what we are saying is the lack of balance doesn't make sense for anybody. It doesn't make sense for the music industry. I think that's one of the reasons why sales are so much lower. It doesn't make sense for the music culture in general, and the artistic culture of our country, and it doesn't make sense for the artists who are doing some extremely exciting stuff out here but don't have as much access to exposure as we used to. I think people gotta open their minds, those that are in power with radio stations and video channels, and allow some of the music to get through, and I think the people who are already frustrated with the lack of balance need to speak up more and talk about it. Overseas, people are used to listening to different stuff and diverse messages and vibes.

AB: How do you think having so much popularity come your way with your first album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of..., may have affected the way the albums you've followed it with have been received?

S: I think it had a large effect. We won two Grammys, MTV awards, and the best artist of the year award from Rolling Stone. It's very hard to top that, so I think perception is very key. When our second album only sold 500,000 units it made people feel like that's not as successful as the first, so it definitely had a big role.

AB: Your work was really mature right from the start, so it's interesting for me to hear you talk about artistic and personal growth. In what ways do you feel you've changed since your first album?

E: For me, when I first joined the group I was 13 years old, I was 16 when "Tennessee" dropped, and when we won the Grammys I was 17. I was a kid. Coming up in this business, learning about it, experiencing life during that time and in the years after has changed my outlook on life. I'm a mother now, I have a seven year old. I've been married. When you get in a different space your energy shifts, everything you talk about shifts, and your purpose is totally different from what it might have been back in the day when you were younger and you didn't know and you were immature about things in life. Now when you have wisdom and knowledge and you continue to grow and get more wisdom and knowledge, your views become different. I think I'm in a way better place now. Every day I strive to be a better person.

S: For me I feel that without a question I'm more mature, but I also have a lot more fun creating the music than we ever did (before) and I think that our stage show, our whole vibe is a lot more fun, and that comes from, I think, wisdom and maturity. You just start to have more fun with life, and the music that we're doing on this new album is by far the strongest music we've ever done. I think we really are taking it to another level now.

AB: When it comes to making music, is it harder making albums now knowing that so many people only want a couple of songs?

E: No, I don't think so. What do you think, Speech?

S: I love making albums. Those that only want a few songs, that's them. I'm still a music lover. I love whole complete projects. I love to see what the artist is trying to say for the whole project. A lot of our fans are from different worlds. We have people that are in their 30's to 60's that love our music and remember it from the 90's. Then we have other people that are 18, they're getting into our music right now, these are the people that show up at our concerts. The one thing they all have in common is that they love music and they love experiencing something that's authentic, so we don't usually have a lot of people that only like singles that come to our shows.

AB: You run your own indie label, Vagabond Record & Tapes. First of all, great name. Would you actually press something up on tape for me?

S: Oh without a question. We press up tapes and vinyl records, 45s, all of that.

AB: When did the label start and how has it grown?

S: It started back in 1993 and we first started off not as a label, but as a concert promotion group where we were bringing people like Erykah Badu, The Fugees, and D'Angelo into different cities to perform. We also worked with Ben Harper, Fishbone, The Pharcyde, Outkast, Goodie Mob... Then we started doing recording and obviously the first acts that we would sign would be Arrested Development and me. We then signed a group called Citizen King and they came out on Warner Brothers. We've done a lot of different music over the years, but most of it has been released overseas. It's definitely continuing to push forward.

AB: You helped to usher in a new wave of decidedly non-gangster hip-hop during the height of the gangster hip-hop craze. What are your thoughts on the evolution of "conscious" hip-hop? Is it reaching its goals, or are some artists just using the genre to make a quick buck?

S: I think hip-hop in general has to be as diverse as people are and everybody's not a gangster, everybody is not a drug dealer, there are people of all walks of life and hip-hop music affects people of all walks of life, so the music should reflect that. As far as whether or not the conscious side of hip-hop is meeting its goals, I don't know. I don't know if any of hip-hop right now is meeting its goals because people have become so frustrated with the genre and the lack of balance in it. People used to sell ten million records, now if you sell two million records you're lucky. Jay-Z's last album, Blueprint 3, was huge, but I think it might have sold two million, maybe three million at the most, I'm not sure, but did it meet his goals? People want to sell as many records as they can and there was a day when they could sell a lot more than that. We sold four million records. My point is I think when we take away the balance of hip-hop I don't think anybody reaches their goals, people get turned away from the music in general.

AB: So other than trying to find a balance, what can be done to fix this?

S: I think that the solution is really easy, it's to let the people who are frustrated, which is most people, know to not just be frustrated, but to take action. Go out and support the music that you really want to hear, no matter who it is. If it's not Arrested Development then it's not us, but whoever it is go out and actually support it and all of a sudden you will see the tides change. I hear so many people talk about how the gangster hip-hop makes money and I laugh at that because there was a time period when Public Enemy made money. Make no mistake about it, PE was VH1's most influential rap group of all-time, but it wasn't because they were conscious, it was because they made money and the entire nation was into them, the entire world got into them. Their merchandising made a ton of money. It's the same with so many other groups like Arrested Development, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, these various groups that made money. Conscious music can make money, people do want to buy it, you just gotta support it, get on out there and let people know what you stand for.

E: And I think on another level, my daughter, I let her listen to Ray Charles, I let her listen to Nina Simone, I let her listen to everything. As a mother I want her mind to be open to receive different things. We have to do that, too. There are a lot of amazing artists out there that are under the radar, but just like Speech said, we have to make people aware. We need to tell a friend and just keep spreading and take action.

AB: That's definitely an awesome route to success and a good lead in to my next question because Speech, you released a book titled What Is Success? I hear there's a deep Bible influence in it.

S: Without a question. It's basically the first book on the market that I've ever seen that talks about how to be successful from God's point of view. The Bible is filed with references of what God thinks about success, about life, about motivations and all of that, and this book really is like a blueprint for anyone who's interested in that viewpoint and the way God thinks of things. It's a great book to sort of help calibrate a person's mind as they're trying to achieve different things in life and yet maintain a spiritual focus on all of it.

AB: Finally, there was a fairly popular show called Arrested Development. I'm wondering, is there any beef with you between you and Jason Bateman, and if not, would you like to start one?

S: I know {*laughs*}. Nah, Jason Bateman's cool with me. It's so funny, that show, we had to go to court over that show, so there's a lot of drama with us and that show, but we settled everything and there's no beef.

AB: Is there any chance you could do a walk though scene in the much rumored about movie based on the show?

S: I definitely want to do that. The whole group should definitely have some part to play in that movie.

You can find Arrested Development online at
If you don't have "3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of..." go cop that joint!

Originally posted: July 13, 2010

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