In a very controlled music environment of today records go Platinum or completely fail based on a very specific formula. Hip Hop has become a business a long time ago. So who is running that business? Business people. CEOs and CFOs and CIOs who went to Ivy-League schools and then put 20-30 years into the industry of making money. Like Chris Rock said: “There are rich and wealthy people. Shaq is rich. The man who signs his checks is wealthy”. Jay-Z may run DefJam but it’s the French conglomerate Universal Music that is calling the real shots. 50 Cent may be the main man of G-Unit, but Interscope Records is the company behind it. Oh, BTW, Universal Music is the owner of that too. Of course, at the end of the day there is a lot of room for creative control for artists. Still, everyone knows that it was Suge Knight who made the money while 2Pac was enjoying his creative freedom. The Roots have a lot of space to maneuver on DefJam Left but they still have to go abroad to make real money. Businesses are run by business people. So with Hip Hop becoming more and more of a business there is less and less pure artistic input on these tracks. At the same time, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash could have never imagined that millions of people could be reached with their music. So here is the trade-off: Hip Hop has gained world-wide popularity, generates hundreds of millions per year, employs tens of thousands of people and… becomes a business more and more each day.
Is it time to declare that Hip Hop is no longer what it was and that the true essence of it has been lost? Not at all. It is about balance. While not too many acts bring balance to the table there are plenty of ‘old-school’ artists who keep it alive, conscious underground artists that focus on something different and once again there is a trend. KRS-1, who is a passionate supporter of the essence of Hip Hop, is from the Bronx. Mos Def and Talib Kweli, who push the artistic boundaries of Hip Hop, are from Brooklyn. Immortal Technique, who represents for the deprived people from the grimy streets of the hood, is from Harlem. With Southern music blasting on all radio stations and influencing artists on both coasts there are almost no known artists who create that much needed balance. When thinking of Southern music most would think of fat booty, partying, violence and would be right. Most themes in the music of T.I. and Lil’ Wayne talks of just that.
Arrested Development to the rescue. Being from Atlanta, GA they are about as pure of Southern music as it gets. Why are they different? Perhaps it’s the almost 20 years of experience. Yet, from the very beginning they have served a different brew. 15 years ago, with their debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…, they broke the rules of the music of those days. Don’t forget in 1992, the year that album dropped, Dr. Dre ruled rap. His Chronic is still the absolute pinnacle point of gansta rap. It dropped the same year and talked of the glamour and harsh parts of life in the hood. At the end of the day it taught people to be hard to survive. Arrested Development’s album talked of spirituality and love. It talked of peace. It talked of creativity.
So what now? 2007 and the rules have changed. Yet the essence of love and unity remains the same. It stays the same for Arrested Development just as much. The group went through a period of a break up and then was reunited by the efforts of one of the 2 original creators of it, Speech. Progressive Hip Hop rules on now as it did back then. New album is about to drop and Speech likes to party just the way he partied back then. Dance, smiles, harmony and joy fills BB King’s as he gets on stage. People have a good time and they enjoy it all. For a moment, or rather for about a 1.5 hour set, radio rotations don’t matter. Good music matters.
After the show Speech sits down with WORDSnTUNES to talk about the present of Arrested Development, Southern music and partying like it’s 1992.