Speech: Poor Righteous Teacher

VH1’s I Love the 90’s opted to poke fun at Arrested Development as a short-lived fad. Though the Georgia-based outfit may’ve been regurgitated by the Pop market, they have continued to have no problem finding cult-followings, and arenas of fans to hear them overseas. Plenty of groups who gained success in more recent years, would kill to be where the group is today.

In an effort to rebuild the fanbase in the U.S., front-man Speech is releasing his third album, The Vagabond in a ten-year tradition of populist-minded, musically dynamic LP’s. AllHipHop.com and Speech discuss his solo-career, the group, and the way Hip-Hop chooses to remember a group that was warmly embraced a dozen or so years ago. Ever the gentlemen, Speech delivers right to YOU…

Speech: The title is The Vagabond, it comes out on November 1st, on Blue Hammock Records, which is an indie out of New York – very music lover’s type of record.

AllHipHop.com: My mother used to call me a vagabond when I’d mess up the living room. Why that title?

Speech: I called it that because the record goes all over the place. It has Hip-Hop, it has some World music influence, and it has some Soul. I think it sorta shows my diversity as an artist.

AllHipHop.com: You get airplay on Adult Contemporary radio stations. Do you feel that your diversity is a blessing and a curse?

Speech: I think it’s only been an advantage. Because my experience is diverse. I go do like Folk festivals, I get invited, and I absolutely love ‘em. It’s like people out in nature, and I’m one of those who really love this, drum circles and cultural lessons, and kids playin’ outside. I’m from that. From my experiences, the things I’ve gotten to see, it’s just incredible. At the same time, I’ve been invited to do your Hot 97’s in New York or you name it. I have all the experiences, and I feel that a lot of artists don’t get that chance, except to be a VIP in the club. I get to experience that, but I get to experience so much more. I’m excited about my journey in the music.

AllHipHop.com: I really liked your album, Hoopla. It’s just a good record to drive to or whatever. I also thought that you going towards Folk and Rock, Hip-Hop may’ve lost you, or even resented you…

Speech: I don’t know. It’s really hard to say, brother. I felt like it’s happened at some points. But at the same time, when I meet cats like yourself, or a gangbanger from Los Angeles who runs with Ice Cube, and I meet him face to face, and he’s like, “Yo, I dig Hoopla.” [laughs] It’s cats that I wouldn’t expect be into it, are into it. That lets me know that if they can hear it, people are more diverse than people think they are. People get into a lot of stuff. Whatever moves somebody’s soul and spirit, that’s what they end up gravitating towards and vibing to at that time in their life. My music has been able to do that to some of the most unexpected people.

AllHipHop.com: On that album, you did, in my opinion, a brilliantly produced cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Like Wyclef, will you be continuing the cover? Does Vagabond have any?

Speech: Let me see, I did. I covered a Beatles tune on this record, “Across the Universe.” I didn’t even know the song, actually. But I was asked to record the song for a TV commercial in Japan, and the TV commercial was really big. Other than that, there’s no covers on this joint.

AllHipHop.com: So it’s true that Arrested Development is back in order?

Speech: That is right, man! It’s been cool, because we stopped doing music in 1995. We got back together in 2000. A lot of people don’t really know that yet, especially in America. We’ve only focused on overseas. To give you the history Jake, in 2000 we released an album, and it did incredibly well. We did a lot of touring, sellin’ out different 20,000 seaters, and on and on. Then, we released our second album [in Japan], but we released it to some other foreign countries, so we added Europe and Australia. That album was Among the Trees, and we had a number one single with that called, “Honeymoon Day” which was above U2, it was above Usher, so we get a lot of love. Now we’re finally gonna do a record for the States. I’ve got these cats who I really respect as people and artists, cat named Mike Mangini – who did Joss Stone’s records, and the first Digible Planets record. Then, I got a cat named Sam Hollander, just an old-school Hip-Hop lover, like myself. We started producing some stuff, I think it’s really hot.

AllHipHop.com: Recently, I interviewed Big Shug from the Gang Starr Foundation. He said that in the mid-90’s on EMI, you were very demanding and known to ego-trip. Looking at a statement like that, have you changed any?

Speech: I’ve definitely changed. Maturing, getting more wise, learning how to deal with this industry and deal with people one-on-one in a better way. But you know, one of the things about life that I’ve learned from youth – and I talk about it on this album in a song called “Scandal” – is being a leader of things, a leader is always gonna get some nay-sayers and is always gonna get some flack. I’m a follower of Jesus, so I feel like if Jesus Christ, who didn’t commit any sin, would still have people disagree passionately with him, then I feel like I’m in good space. So if I feel like I have people that disagree with me, I’m all good.

AllHipHop.com: No doubt, I shouldn’t have brought Shug in either. I’m just using him as an example.

Speech: Nah, it’s all good.

AllHipHop.com: Overseas listeners have heard you extensively. But for those of us who haven’t really checked for Arrested Development in the last ten years, what elements of your high points, such as “Mr. Wendell” or “Tennessee” still live in your solo and group music today?

Speech: Really, I think a lot of that same spirit is what we do to this day. Like we tour a lot. Last year, we did 200 dates out of a 365 day year. This year, we’re doing close to that already. The main thing we feel good about is that our general spirit in Arrested Development is very much the same. We haven’t changed the musical formula. If you feel Hoopla you’ll probably feel this record just the same – it has the same energy just new music. For us, we always knew what we were trying to accomplish, we just stayed doing it ever since.

AllHipHop.com: Living in Georgia, and being a Southern Hip-Hop artist, you delved into a natural sound different than 2Live Crew or Geto Boys, but certainly had elements that I feel Outkast and Nappy Roots would pull from. Do you assume any credit in the South’s success today?

Speech: I like to think that. And a lot of those cats, when I’ve met them out in the streets or wherever, or at shows, they’ve given that type of love like, “Yo, you’ve inspired us.” But to me, I feel like I’m just one of many. I’m grateful that I’ve inspired. But in other words, Tribe, Jungle Brothers, De La, P.E. inspired us. Now, we’re just one of the groups that inspired others. I don’t feel like this groups wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for us or that type of thing. I moreso feel like we had a bid in it. No one group does everything. We just played a part in inspiration.

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