Jerusalem's long-awaited Speech

Arrested Development has finally found the perfect venue to perform its socially conscious music.

arrested development 88 (photo credit: )
arrested development 88
(photo credit: )
After 20 years, a dream will become reality. On September 9, 2007, Arrested Development, along with The Black Eyed Peas and The Commitments, will make their way to Israel for one of the top-billed concerts of the year, "Jerusalem Rocks!" From his home in Atlanta, Georgia, Todd Thomas, a.k.a. Speech, the lead vocalist from the Grammy-award winning hip hop group, Arrested Development, tells The Jerusalem Post that the upcoming concert here will fulfill one of his life-long goals. "It's been a 20-year dream," he says of performing in the Holy Land. Though it's the first time Arrested Development will step foot in Israel, it's not the first time it has been invited to perform. The security situation over the years has prevented some of the band's attempts to perform here, but as the members see it, this time around it's meant to be. "Jerusalem Rocks!: A Concert for Peace" is very much in tune with the positive, socially conscious message of Arrested Development, which has always resisted negative "gangsta" rap trends. The concert, which will likely sell out Teddy Stadium's 20,000 seats, is being billed as one of the largest in Jerusalem's history. Planned as a seven or eight hour affair, it will feature international groups as well as Israeli musicians as warm up acts - among them Arab performers from the Jerusalem area. Arrested Development is one of the major headliners. The group first rose to fame in 1992 after releasing its debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of.... The title represents how long it took before they were offered a record deal. The album produced several hit tracks, including "Tennessee," "People Everyday," and "Mr. Wendal," and was so successful it won the Grammy for the Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group ("Tennessee") and for Best New Artist. Speech, the group's founder (along with former band member, Headliner), was born in Milwaukee and became interested in music as a career at 13. He started out as a DJ at his father's club in Milwaukee, The Fox Trap. "Mixing was the thing...I was able to mix records together on beat," Speech says, a talent that very few possessed in those days. Shortly thereafter, Speech formed a group called Attack and put out an album, which was only the second album to come out of Milwaukee at that time. The first album belonged to the eventual Grammy-award winning artist, Al Jarreau. In 1987, Speech moved to Atlanta to pursue a record deal. "I promised my parents I would go to college...they gave me two years (to get a record deal)," he recalls. While attending the Art Institute of Atlanta, he put out a flyer looking for a DJ. That's when Speech met DJ Headliner and they formed the group. Speech spoke of touring throughout the South in what was called the "Chitlin Circuit." As he performed what he called "Celebrations," inviting various people onto the stage to perform with them. Before they knew it, a larger group had materialized. "At one point, we had 19 people," says Speech. Eventually, they reduced the group to six. Although its music and performances increased in popularity, Arrested Development still didn't receive a record deal. Speech returned to Milwaukee and kept his promise to his parents by attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While a junior at UWM, Speech received the news that they were being offered a record deal. The other five members of the group met up with Speech, and Arrested Development made their first album together at the Tracks 32 studio in Milwaukee. All the members bunked at Speech's house until they finished recording the album. The rest was history. After its early success, fame and "creative differences" got the best of Arrested Development and its members went their separate ways in 1996. From that point, Speech pursued a solo career. His debut solo album, Speech, was released in 1996, and though sales were weak in the US, he gained a following in Japan. "Like Marvin Said," his first single, was a number one hit there for seven weeks. "My solo career in Japan blew up," Speech recounts. He went on to record four more solo albums. In 2000, former member Montsho Eshe contacted Speech about the possibility of reuniting. All the members, apart from Headliner, agreed, and the group began producing records and touring under Speech's Vagabond Productions and Speech Music label. "We didn't have the chance to really develop as a group," Speech explains of their initial success. The reunited group now consists of eight members. Today, popular rap artists, like Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, and T-Pain are saturating the airwaves in the US with their music. Arrested Development is conspicuously harder to hear. Speech's response to this can be summed up in one word, "censorship." "Positive Hip Hop doesn't go with the pop culture," he bemoans. "Arrested Development's music sends a positive message and is inspiring." Speech attributes the group's original widespread success to the fact that the 90's were so diverse. Program managers at the various radio stations had more control and played a variety of music. Today, the program managers have less control and the stations are more interested in "playing music that makes you shop," says Speech. Rappers talk about cars, jewelry, and shoes, while positive music is considered a downer. "It's the point of view of the people. I have to accept this reality." Speech, however, has always stayed true to his heart and music. On September 9, Arrested Development will get the chance to spread its positive message to Israelis at the concert for peace. "I'm looking forward to it," says Speech. He certainly isn't the only one.