Oral History Interview with
[Arrested Development]

Interviewed by John Stringer for Fall 2022 Morehouse College term paper.



John: All right. So, I’m excited to be here with none other than the amazing, powerful brother, Speech from Arrested Development. It’s an honor to get to talk to … and it’s just an honor to be with you, brother. Thank you for who you are, what you do, how you bless so many of us with your talent, with your spirit, with how you show up. So thank you for being here, brother.

Speech: Thank you. I want to say hey, congratulations for this, you know, landmark in your life and same difference for you. Like how you show up, John, is always inspiring, always welcoming and just good to the spirit. I’m always grateful to spend time with you. So, thank you.

John: Thank you, brother. I appreciate that. So, let’s dive in, man. One of the beautiful things I’ve been learning is how economic power and political power are necessities for progress with any ethnic group when there’s a majority ethnic group that may have a history of impeding their progress, right? So, what we’ve seen is some political improvements without economic improvement and then we started to see some economic improvements and see political, and things pull back and so we kind of have a history of that in this country (America). I understand your family was part of the civil rights movement and that you come from a background of, history or a lineage of that. Can you talk a little bit about that and fill us in?

Speech: Yeah. So, I mean my family since the very beginnings, as far as I know from America at least, we’re involved with striving to break down the barriers race wise. In business and in black opportunities. So, on my mother’s side, all the way back as far as we know, they broke the barriers of being the first teachers, the first educators. And this was obviously during a time when segregation and overt racism was the call of the day. So, this was a time when they really had to fight just to get a right that a white person, for instance, automatically had. John: Right. Speech: So, that’s on my mom side and my father’s side, similar differences: my grandmother was an activist in the rural South of Tennessee to fight for voting for black people and for education for black children… and then my mother and father both took that on when they met each other… and fought for rights in my hometown of Wisconsin. So, they came to Wisconsin and fought for rights to be able to own black businesses in areas where the buildings were previously owned by whites and there was racism in allowing blacks to own those buildings. It was an overt racism. It was systemic racism where they would just deny the bank loans that was needed to get the buildings and so on and so forth. So, my mother and father would circumvent that by getting funding from other blacks who had monies to try to get their houses. And then pay them back. So, you know, circumventing the banks, which were racist at the time. This was in the 30s, ,40s or 50s. Circumventing those banks to get loans from other blacks that would help empower other blacks. So that was one of their things. And then starting a newspaper, my mother started the largest black newspaper in Wisconsin that’s still the largest to this day. It’s called the Milwaukee Community Journal. The reason she started that was because after the riots of ‘68 when Dr. Martin Luther King JR. was murdered and assassinated. There were riots all across the country, but in Milwaukee, there were also race riots and so there was a lot of looting of the black community. Businesses were burnt down, smashed up, destroyed. And so those businesses, once they got their stores ready to be opened again, needed to spread the news that their stores were open for business. Well, there was no black newspapers at the time and the white newspaper called the Milwaukee Sentinel was not covering black stories at the time because of racism. So, my mother started a pamphlet called the Soul City Shopper, which would later be called the Milwaukee Community Journal, which enable black businesses to advertise and get the word out that they were open for business and trying to get people through their doors again.

So that was her way of activism. My mom’s name was Patricia Patillo and when she was married to my dad, Patricia O’flynn Thomas. She would become the first black woman president of the National Newspaper Association, (NPA). It was a black newspaper association that was striving to unite nationwide to get nationwide ads from big companies like Coca-Cola or Sears of that time at least, and the equivalent of Walmart, like Kmart, back in these days, Walmart didn’t exist yet when she first started… but these national ads, instead of each paper regionally, globally trying to get these national ads, they would make a coalition and she would be the first woman president of that coalition.

My dad would start numerous entrepreneurial efforts in Milwaukee and in fact, he became largest black… well he became, I think it was, the “Best Business Entrepreneur” Award winner in 1980 and as a black man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That was a huge achievement. My point is, and the reason, is because he had started numerous businesses. He started some gas stations. He started a catering business. He started a fast-food restaurant. The first fast-food restaurant in a black neighborhood that had a drive-through back in those days. McDonald’s, for instance, was in black neighborhoods, but they did not want to have drive throughs because they didn’t trust that the people would give money in exchange for the food. They thought that they would get robbed. So, my father opened up a black fast-food restaurant called Robbie’s and it did extremely well. Then McDonald’s, of course, came in with the drive through and did the same thing. So, my point is he started numerous businesses and together they were a power couple and just really worked hard to give black people places that they could shop and get their news from, but also, hire and empower other black people because of their businesses.

John: That’s beautiful, man. What was your dad’s full name, by the way?

Speech: My father’s name is Robert Thomas.

John: Robert Thomas, thank you. And I know I believe he is a staple at the Milwaukee festival scene, right?

Speech: The Summerfest, yeah. So, my father also started a corn roasting business called Robbie’s Roasted Corn, which is still live. My wife and I run it and it’s been going strong. So, at Summerfest, which was the largest music festival in the world, well, it was… I think something’s beat it recently, but up until two or three years ago, Summerfest was the largest music festival in the world… and it was in Milwaukee, WI. At that festival, my father started selling corn back in 1980 (or so), but I forget the exact year he started. But 45 years later, it’s a staple in Milwaukee.

John: And you’re keeping the legacy going. So, with their (your parents) entrepreneurial spirit, did you feel like some of that rubbed off on you or did they proactively encourage you in that direction? …because obviously you became an entrepreneur. How did that come about?

Speech: Yeah, just being around my family. It was very much soaking into me. The thought of, OK, if someone doesn’t want to give you opportunity over here, create your own opportunities. Open your own doors and thereby not only do you create an opportunity for yourself, but you create an opportunity for others. Because you’re able to hire people. So you’re not just begging or waiting for someone to give you something. Instead, go out and try to make your own way.

So, one of the biggest blessings of me as a young kid was being around my mother and father. Both of them worked pretty much full-time jobs. And so, often after school, I would end up going to either my father’s… one of his businesses and just hanging out there playing with toys, but watching him do his thing, or being with my mother and her newspaper and watching her do her things. So, I got to learn a lot of, you know, fundamental concepts. You know, leadership is important, ownership is important, creating your own opportunities, self-determination. These were things that just being around my mother and father, I was able to soak that in and it was very, very instrumental for who I would become.

John: What was the first business experience you had and was that as an entrepreneur or working for someone else? What was your first venture?

Speech: Well, my first job ever was with my dad working at the corn roast. So, I was eight and I used to work at the corn roast and, you know, seeing my brother working there, my brother’s friends all worked there during the summer and then, as I got older, all my friends worked there during the summer. So, I got to see firsthand just seeing how my dad created this opportunity. But with that, me and my friends get to make money and we would go buy stupid stuff with our money at the time – the new converse or the new, you know, guest jeans or whatever we wanted to buy at the time and my brother, he and his friends made money from my father’s business, and they were able to go get the things that they liked. So, it taught me that, wow, you know, having this business in my own family not only gave me opportunity, but it gave my friends and all my peer group opportunities as well if they wanted to work. And that turned out to be a tradition. So even to this day at the corn roast we hire a lot of kids from Atlanta who come up to Milwaukee with Yolanda, my wife and I and we hire kids from Milwaukee, So, generation after generation, a lot of times, the corn roast ends up being a lot of children’s first job opportunities. So that was my first job opportunity.

And one of the things that I learned personally was that you can’t hide from work because I used to run from the work. I used to try to sort of tuck myself somewhere in the corner where my dad couldn’t see me and he would always search for me. So even if there was someone else working or able to work, he would look for me to do it and I thought he was picking at me at my young age. I thought that, but I realized when I got older that he was making sure I learned how to work.

And what I learned from that is stop running cuz they’ll find you and you’ll have to work even harder. So instead, just approach the work right off the bat. Like ask whoever the leader is of the job, just go to him or her and say “Listen. What else can I do?” And the more I found that I did that, the less there was for me to do because I had done it all. And once you did it all, it was like nothing else to do. It was like you get a chance to relax a lot more and not have the anxiousness of somebody looking for you because you’re running from them, you know. So there’s a lot of lessons that I learned.

John: That’s beautiful, man. So, after the corn roasting job, at what point did you turn toward entrepreneurship? Did you have several other jobs you did before you turned into an entrepreneur? I know one of the great things you were able to do was deejaying and other things. Did that come first and then you had your first musical experience or what?

Speech: Yes. So, my father owned a nightclub, that was one of his businesses, and I used to see the DJ’s rock in there. I was thoroughly impressed and inspired by them. So, I wanted to learn to DJ. I learned how to DJ from some of his older DJs. They were probably 10 years older than me and I got good at it. At that same time, the intersection of hip-hop would start to become a thing. So, in the late 70s, Rapper’s Delight, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, things like this started coming out and so turntables were being used differently when hip hop came into play as opposed to what it was being used for before hip hop. So, before hip hop, they used to let the records fade out and then fade a record in, nothing on beat. And then hip hop came in and it was more of a seamless scratching, mixing type style of DJing. And so, I was the only guy in my whole city that knew how to do that at the time. So, at the age of 13, I started deejaying because I had a new skill and I knew how to DJ. I started doing parties at other places – at high schools, at basements, house parties, at numerous little night clubs, venues that were around the city. And I would charge. I would charge people to do their wedding or to do their birthday party or to just do a house party or whatever. And as soon as I got old enough, I would also do nightclubs and stuff like that. I just couldn’t be around the bar. But back in those days, at least they would allow me at 18 to do certain nightclubs as well. So yeah, I did my father’s nightclub at the age 13 because it was my father’s nightclub, yeah, but I was able to do other clubs as well later.

John: Where did the transition from DJ to actual artist, how did that occur?

Speech: Yeah, it was a gradual love of the art, you know, DJing, especially in the hip-hop way, was very artistic, you know? As opposed to just playing a record, we were scratching a record, creating rhythms and making beats. And so, I started making, you know, basically songs in my bedroom with my turntables, just playing a song, stopping my cassette deck, looping it with pause and play and just kept hitting pause, play, pause, play of loops before I ever had a sampler or any musical equipment. So, I was learning that because of my DJ skills that I could make music. You know, and so I started doing that. And then when I got really good at it, I started the hip hop group called Attack in Milwaukee. It was me, a guy named Kevin Heyman, which he lives in Atlanta now – his name is DJ Kimmett now – and then a guy named TA Wiz. Rest in peace. TA Wiz was murdered in 1992 I want to say. So, for probably two or three years, I had a rap group called Attack in Milwaukee. And we literally pressed records, released them. I started producing other acts in Milwaukee. So, I had like, you know, a Tribe called Quest and De La Soul: they had a collective called Native Toungs and it was basically Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, so on and so forth. I had a collective in Milwaukee called the Fresh Walking Family and it was my group, Attack, and a number of other groups. Ans so I started producing those other groups as well.

John: Was Attack {the group you got} your first deal {with} or was it with a different group?

Speech: Well, I didn’t get a deal and instead, we tried to get a deal, but we were not successful. None of the labels were looking at Milwaukee as even a possibility for hip hop at that time. Hip hop was solely East Coast and West Coast. So, to circumvent it, like what I was saying before, my father said, well, why don’t you press your own records up and I’ll make a business with you?” So, we started my own label – me and my dad – called Canvas Records. And on Canvus Records, we started releasing not only my own group’sn stuff, but these other groups that I mentioned through our Independent Record label. For each record, we would probably press up about 200 copies and I think the cost for each record was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000, maybe $2000 tops. And we would sell each record for, if I’m not mistaken, maybe $15 a record. And it was a maxi single, basically like a 12-inch single. And so I would make money through that. And of course, I still was a DJ, so I would make money through that all throughout my high school years.

John: In high school, huh?

Speech: Yeah.

John: You got started early. That’s beautiful. So, in Milwaukee, you start your own label in high school, which is amazing, your pops is helping out…. and at what point did the music begin to take a turn or was it, was it there already? Like, “you know what, this might be my career!” At what point did you start to think, “man, I really want to pursue this as the full-time thing for me.”

Speech: That was it. I mean, in high school, I knew I wanted to be a full-time musician since my freshman year and because of that, I did horribly in high school, which I regret. I ended up flunking 6th grade and having to take that again. And then by 8th grade I just kept having to take a lot of classes over – like geometry, algebra – just taking them over and over again because I would keep flunking because I was so focused on music, right? Not proud of that. But what I learned from that was, again, what I learned about the work ethic, which is stop running from learning these things. Because if you’re meant to learn it, go ahead and learn it and get it out the way, or else you just repeat. You rinse and repeat and rinse and repeat. It’s more frustrating to repeat classes than it is to just go ahead and knock it out.

John: Amen to that, bro. I’ve had a few experiences like that myself. That’s not fun. So, once you found early that love, that focus, knew what you wanted and … had a clear vision of where you wanted to go. A lot of people in high school are still figuring that out… for that matter, people in college are still trying to figure it out, so that’s cool that you locked on early. So, where did you begin to start seeing “Hey, this is working!”? Was that happening in high school already and you just kept building the momentum because you were already seeing, “hey, this is great”? Or was it later that you started to see those kinds of milestones?

Speech: I think the first milestone was in high school with my group Attack. I did feel like it was working, but only locally. We tried to spread it out regionally because Milwaukee is in the Midwest, so some of the states, the neighboring states like Illinois and Michigan, well, the cities that are sort of important in those states are Chicago and Detroit. So, my father, with his help financially and wisdom wise, we would take my group on tour to Chicago, to Detroit, to try to gain more fans and try to get more traction. We would hire some of the popular rap groups at the time. So, we hired, for instance, Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff . Now at that time, they only had one single out. It was their first single. I think it was “Girls of the world ain’t nothing but trouble,” right? And back in those days there were no album covers for singles, so I didn’t know what they look like. So we paid DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince to perform. They came to the show, but to give you an idea of how much of a fraud it was – and I didn’t know this because I didn’t know what they looked like – Fresh Prince was about 400 lbs and if anybody knows Will Smith, they know he’s never been 400 lbs – ever in his whole life. And Jazzy Jeff was, you know, just some other guy. So, when the cover of the record came out, we realized that we had been had.

Side note, this was during the 80s and crack was huge in Detroit and if you’ve ever heard of the drug dealing group called BMF – Black Mafia family, huge drug dealing collective. – they were huge in Detroit and they were using kids to sell drugs. So, I was seeing kids at age 11 years old selling drugs with mink furs on driving Cadillacs. These are kids because they’re making money. But they would if they got caught by the police, they would only do juvenile crime. Sentences as opposed to sentences. So there was a there was a rhyme and reason to everything that was going on. My my point is, is that we were trying to expose our group. We were getting ripped off, but it did expose our group. But we never really got past that regional. Effort you know. And so there was a a glass ceiling if you will. Just being in the Midwest. This is pre Kanye West. Pre common pre no ID pre people that would come from Detroit and from Chicago. Or sorry.

John: Was that part of your migration like it was that part of the reason why you left the Midwest to come to Atlanta? Or were there other reasons?

Speecgh: The biggest factor was that there was a glass ceiling. I’d gone as far as I could go in Milwaukee and I knew I couldn’t get any further, so I decided to come down South. Now I already had an affinity towards the South because I had spent time with my grandmother in Tennessee every summer for all my childhood. So, I loved the South. Never spent time in Atlanta. But I came to Atlanta because so many people were saying there was a lot of opportunity for black people in Atlanta at that time. The mayor of our city at the time was very pro, getting black people jobs quotas.

John: Maynard Jackson.

Speech: Thank you. Cool. So, Maynard was very pro having literal quotas for a percentage of huge city bids to be black businesses – really forcing the racism in this country to be overcome through forcing them to hire a certain amount of black entrepreneurs and businesses. And so black people were doing well in Atlanta. Where I grew up, in Milwaukee, there was no black middle-class neighborhood, whereas in Atlanta there were hundreds of black middle-class neighborhoods. So, I moved to Atlanta for opportunity and that’s when I started Arrested Development. I stopped my group Attack because the other two members still lived in Milwaukee. I was the only one that went to Atlanta. So, then I started a group called Arrested Development.

John: Now, just to put a date on it, what year did you move to Atlanta?

Speech: 1987

John: I know a little bit of the history we don’t have to cover all of that. As far as how Arrested Development started, I know you had like 20 something and ten of them got signed, ten of them became part of the group but. Along the way in Atlanta, what work did you all do to cut your chops. Did youbegin to develop a following first and then start attracting the label interest? How did from the business side of things, how did that happen? Was it because you had already created that buzz like back in the day? It’s like focus on creating your buzz locally and becoming a hot item and then the labels get interested OR how did y’all do it?

Speech: Yeah, that was pretty much it. So, OK, we started doing talent shows and performing for free a lot in Atlanta and we were winning talent shows and from there, people started really liking what we were about and certain business people, there was a guy -I forget his name now – I think it’s Gene. Not Gene Kelly, but anyway, it was a brother named Gene something. He ended up managing Teddy Riley. He was a really big player in the Atlanta area, and he actually was sort of like Suge Knight. I mean, he was a little dangerous, too. . But we didn’t go with him although he liked us. He wanted to sign us. We ended up going with Jermaine Dupri’s father. His name is Michael Malden. He believed in us enough to become our manager. And then, you know, we just kept making music, kept doing shows, and, you know, sooner than later we had songs. We put out an EP on vinyl on our own record label without a label.

We had four songs, none of which were on our debut album, but we had four songs. So me and Headliner, who was the first person to join the group other than, of course, me and him put our monies together to put that record out and you know we sold probably 50 copies and then the rest of them we gave away because back in those days there was no online ways to share music or anything,. You either sent cassette tapes or you sent something. But we would send vinyl records to various people. And a lot of people were impressed by the fact that we went that far. Like we weren’t just asking for an opportunity. We had already started creating our own opportunities. And so people sort of looked at that entrepreneurial spirit and that “go get it” spirit and that added some value to what we brought to the table as a group. And then Michael Malden shopped us for record companies and we got turned down by everyone of them except for Chrysalis,=, Chrysalis Records said they wanted to do a deal with us. We took a single deal with them. It wasn’t an album deal. We had a single deal of “Mr. Wendell” on side A and side B was gonna be a song called “Natural.” And then, well, unfortunately, right around that time when we were about to release the single, my grandmother passed. The one that I used to spend all my summers with in Tennessee, she passed. My family went down to Tennessee to celebrate her life. And that same week, my brother, my only brother, he died of an asthma attack. And so the last place I saw him and my grandmother was in Tennessee. So, I wrote that Song, “Tennessee”, and I asked the label, well, actually, I really sort of demanded the label – because I was in a deep emotional distress at the time – I told the label I didn’t want to do “Mr. Wendell” as the single. I wanted to do this song I wrote called “Tennessee”, and they heard it, loved it. gave me the budget to shoot a music video for it.

We went to Georgia, up to the down South parts of Georgia to shoot that video. They saw the video, loved it. Decided to give us an album deal. And that’s when we did the rest of the album and put it out soon after. At that time, we were signed, there was a group called Follow for now, a rock group that was also signed to the same label, same time. But follow for now unfortunately got dropped and we were kept. So, they released “Tennessee”. It shot to #1 on the rap charts, then itshot to #1 on R&B charts. It shot to #6 on the pop charts.

John: Yeah, that was… I want to say… I can’t remember if that was one of the first things I heard from you all or not.

Speech: Yeah, it would have been.

John: Yeah, OK. But I know when I heard that, I was in awe. And I grew up in Tennessee. Tennessee was my birth place.

Speech: What part?

John: I was born in Knoxville, but I grew up in Chattanooga, TN. I spent all my summers in place called Spring City, TN, which is kind of like real country farms. I would would ride horses, teach kids to ride, all that. Yeah. So when I heard that song, I was like “ohh heck yeah1!” It was an anthem, man. So I loved it. It’s amazing how challenges – the things you went through – can sometimes birth and inspire those things that become healing for others and yourself, you know? Such a such a great gem. One quick question about the racial environment. Clearly, there was political influence in Atlanta to create opportunity. One of the things that attracted you. Funny enough, Atlanta has a history of that – a long history, which is beautiful. That’s why it’s been able to sustain that, unlike some other places (thankfully, there are other places). When you got to Atlanta, when it came to the business side of things and you’re having a black manager in different things like that, did you see any racial components – any challenges or did you feel like because of this environment, things just clicked and move forward as if you feel like there weren’t any racial hurdles early on?

Speech” Um, yeah, very much so. At every turn, you know, just being a black creative is tough because you’re creating black music from a black heart and a black experience and a black soul. And yet you know that, at least back in these days, you had to somehow appeal to a white aesthetic in a white perspective, because they were the ones that were signing the deals. They were the ones that had the money to pay you for your art, to distribute your art, to market your art, to promote your art. So, there was always that dichotomy of creating something authentic from your own black experience. And yet. Somehow making sure that it’s either commercial enough or relatable enough that the people that had the control and the money were willing to invest in it. You know what I mean? So that was one of the obstacles that we had to strive to overcome, right? And then, we overcame that.

We’ll never forget the first time going to New York once we had gotten signed. They had no marketing plan nor idea of a plan for our album for our single. So me as a 20 something year old, they asked me to come, me and Headliner to come to New York, Madison Ave of the Americas in New York, one of the biggest strips for business – and go to the high rise… and go to the conference room and express to them, which I had to have in my mind, “how would this work in America?” “How do you market this? How do you promote this?” And that’s another obstacle because as a black artist, and with hip hop, which was relatively new still, you just didn’t have a lot of white people that were experienced enough to understand how to market it and then a lot of blacks weren’t in those positions of power to market it. So, a lot of times, we as artists had to wear many, many hats. So, you’re their artist, but you’re also the person coming up with how this could be marketed, why this will work with the black community, how we can then turn it into something that can work with the white community, how can this cross over to other stations? And so, all of these things are on the mind of a 20 year old rap artist, you know what I mean? So that’s in and of itself, that was a very big obstacle, so yeah.

John: And clearly it worked. What y’all came up with, thank goodness, right? But even meteorically, it seems yeah. I remember when y’all were sweeping awards – Everything y’all touched, just boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s Arrested Development with everything! My understanding was people didn’t even want to be up against y’all at that time because y’all were just winning everything, man. So what do you attribute that to? One, I know is great music, but what do you attributen – because there’s a lot of great artists with great…well, let me rephrase that: There’s a lot of great artists who don’t get that opportunity to cut through. Given I know the environment was very different than what you all were like, you all came uniquely with kind of a fresh sound and message. Like, I guess what I’m asking is how did you convince them that this was going to work? And what was the angle that you all took to make it work? Because it just blew up! The music was amazing, don’t get me wrong. What convinced people to take whatever strategy you helped create forward? How did it happen?

Speech: Yeah, you know, there were a few things for me as an artist. I also had to think of the marketing for this, I had to look at a few successes and convince the people that these things can work. So, one of them was “Three feet high and rising” De la Soul’s album. Their debut album was very experimental, but they were an Upper East Coast group, you know, and so they were not from the South. But it was still very experimental and it still worked. One of the big reasons it worked was because they had a single like “Me, myself and I” as their first single which used an old classic Funkadelic record and it helped for familiarity, while the rest of their concept was quite new and unique, right? So, I think they came out inmaybe 89, maybe 90. With Arrested Development, I knew that there was a way to teach a broad audience if you have some similarities or familiarity to the music while you’re bringing everything else as a totally different concept and a new concept. So, songs like “People Every day” for instance, would use like the chorus of “Everyday People” from Sly and the Family Stones. Sounds like “Tennessee”, which was more of a that, was more of a risk record because I was in such pain and in such of a search, a soul search. That I think the boom bap sort of “Funky drummer” James Brown drums played a big role in that. And just the fact that I was bringing something new to the rap world, which was a melodic style of rapping prior to Arrested Development, to my nature, to my knowledge, I never heard anybody do a melodic style of rap for their whole record, you know? So, I felt like certain elements of what we were bringing to the table could relate to a lot of people.

Then there were other elements that were happening in the early 90s that I thought could benefit us, which was the alternative scene. So, there were a lot of alternative visuals in alternative music that were very much catching on, you know, groups like Nirvana and the Grunge scene out of Seattle. And so you’re seeing this alternative energy that really is catching on to a great swath of America. And I figured if we could do our videos in more of an alternative way, where it’s not just your normal rap video where it’s a basketball hoop or the chain link fences or the big brownstones or the tall, you know, sort of torn down buildings and poverty stricken neighborhoods… and instead go with this southern rural, totally new, fresh way of looking at hip-hop, but also with a very artistic visual aesthetic. So, our first video, “Tennessee” was very much that. It was very much taking the visuals very seriously, almost like a photography book so people could see the video. If you imagine a black and white photography book, that’s what the director and I – Milk Show, who was from a foreign country… I forget, I think Turkey. But anyway, Milk Show flew in. I had chosen him to shoot the video and he flew in and we wanted to try to go for a very artistic aesthetic as opposed to just a gritty sort of “watch me in the camera” aesthetic, you know, like, hands and the camera, right, just styling, you know, stuff like that. So we didn’t go for that type of vibe. We were going for more of an artistic thing, which would be reminiscent of the alternative music scene that was going on and going for a more heavy drum sound on “Tennessee,” which was reminiscent of, sort of the the James Brown boom bap sound that was sort of happening at the time.

John: So, the content, without question musically, had both the familiar you’re saying weaving in some of the familiar as well as something fresh and new and then the aesthetics of the visuals, all put together, created a very enticing package?

Speech: Without questions.

John: I really didn’t have to see the videos. I just listened to the music, and I was hooked. But yeah, video definitely helped. So, when it came to content also, early on, like which… was “Revolution” on your first album?

Speech: It wasn’t actually.

John: OK.

Speech: It was late after our {first} album was released. Spike Lee was doing the film on the life of Malcolm X, and he asked us to do a theme song that he wrote about revolution.

John: Beautiful, …so “People Every Day”… several of {the songs} had, to me, had a conscious message to them. It wasn’t just entertaining. It wasn’t just braggadocious. There was a lesson in it. Like “Mr. Wendal.” I call that conscious hip-hop. Like if it’s teaching something that empowers us, if it teaches something that enlightens us, right? To me, that’s conscious hip hop. So, was that the intent, early on, to weave that into your music? Because… I can think of multiple songs… {that are} coming up for me. But yeah, is that an intentional move? And it even felt like that was very much the history of the group. And if so, why? Why did you do that?

Speech: Yeah, it was very intentional. Growing up in Milwaukee, you see the polarity of white reality and black reality. Black people in Milwaukee, generally speaking, lived in the ghetto. White people in Milwaukee, generally speaking, lived in the middle-class & upper-class neighborhoods. Most of the nice established businesses were White owned. Most of the run-down businesses were black on. This was the reality of Milwaukee. It’s very polar opposites and Milwaukee was rated as one of… actually, for many years in a row, was rated as the worst city in the United States for black people to live. So being in that atmosphere and being around my mother’s newspaper, which dealt with all the positives and negatives in the black community, I was very aware of the issues. I knew that I wanted to start a group that was going to address the issues. I knew that we as a people were in a state of Arrested Development. So, I put that as the name of the group to constantly remind myself what I’m fighting against. So yes, it was very intentional. We want to make conscious music. We want to change the narrative of what Black Music is at that time. At that time, a lot of it was N.W.A, ICE T, Ice Cube, all of which brought certain valuable things to the table. But most of it, ultimately, turned into a lot of degrading of black women, a lot of glorification of violence, and selling drugs, and pimping, and things that were destroying the community. So, we wanted to come out with a different narrative than that. And so, all of that was very intentional.


John: So, what I love… like I’ve been listening, following, and the last two albums you all put out have been, to me, just quality messages, I feel, having that mass appeal of contemporary… and have been as equally as moving to me as your earliest material. Now I feel like the US., when you tune into the top ten, it’s not really supporting that kind of music, but the messaging in there. I mean, some of the stuff, bro, you had me tripping. I’m listening and hearing Deepak Chopra on the on the track or something. I’m like, “wait a minute, what?” This is good stuff. So that’s conscious hip hop in another way.

Speech: Yeah, it is.

John: But what I what I love is you kept that same type of empowering messaging – is how I would phrase it – enlightening messaging throughout these last couple of albums as well. And so, I just, I don’t even have a question there. I’m just saying “thank you” because I feel like that’s important. Even if we’re bobbing our heads, et cetera, and even if it’s a little braggadocious in there too, right. It’s like that’s going to appeal to people, but then to be able to slide in that wonderful empowering message to turn the lights on, right? I feel like that’s what your music does, man. And just yeah, I love it, bro. I can’t thank you enough for continuing that legacy, continuing to make hot stuff so we can bob our head, man.

Speech: I appreciate your support, man. You’ve been so vocal, so visible as a support, and it means everything to me. So, I really appreciate it and my pleasure. Being similar to what I was feeling in the 90s I’ve had to recalibrate and reinvent, in some ways, the group because the landscape changed so much and what people were looking for changed so much. So, yeah, I think the last two albums were Configa – that Don’t Fight Your Demons album and For The FKN Love album – were a reevaluation, and therefore, reinvention, in a sense, of “how do we approach the same mission but in a different way.” And so, you’re right, it has found a lot more success and you’re right, it hasn’t reached that mainstream success that we’ve had in the 90s, but it has reached a lot of new listeners and a great deal of passionate fans who really love what we’re doing right now.

John: And that’s beautiful, brother. And the reality to me, as we’ve talked about – there still seems to be a little bit of the gatekeeper thing going on in music in the US specifically, where if it’s not a certain thing, it doesn’t get that huge push, and if you’re not fitting into these cookie cutter things, the machine doesn’t necessarily get behind you, right? You got to do it all yourself, right?

Speech: That’s a fact.

John: OK. And so for you all having the kind of messaging you’re having and seeing, from my perspective it seems like over the last couple years in the US, things have built more, but it seemed like prior to that you were continuing to build outside of the US. Would that be accurate?

Speech: Yeah, that would be. Thank God that places like Europe have a lot more appreciation for tradition. So, they like soul music still. They like R&B music. And I mean that as not just like a Chris Brown and what not, but like R&B, like Earth, Wind and Fire or Al Green, Soul music, Funk music. There’s still Funk festivals and Soul festivals. There’s not really that in America. So, they appreciate tradition. And so, what I mean by that is, they appreciate groups like Arrested Development, who brought them something 30 years ago. They want to hear what we’re doing now. Now I just mentioned Europe, but it’s also Canada, it’s Africa, it’s Australia and New Zealand. Dubai. So, thank God there’s other countries and places that appreciate tradition and they appreciate if something is great. They will celebrate it and they will support it. So yeah, throughout the last 30 years after our big run in the United States in the 90s, we’ve been able to sustain because of countries like that.

John: And how has this last… well, obviously, the pandemic? That probably impacted everybody’s business. I know you were touring at the top prior to, up into that time, but after the pandemic, and as things begin to open up, has anything surprised you with business since the pandemic and up until now in your business? And what have you been doing?

Speech: Yes, just the number of fans that are ready to get back out and support the music. We’ve toured more this year in Europe than any other time in my entire 30 years.

John: Wow.

Speech: And that’s partially because of the closed down state that everybody was in for the pandemic for two years. And the other positive thing about the pandemic is it allowed me to create Don’t Fight Your Demons and For The FKN Love which both were created during the pandemic. I met Configa during the pandemic, virtually at least, and I met him in person when I just went to London earlier this year. But prior to that I had never met him. But we did 2 albums together, so you know, like we’re doing now on Zoom: passing files via online, creating songs back and forth via online, using technology, we’re able to create whole albums and get numerous people to collaborate that we weren’t in the same room with. So that was the double-edged sword of the pandemic, right?

John: That makes sense. One last question that I haven’t phrased yet, but I’m going to try to speak it out: So, I know you come from a similar background, we crossed paths in the past and we’re part of a background that really looked at cultures as worthy of respect and love. Like, didn’t necessarily say, “hey, this culture is better than this culture.” It wasn’t about superiority, it’s about connection and love, right? So, with that sort of view, I know just as some of my music targets specific topics, I explained it like this: if one of your members of the family is hurting, you focus attention there, right? You put some attention {there} to heal the wound. You love all the family, but this one is hurt. So, you’re going to focus… and sometimes that’s necessary. With your approach and your music, of course, you mentioned how your background informed you of that contrast that you saw. Now, moving forward, where do you feel that mission is now with music when it comes to Black culture, when it comes to all cultures? Do you have a specific intent of what you want to do with the music going forward or where are you at with that?

Speech: Yeah. It’s still the same. You know, when I go home to Milwaukee, it’s still the same. Even as I look at the American landscape, it’s very similar, meaning the racial dynamic and the racial disparities. And even when I go overseas. I can go to Australia and the Aboriginal people are fighting a very similar struggle as we are as black Americans. I can go to the islands, or even to South Africa, for instance. And while Africans are black, Africans are the majority, White Africans are the powerful minority to this very day. So you still see the remnants of colonialism, the slave trade, and what that did. The Berlin Conference, which was a conference held where different countries in Europe decided which countries in Africa they were going to take. So, they had a meeting called the Berlin Conference where they decided “which ones are we going to steal? OK, we’ll steal this country, we’ll steal this country, the natural resources, the dollar, the opportunities for people to thrive” in those countries. So, I still see it, so the music still remains with the primary focus on people of the African diaspora.

Well, one thing I’ve learned about being an artist is you don’t pick your fan base. You can pick your topics, but you can’t pick your fanbase. I’m very grateful for the fan base we have. It is many whites, it is Africans, it is Aboriginals, it is people from the indigenous cultures throughout the world, and it is people of, you know, black American, you know, descent. So, I’m very grateful. We have a very international audience and I think our fan base understands that we probably are going to approach things from a black perspective, and they’re cool with it. I think that that’s what they’ve come to expect from an Arrested Development project.

John: I love that brother and last word, man. I want to leave it to you. If there’s one thing for the readers, considering a lot of this is going to be typed up, that you would want to leave as a message to whoever’s been listening to this, what would that be?

Speech: You know, I would say that black entrepreneurship is of multi pronged importance. One is it gives you the opportunity to create your own destiny. But two is it gives other people within the community an opportunity to create their own destinies through employment and through dignity and through, you know, just having that opportunity. And it also helps to inspire other entrepreneurs to do the same. So, I think that it is just an extremely powerful asset as a people. I don’t do a whole lot of begging for opportunity. Instead, I aask,and I I fight to gain access to monies and things that I can build on my own. That’s a very big thing for me and I think anyone reading this can learn that entrepreneurship is very important to having the power to excel and to propel yourself into the future and your people into the future.

John: Absolutely man. You have been truly an inspiration, I know, not just to me – to so many folk but I can only talk about my view. You’ve been an inspiration even to get to know you. I remember when I first got to meet you and get to know you and how humble you have remained. That, I think, speaks to your heart, speaks to your values, speaks to how you were raised, speaks to your parents, you know? I’ve never had the sense that you felt you were better than others. I never had the sense that you, you know, like some people have the superiority diva complex and stuff like that. You’ve always just been very down to Earth, very caring, from my perspective. And I feel like that, in and of itself, is an example people need, you know what I’m saying?

Speech: Yeah, I do.

John: To see that kind of humility, that kind of love, that kind of approachability and the kind of success you’ve been able to create, put together, so people don’t fall for that lie that you have to be a jerk or you have to be a diva to succeed or you got to be, you know, all these other things. So in a lot of ways, you have been an alternative for many of us. Most definitely man. So thank you for continuing. Thank you for your example and for your time today, brother. I appreciate this…. I can’t wait, I can’t wait to share this paper so people can be further inspired man, because I think, I think it’s going to be helpful. So, thank you brother. I so appreciate your time man.

Speech: Yeah, you’re very welcome and it’s my pleasure.

Meet The Host

John Stringer

John Stringer


John Stringer is a life teacher, speaker, Billboard charting singer-songwriter, healer, and author with a passion for music, community, expansion and limitless love & light. He currently serves as Founder of PolyPlat Records, Partner at Healing Arts Management & ConsciousSongwritingRetreat.com, Co-host of the Awakened Pillow Talk podcast & host of The Alignment Podcast.

John has written and recorded several singles and albums over the years, including a co-written Billboard Top 10 hit with his former rock band, State of Man. He has spoken and performed for events and venues throughout the world, including international tours for the U.S. Armed Forces, and his music has been featured on major network television. He has also appeared in national print ads found in magazines like Rolling Stone, VIBE, SPIN, and Vanity Fair.

He now shares a message of alignment with Source through songs featured on his debut solo album, “Limitless Love & Light” (featuring the Posi Award-nominated songs “That’s Love,” “You Are Welcome Here,” and the spoken word offering, “Power of Love & #blacklivesmatter”), his follow up album, “Moment to Moment (Live),” and through sharing inspired teachings with clients and audiences, some of which can be found in his latest book, The Abundance Vibration: A Guide to Alignment.

For upcoming events, books, audios, videos, and online courses, visit his website: www.JohnStringerInc.com

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