Hot new rap group arrests attention with its wisdom

July 21, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

It's hard to say whether or not good things really do come to those who wait. But as the members of the rap group Arrested Development learned, sometimes good things can come from simply having to wait.

As evidence, take the group's wonderfully precocious debut album, "3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of. . . ." It doesn't take too many hearings for any listener to realize there's a lot of wisdom packed into these grooves, as the group addresses everything from the place of the church in today's African-American community ("Fishing for Religion"), to the difficulty of coming to terms with having roots in the rural South ("Tennessee").

Deep stuff, no question, and hardly the sort of thing a group arrives at overnight. But then, Arrested Development had plenty of time to get its act together -- three years, five months and two days, to be precise.

"That's how long it took us to get signed," says Speech, Arrested Development's leader, over the phone from a tour stop in New York City. "Before we were signed, we were doing a lot of different shows in the rural South and had a small following. And then three years, five months and two days after shopping our first demo tape, here we are."

Naturally, there were plenty of times when that wait tried the quintet's patience. But looking back on it now, Speech says he's glad his group wasn't signed straight out of the box. How so? "Because along with a lot of the hardships we faced, we also grew a lot as individuals and as people," he says. "And that really helped the music. It helped bring out some of the philosophies and viewpoints that are on the album."

This development period also gave the group time to experiment with different approaches, and to expand upon the usual devices employed in hip hop. For instance, one of the most distinctive features of "Tennessee" -- the Top-10 single that put Arrested Development on the map -- is the way Speech's semi-sung delivery lends the song a sense of the blues while maintaining its rap frame of reference.

According to Speech, that wasn't a conscious attempt to evoke the blues. "It was just that I tried to rap it out without using as much intonation, and it didn't serve me the way I wanted it to," he says. "It didn't put the right type of feeling into me.

"So I started to experiment a little bit and sing it. It gave me the type of feeling that I liked, and so I stayed with it. It's not something, like, I want to sing all my raps. But it's something that I do when I feel it's right."

Arrested Development's willingness to move beyond the usual has led some critics to describe the group as an "alternative rap" act. Speech, though, has no time for such talk.

"I don't understand where that term came from, and we surely don't use it as a group to describe ourselves or to define what our music is," he says. "We look at our music as being hip-hop, period."

Moreover, he feels it's important that others realize Arrested Development's sound is merely a reflection of how broad the parameters of hip hop really are.

"To me, what's dangerous about using the term 'alternative rap' is that it's not giving rap a chance to grow," he says. "What that's basically saying is that it's not rap, it's some other type of rap. It's almost like talking about Egypt, and saying it's not a part of Africa. Egypt is a part of Africa.

"And what we're doing is rap," he concludes. "It's not an alternative to it, it's an extension of it. Rap is growing. And what that term 'alternative' does is put a limit on what rap is."

Arrested Development

When: Tonight at 8.

Where: Max's On Broadway.

Tickets: $14.50.

Call: (410) 675-MAXS for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets.

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