Writer/artist/producer Speech is renowned for being the leader of acclaimed hip-hop group, Arrested Development. The group (which has reunited and remains semi-active) enjoyed multi-platinum success in the early ’90s for their album, Three Years, Five Months, Two Days In The Life Of. That album led to the group receiving two Grammy awards in 1992, for Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group (for their hit ‘Tennessee’). Arrested Development also won two MTV awards and a NAACP award.
Speech has mostly recorded as a solo artist since the late ’90s, and he has just released his solid new album, The Vagabond, on the indie label, Bluhammock. The album includes one of his best solo songs, ‘Braided Hair,’ which features guest vocals by Neneh Cherry, and is a collaboration with the audio/visual group, 1 Giant Leap. The Vagabond also contains a good mix of positive, socially-conscious rap songs, and classic, old-school R&B which is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s soul hits. Other album highlights include: ‘Gone Away,’ a rap/R&B song Speech wrote about his older brother (who passed away); the upbeat ‘Have Fun’ (featuring prominent bassist Victor Wooten); and Speech’s version of the Beatles standard, ‘Across The Universe.’
In a new interview, Speech talked about his new album and songs, and his signing with the Bluhammock label. He also spoke about his continuing work with Arrested Development, and how the group is recording a new album with top producer Mike Mangini (who has produced Joss Stone, the Baha Men and Digable Planets).
‘The new album is called The Vagabond, because musically I’m wandering from different genres, from hip-hop to world music, to R&B and other styles,’ explained Speech. ‘The album came about in an interesting way. There were several music collaborations I was working on, and it came together for this CD. ‘Braided Hair’ was a collaboration with a group called 1 Giant Leap. We just expounded on the big themes of life such as sex, death, life and love, and ‘Braided Hair’ came from that.’ Also contributing key vocals on this track is hip-hop/dance-pop artist Neneh Cherry (who is known for her hit album, Raw Like Sushi).
Speech discussed the themes and messages that he conveys with his lyrics and music. ‘I write positive music themes, which is just out of necessity for me,’ said Speech. ‘I write songs that I like to hear. I’m trying to live my life better as a Christian, and as righteously as I can. Writing songs inspires me to be better. Also, I want to create songs which are the soundtrack of people, who want to improve their life and go to the next level.’
‘I’m very happy with this album — it musically goes to a lot of places, from R&B to hip-hop to world music,’ he added. ‘It tries to connect with people in an intelligent, positive way. It’s not meant to be dumbed down, to the lowest common denominator. It talks about issues that a lot of us are going through.’
The Vagabond is Speech’s first release since signing with the New York-based, Bluhammock label. ‘I liked their whole attitude about music. They’re music lovers – it made me excited. We really hit it off.’
In addition to his solo career, Speech is looking forward to completing the next Arrested Development album, with producer Mike Mangini. In May 2003, Speech reunited with the group for an extensive, U.S. celebration tour. Since then, Speech & Arrested Development have toured steadily, playing over 200 dates in Europe, Australia, Japan and the U.S.
Speech has also been active writing music for films and plays. In 1997, he and Cyril Neville composed the music score for the film Follow Me Home, which starred Alfre Woodard and Benjamin Bratt. Over the years, Speech has performed on several soundtracks, including Malcolm X, Boomerang, Whipped and Michael Jordan to the Max. Most recently, he collaborated with playwright Liz Oliver and other writers to create songs for the musical, No Boundaries.
Lastly, Speech has also taken time to be a guest speaker at various colleges and high schools across the U.S., delivering lectures on topics such as Black history to contemporary issues in music and culture. ‘I do lectures whenever people ask,’ said Speech. ‘I tour colleges and high schools to share insights. Throughout my career I’ve done that. My mother owns a Black newspaper and is an activist, so she’s been an influence. I tend to speak at a lot of events.’
Dale Kawashima is on Google+