- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Look who’s due at the 9:30 Club Sunday night: Arrested Development, the Atlanta-based hip-hop group best known for the 1992 hit “Tennessee.”

The band members named their debut album, “3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…” after the time between their incarnation to their signing of a record deal. Following “3 Years…” came two Grammys, including Best New Artist, the first hip-hop group to win in that category.

The rush of success, however, created tension among the notably close-knit members who often referred to each other as family. It had taken them a little over three years to score a recording contract and once their album was released, it took about as much time for the group to break up.

“We stopped recording in 1995, but we always felt like there was more we needed to do and say, more possibilities,” says founder and frontman Todd “Speech” Thomas. The group reconstituted itself in 1998, minus co-founder DJ Headliner and singer Dionne Farris, whose vocals powered “Tennessee’s” hooks.

Today, Arrested Development consists of original members Speech, Baba Oje (elder adviser, vocals), Monto Eshe (vocals, dance), and Rasa Don (drums) as well as new members Nicha Thompson-Hilliard (vocals), Machete X (guitar) and Ike “Za” Williams (bass).

Credited not only with putting a Southern accent on hip-hop music but also bringing a PG-rated positivity to their lyrics, Arrested Development was, for many, a welcome relief from the violent, misogynistic gangsta rap that pervaded the ‘90s hip-hop scene. Though the group’s chart-topping status was brief, its influence can be seen even now in artists such as Erykah Badu, the Roots and Lauryn Hill. VH1 placed Arrested Development in its top 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Artists.

“AD represents a more intellectual, heartfelt style,” Speech says of the band’s music, then and now. “We bring some spirituality to the hip-hop game.”

Since their reformation, the band has been milking its popularity overseas, particularly in Japan. The reunion CD, “Heroes of the Harvest” is only available on its Web site, Speechmusic.com. They recently began working on a follow-up album that they hope to have completed some time next year. Of Arrested Development’s return to the States and the group’s first significant U.S. tour in several years, Speech says that the bookings mostly reflected a renewed demand for AD’s signature hip-hop style.

“Music being exposed on the radio is so one-sided,” he says. “Hip-hop now is all about materialism, women and violence — it’s not getting any deeper than that. People want to hear something deeper that’s going to stimulate another part of who they are.”

Arrested Development’s concerts are more than mere musical performances, incorporating DJ mixing, live instruments, dance, visual media, spoken word and call-and-response.

Says Baba Oje, “We have a traditional celebration stage; we ritualize our music and our themes, in dress, action, and we have audience participation as much as possible, in the tradition of hip-hop and African-American history. Arrested Development will widen people’s perception as to where music can go in a hip-hop show.”

• • •

Lou Reed’s month-long U.S. tour will enjoy a “Perfect Day” at Wolf Trap on Wednesday. The concert is being billed as “an intimate evening of words and music” featuring the legendary artist’s songs from his days with the Velvet Underground as well as newer pieces from recent projects such as “The Raven.” In addition to Mr. Reed on guitar and vocals will be bassist Fernando Saunders, Jane Scarpantoni on cello and singer Antony.

“The Raven,” which Mr. Reed released in January, toured the world of Edgar Allan Poe, with Mr. Reed acting as musical interpreter with the help of guests such as Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Ornette Coleman and the Blind Boys of Alabama. His Wolf Trap performance follows next Tuesday’s release of “NYC Man — The Collection,” a sort-of greatest hits double disc set of essential Reed tunes.

Of several of his songs included on the CD, Mr. Reed notes that it is only in hindsight that the songs and the albums that spawned them are called hits or “classics,” because at the time they were released they were often panned by critics and made only brief chart appearances.

Now both the man and his music are not just classics, they are rock ‘n’ roll institutions. The opportunity to see this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer perform his hits live doesn’t come around very often, so, hey, baby, take a walk on the wild side.


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