Socially minded hip-hop band Arrested Development became superstars 11 years ago. They enjoyed critics’ superlatives, sales of a debut album that topped 4 million and a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
Then – seemingly quicker than a turntable spins – they tumbled to obscurity.
Radio, which hyped the band’s first three singles, turned a deaf ear to Arrested Development’s second release. Then-frontman Speech, a Milwaukee native, never established a solo career in the United States.
“It didn’t destroy me. I never went into drugs or drinking,” said Speech, now 34. “But it was a deep time of depression and soul searching. I kept trying to find out why. I doubted myself and my ability.”
The latter never should have been questioned. Arrested Development’s rapper, songwriter and producer helped hip-hop to present content other than gangster themes.
Now Speech is back with Arrested Development and headlining UW-Madison’s All-Day Campus Party as the 10 p.m. act at Union Terrace on Saturday.
Go ahead, call it a comeback.
“We understand totally that our fans remember us from the early ’90s and we’re going to give them what they want,” said Speech in a phone interview from his home in Fayetteville, Ga., near Atlanta.
The six-member Arrested Development recorded a new album recently, but it’s only available on Speech’s Internet site at www.speechmusic.com. Speech’s solo career also received a substantial boost in recent years in Japan. Yes, Japanese fans embraced several Speech albums and supported him on numerous solo tours there.
“They’ll read the lyric translations,” Speech said, “and get deep into the art.”
Speech, however, still covets an American audience. Arrested Development will tour through this summer. (Madison native Aerle Taree won’t be with them; she has suffered voice troubles and attends school in Atlanta.)
Saturday’s free show is the tune up for the band’s full tour, beginning May 31. It’s also likely to remind Speech of the band’s heyday with the hits “Tennessee,” “Mr. Wendal” and “People Everyday.” Spike Lee used Arrested Development’s “Revolution” in his film about Malcolm X.
“Our success shocked us,” Speech said. “You have to remember in the early ’90s hip-hop groups weren’t selling millions of records. It was a blur. It was scary for us. But it was incredible. I still keep a lot of it in my heart.”