The year was 1992. The first Bush was in office, the internet was barely a whisper and on the radio, an eclectic, Atlanta-grown musical collective was capturing the public consciousness with a southern-tinged tune, ironically titled “Tennessee.”
They called themselves Arrested Development, and the next few years would see the ensemble group rise to the top of the charts on the strength of down-home hits like “People Everyday” and “Mr. Wendal.” By the mid-’90s however, the group seemed to vanish just as fast as it appeared, leaving a hole in the burgeoning socially-conscious music scene that would stand empty for years.
On Oct. 14, their unique brand of alt-hip hop will return to the stage as the group plays the main stage at Atlanta Pride. The group will join hip hop artist Dej Loaf, R&B icons The Pointer Sisters and other artists performing for the city’s largest Pride celebration.
Social media raises interest in group
The performance is the group’s first Pride show and comes at a particularly auspicious time: social media has raised interest in both ‘90s nostalgia and the community issues Arrested Development championed way back when.
“With everything going on in the world right now, our message is even more relevant today than when we first came out,” said dancer/vocalist Fareedah Aleem.
That message includes tolerance, respect and understanding for people regardless of politics and other divisions.
“Regardless of your race, your gender, your background, as long as you are living a positive life and upholding your community, we should all support that,” she said.
Aleem will join founder Speech, as well as newer members like vocalist Tasha LaRae for a set that will include some of their classics as well as material from newer albums.
“We don’t actually get a chance often to perform in Atlanta,” Aleem said. “We’re really excited to have a hometown crowd.”
Evolution of a group
Make no mistake, the group has kept busy over the years — just not stateside. The Afrocentric clan spends most of its time touring overseas, enjoying popularity in Asia and Europe in particular, Aleem said.
In America, meanwhile, their mainstream popularity peaked in the early ‘90s.
Back then, the group gained runaway success with their freshman album “3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…”, a collage of anti-misogynist rap, bluesy-singing and acoustic soul, uttered from a group that included African dancers and even a resident spiritual elder. Lyrics were laced with everything from calls to help the homeless to spoken prayers for survival in an unfair world. Critics and audiences alike embraced the group’s sound as a refreshing contrast to the gangsta rap emerging at the time.
But it would be years before artists like Erykah Badu and The Roots truly mainstreamed consciousness hip-hop. By then, internal conflicts and a series of poorly charting albums had taken its toll on the two-time Grammy-winning group. The original Arrested Development split in 1995, according to LaRae. Speech and other members pursued new projects before the group resumed.
“The band got back together in the early 2000s and now continue to record and release new music,” she said, pointing to such recent albums as “Changing the Next America.” “Various members have kind of come and gone to keep the legacy.”
Don’t expect to see the same old faces during Pride.
Speech, the bespectacled artist who founded the group and who is easily among its most recognized faces, continues to lead as the only remaining original member. Other originals such as Headliner have gone on to solo work, starting families or as in the case of the ubiquitous gray-haired elder Baba Oje, retirement, Aleem said.
In their place are members like Aleem, who joined 12 years ago, and LaRae, who’s been with the group for a decade.
Promoting pride in self
Despite the changing personnel, the group continues to focus on lyrics that uplift communities and promote pride in self and general positivity.
Aleem said they’re particularly excited to bring their woke-soul message to new fans looking for music that reflects their concerns.
“A lot of the problems that were present back in the ‘90s are still present now,” she said. “When we talk about the truth, it’s always going to be relevant.”
Arrested Development will perform on the Coca-Cola stage, one of three stages now playing music throughout the park since the Pride committee added the Nissan stage this year.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer a third stage to festival goers this year, and we are especially proud to be able to expand our line-up and provide great entertainment across all three of our stages. We have so much talent in our community and in our allies — to have the opportunity to feature these performers and showcase their support, is especially exciting,” Atlanta Pride Committee Executive Director Jamie Fergerson said in a press release.
“While many other large Pride celebrations have moved to ticketing portions of their festival, thanks to the support of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and our sponsors alike, we can stay true to our commitment of keeping the festival and our entertainment free of charge.”