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Arrested Development celebrates 20 years with one to grow on

Speech talks new LP, 'Standing at the Crossroads,' and hip-hop's lost voices

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Much has been said recently about Arrested Development's "good old days."

That's probably fitting, of course, since 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta-based hip-hop crew. As a result, media outlets — such as the popular TV One documentary show "Unsung" — have turned the spotlight on AD's frontman Speech and delved into the rise, fall, and rise of the group (which made history in 1993 as the first rap act to win the Grammy's Best New Artist award).

But AD isn't just some aging, oldies-but-goodies band. Last month, the group released a brand-new studio album (Standing at the Crossroads) that is being distributed as a free download on its ArrestedDevelopmentMusic.com website. And this month, AD kicked off its 20th anniversary tour, which is set to take them around the nation and the world; the band is even slated to play a Sept. 19 gig at the Goat Farm for Creative Loafing's Best of Atlanta Party.

To put all of AD's new moves and new music into perspective, we caught up with Speech and he dropped a little knowledge on us:

What's your approach to making new Arrested Development music?

Speech: Well, a few things. First, we want to be current. And two, we want to fill in the gaps of our catalog. We've [done] a lot of stuff over the years ... and the primary place where people hear our new music is at our live shows. So we want to fill in the gaps of things we haven't already done.

Do you find that, when crafting new songs, you consciously or unconsciously try to make music that sonically fits in any particular format? Or do you try to stay true to Arrested Development's sound?

Well, both. In the hip-hop industry, you definitely need to do some type of record that DJs are able to play and able to honor at a party. So, our first single — "Living" — is a track that a lot of DJs are gravitating toward. ... At the same time, on every one of our songs, we want to stay true to who we are.

Subject-wise, how has your message changed over the years?

Primarily our message is still the same as it always was — which is to address the things that are causing the "arrested development" in the black community. A lot of other hip-hop bands — Dead Prez, Public Enemy — address what Europeans [and] systematic racism ... have done to blacks. Arrested Development tends to also fill in the gaps of what hasn't been addressed: the poisons of messages in parts of ... popular hip-hop. That's one of the things we address on this new record a lot. So, on songs like "Soul Sister," we're talking about the whole strip club culture that's so prevalent in hip-hop music. We're talking about the whole jail culture [and] this whole materialistic reality. ... We're addressing those things and trying to bring the other viewpoint on those [issues].

With your new album being a free download, is this your model now for getting your music to the people?

It's not necessarily our model from now on, but what is the model for our 20th anniversary this year is to give back. We wanted to give music to the fans. We've had an incredible career. We've had a lot of ups and downs. But to be able to last in hip-hop music for 20 years — and to still be considered one of the top hip-hop bands in the genre — is a huge achievement. ... So, we're celebrating this year. The music is really a gift to the fans. But then also it's a way to let people know that we're not just a nostalgic band; we have a nostalgic part to us that we're proud of, but we're more than that.

So what do you have in store for your live show on Sept. 19?

It's gonna be a celebration. We're celebrating 20 years. We're gonna honor one of our original members, [dancer] Eshe, with an award. And we're gonna honor Creative Loafing. And to be able to do it at the Goat Farm — which, for us as a group, really fits our whole vibe and energy [and] I'm really excited about it.

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