Speech of Arrested Development on 17 years after Zingalamaduni
September 21, 2011
On Sundays, I practice what I preach, and I spend time listening to music already created so I can become more knowledgeable about great music that already exists. This past Sunday it was Cal Tjader and Arrested Development. Some music you don’t have to question whether it’s classic or not because time reveals the truth. Arrested Development’s “Zingalamaduni” was released in 1994, but as I was listening intently to the lyrics, everything Speech and crew are representing is still relevant. I wanted to get Speech to go back and talk about the album, the message, and what “conscious music means now”. Speech has two Grammys, a worldwide fan base inside and outside of the United States, and is releasing a new record. Catch and get refreshed on Arrested Development’s movements at http://arresteddevelopmentmusic.com/.
Zingalamaduni was released in 1994 as a follow up to 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in The Life Of…, your seminal debut album, which won a few Grammy’s, and took the world by storm with songs like “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendal” to name a few. Looking back 17 years later, do you think popular culture’s push to put gangsta rap into the forefront hurt the potential for Zingalamaduni to out perform 3 Years?
Speech: I remember it like it was yesterday, the label was simply NOT working with me to get this record out to the people! I would suggest this marketing plan and that one, and they wouldn’t budge! I asked for more money for our video “United Front” in order to compete with huge budget video’s coming out of the gangsta market and they wouldn’t do it. Mind you, this is AFTER a HUGE debut, with Rolling Stone calling us best new artist, Grammys, etc! And yet, the label won’t back a quality music video!? I was totally frustrated! There was a behind the scenes big business conspiracy that undermined our career, which could have changed the whole direction of rap music!
Think about it; if the Zinga album woulda blew up too, conscious rap woulda never died out and things to this day would be different. Digable Planets’ second album would had done well, X-Clan and Public Enemy would had cultural support to continue on, and even Tribe and De La woulda stayed in the mainstream. Cats like Common, Talib and Mos Def would had mainstream success right off the bat instead of having to attach themselves to artists like Kanye to do it! The lane of what was successful in hip-hop would have stayed wider, and more artists could have streamed through that lane.
For those unaware, please break down the name Zingalamaduni, why you chose it for the album title, was it a group decision, and what’s the process you go through in naming an album?
Speech: The name means, “beehive of culture”, the concept was to take the world from just the south imagery that we used in our first album and connect it to the world stage. Showing that culture is more than just an American thang, it’s a world thang - a beehive! Changing the discussion from just black/white or democrat/republican to world poverty, oppression and how it all connects! If that campaign would had jumped off, I don’t believe Bush woulda gotten away with all his U.S. versus the world “War on Terror” garbage! And Michael Moore would have Spike Lee, John Singleton, and tons more black directors joining him making films about hypocrisy and government corruption.
Songs like “In The Sunshine”, you really go in on science and technology. With lines like- “While some are scientifically masturbating/the rest of us are scraping to save our lives” it’s almost like this is one of the first songs to address the need of balance between innovation and preserving nature. Here we are in 2011, and everyone now is strapped to cell phones, computers, bluetooths, and gadgets, and nature is becoming less important. What were you tuned into during this time in 1994 that inspired this song?
Speech: People too often make the mistake of equaling progress to new paths, progress in truth can also be going back to previous paths you once were on before. Arrogance can make us naive to our life’s detours, or missteps. Things that simply need to be back tracked in order to start progressing again. Everyone says, “all things happen for a reason” that doesn’t mean the reason was legit. Maybe the reason a particular thing happened was cuz it was simply a mistake and you have to learn from it and go back to the point from which you detoured. That’s the point of that song, it’s about US controlling technology for our better good and NOT just for financial gain and thus allowing it to control us! (Which is what’s happening today.) God may humble us by simply leaving us without electricity. Where would our huge corporations, cell phones, computers and military be then? We’ve left ourselves so vulnerable to failure. We’re totally dependent on technology now.
“Shell”—What did rebelling mean to you in 1994, and what does it mean in 2011? Also, it’s interesting that you really didn’t do long verses, but had a driving beat, a constant chant, and really short streams of consciousness. Were you experimenting? What was the thought that went into this song?
Speech: It was totally an experiment in the less is more theory. We wanted to have Nadirah (former member) literally say that chant ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE SONG, not loop it, you can even hear her take breaths! It was sorta like a mantra, to seep into the listeners consciousness. The shell we were talking about is basically what average Americans have become today, simply an empty shell to be filled with whatever corporate/governmental and other entities want to fill you with. Look at what trends today, no matter what atrocities are happening in Africa, or the middle East, we’re still talking about Kim Kardasian and Jersey Shore! Right now, 73% of black children are born out of wedlock to single parent households…73% and our music is talking about baby let me F*** you! We were then rebelling against the conformity of pop culture, and we still are now!
On “United Minds” you shouted out freeing political prisoners, talked about greed and selling drugs in our community, police brutality, justice, new world orders, activism, and guns in our communities. In the end though, you mentioned you chose “spirituality” and “God as the answer.” What did that mean to you in 1994, and what does it mean today? What does 21st century spirituality look like, and do you feel like progress has been made?
Speech: I’ve seen in my own life that political activism can’t be the source of real peace and purpose, it should only be a response to the spiritual truth you already have deep within. When you make politics your “god”, you will be deeply disappointed and disillusioned when you find out that it holds no lasting victories, only temporary at best. Ghandi died to free India, only for them to later rebel against his teachings and be opposite of what he fought for, same with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, etc. The only thing that differentiates Jesus form those others is that his biggest promises of change were not focused on this earth, instead his has always been about the eternal destination. That’s why I see it as logical and wise to take heed.
Last question, I’ve said that this album, and your first, really signals the blueprint on how to make a conscious hip-hop album. It differs from Public Enemy, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers and Brand Nubian, but still is full of messages, hope, and inspiration. Can you talk a little about the lane you were inspired by, the lane you were creating, and do you feel like 17 years later, this lane of consciousness still has a place in today’s world?
Speech: I feel like Public Enemy, dead prez, and the others you mentioned need an Arrested Development, and we need them! It presents a full maturity of consciousness—theirs based more on anger and motivating those on the street level (which is a great and needed emotion), but ours is mainly based on the next stage after anger which is mind-change and perseverance. A person can’t just stay angry forever, sooner or later you have to get transformed.
Jahi, a hip-hop artist and educator, writes a bi-weekly column on the music industry, politics, technology and education for Hip-Hop.com. He is the CEO of Microphone Mechanics, and an avid reader, chess player, and birdwatcher.