Today is the 30th birthday of Todd Thomas, better known as Speech, who was born in
Milwaukee. Speech rose to stardom as the lead rapper in Arrested Development, the
hip-hop combo that formed in Atlanta and hit it big in the rap world in 1992.
Speech, whose parents published a Milwaukee newspaper, met DJ Headliner (Timothy
Barnwell) while attending the Art Institute of Atlanta. They formed the gangsta-rap group
Disciples of Lyrical Rebellion, who later became Secret Society.
But once the pair heard Public Enemy, they decided to make music with positive,
life-affirming themes, while still dealing with social issues. Speech and Headliner added
dancers Montsho Eshe and Aerle Taree, percussionist Rasa Don, singer Dionne Farris
and spiritual adviser Baba Oje to broaden the scope of the band, which was now called
Arrested Development's hugely successful debut album was named after the amount of
time it took them to get signed by a label: Three Years, Five Months and Two Days in
the Life of ... . The LP featured the hit single
"Tennessee"(RealAudio excerpt) about the deaths of Speech's brother and
grandmother, who lived in the state. The album was rapturously received by critics and
than 4 million copies. "Tennessee" and the album's other two singles, "People Everyday"
(a rewrite of Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People") and "Mr. Wendal" all went
top 10 and were certified gold. Arrested Development also won Grammys for Best Rap
Album by a Duo or Group and Best New Artist (the first rap act to win the award) and
were named Rolling Stone magazine's Band of the Year.
In 1992, Arrested Development contributed "Revolution" to director Spike Lee's film
"Malcolm X." The following year, the band played the Lollapalooza tour and released an
MTV Unplugged album. But then the trouble began. Farris, buoyed by her major
vocal contribution to "Tennessee," left for a solo career. Speech then reassembled the
band, making Headliner a rapper and replacing him on the turntable with DJ Kwesi
Asuo. Bassist Foley, singer Nadirah and dancer Ajile were all added to the group.
Zingalamaduni (Swahili for "beehive of culture") appeared in 1994 to mixed
reviews from fans and critics. Speech, who often spoke out about racism and wrote a
newspaper column on the topic, received flack for allowing his politics to seep into the
music. The media began describing Speech as an overly controlling influence on the
Despite Speech's intention to keep Arrested Development together for at least a decade,
they broke up in 1996. Speech's eponymous debut solo album, featuring tracks such as
"Can U Hear Me?," "If U Was Me" and the single "Like Marvin Gaye Said (What's Going
On)," came out that year but didn't make a big impact.
Speech said: "With Arrested Development, I could use the other members to be wild, to
dance and I could just be who I was. With the solo project, I had to become more than
that. I had to be more holistic, more round. It was cool, though, because it was something
I felt I didn't possess."
Other birthdays: Helen Reddy, 57; Jon Anderson (Yes), 54; John Hall (Orleans), 51; Glen
Tipton (Judas Priest), 49; Matthias Jabs (Scorpions), 43; Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili
Peppers), 36; and Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies), 28.