Arrested Development continues its mission

Atlanta’s Arrested Development makes positive, Afrocentric hip-hop with a full band. (Arrested Development/Submitted)

Before Lollapalooza became the Chicago juggernaut, it was a touring summer camp of sorts with some of alt-rock/hip-hop/rap’s hottest bands.

In 1993, one of those acts was Arrested Development, an Atlanta-bred positive, Afrocentric hip-hop collective that made its mark with its expansive band.

Founder and frontman Speech Thomas promises more of the same when Arrested Development makes a rare appearance in Arizona as part of the Sedona Vortifest Musical Festival & Experience Friday, Sept. 23, and Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Sedona Performing Arts Center and Sedona Red Rock High School Stadium Fields.

“It’s a celebration,” Speech said via Zoom from London. “It’s a full, eight-piece band, with dancing, rhyming and vocal singing. It’s going to be a full-out show. We’re going to really give everybody our all.”

The tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of Arrested Development’s 1992 debut album “3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…” The set list will include tracks from that album, like “Mr. Wendal” and “Tennessee,” as well as songs from 2020’s “Don’t Fight Your Demons” and its follow-up, “For the (expletive) Love.”

He said he and Arrested Development were prolific during COVID-19. After all, there wasn’t much else to do.

“We had all the distractions taken away, and we were just sort of locked away,” he said with a smile. “I think that gave us a lot more creativity and the ability to work with artists, ironically, across the world but only via technology. We didn’t get a chance to meet up and record together, but we still did a lot of recording, and it was great.”

On “For the (expletive) Love,” Arrested Development worked with the Sugar Hill Gang, a landmark group that inspired Speech to get into hip-hop, as well as Big Daddy Kane, Fat Man Scoop, Masta Ace and others.

“We also worked with people like Kxng Crooked, who’s an underground inspiration to me, all the way to Monie Love, who is, again, someone who’s just been an inspiration. I’m just excited to be able to collaborate with these people plus way more on this record. And it’s really an opportunity to express how much we love the art form of hip-hop.”

Hip-hop, he said, changed his life and gave him a voice.

“When you run across something that you really feel like is your calling, that can be a life changer for you,” Speech said. “It definitely was for me. Hip-hop has forever given me not only an outlet for all of my pains and hurts, but for my joys, opinions and thoughts.”

He admitted, though, that sharing his innermost thoughts can be intimidating — especially as the culture gets more politically correct.

“What you say now has a lot more weight than it ever used to,” Speech said. “Before, I think it was assumed that you’re the one person with one opinion. Now it could be a career changer.”

Speech shares his views via documentaries as well, most recently 2018’s “16 Bars” and “Hoodwinked.”

In the long-form documentary “16 Bars,” inmates in Virginia attempt to transcend the cycle of recidivism through an artistic collaboration behind bars with Thomas. “Hoodwinked” is a three-part mini-docuseries, exposing a 400-year white supremacist marketing campaign that purposely perverted the Black diaspora’s image worldwide.

“I’ve been doing documentaries for the last four, five years,” he said. “That’s been exciting. It’s another way to get my thoughts out. Also, my mom comes from a publishing background. She owns the largest Black newspaper in Wisconsin, which is where I was born.

“Coming from that background, I believe in the art of documentaries and expressing truths about various issues and publishing those truths. In ‘16 Bars,’ I went into a jail to work with the ‘inmates’ inside of that jail. I call them ‘residents’ because I want to humanize the experience of those who are incarcerated.

“The ‘residents’ are amazing guys, and we did some incredible music together and documented the whole thing. It was a great experience. People really responded to both.”

If You Go...

Vortifest w/Arrested Development, G. Love and Special Sauce, the Yawpers, Decker., Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, Banana Gun, Adam Bruce and Damiyr, hosted by Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones

WHEN: Various times Friday, Sept. 23, and Saturday, Sept. 24

WHERE: Sedona Performing Arts Center and Sedona Red Rock High School Stadium Fields, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Road, Sedona

COST: Tickets start at $66