By KRISTIN M. HALL Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The hip-hop group Arrested Development is still making music on their own terms by releasing two new albums this year, one that is a free download and another one for sale.

The group’s 1992 debut, 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life of…, sold over four million albums due to their hit singles Tennessee, Everyday People and Mr. Wendal, which stood out in the rap genre with their spiritual and socially conscious lyrics about God, poverty and family.

That message hasn’t changed for Speech, the front man of the six-piece collective, although the music industry definitely has.

“The music industry has been sick and sales have been dismal for everybody,” said Speech, whose real name is Todd Thomas, during a recent interview in Nashville, Tennessee. “Nothing was happening and we were collecting all this music that we felt really passionate about. So we decided to just release it, just drop it.”

Since their debut, Arrested Development has been considered an outlier in the genre. They were critical favorites for their mix of pop, funk, rap and R&B samples and earned two Grammy Awards for best rap performance by a duo or group and best new artist – one of the few rap acts to take home the honor. But Speech said their overtly positive messages didn’t always resonate with other rappers or record labels.

“A lot of our peers felt like we weren’t really hip- hop and they would say that,” Speech said. “So to be called alternative hip-hop was sort of a slap in the face to me. Because I understand it’s an alternative in its subject matter from the gangster stuff, but we’re hip-hop.

It’s just another viewpoint.”

Their second album in 1994 was not nearly as popular and the band disbanded for several years before reuniting in 2000. The two new albums, Change the Narrative and This Was Never Home, were released in February. Their single, I Don’t See You at the Club, references the Black Lives Matter movement and the 50th anniversary of marches in the South for civil rights, but also marriage and the lack of commitment in hip-hop music. “The messages are like, “I just want to have sex with you and leave you,’” said Speech, who lives in Atlanta with his wife and children. “I know that’s been the underlying point of rock `n’ roll and a lot of different music. But it’s very blatant and very blunt.”

Speech, who sits on the board of the International Black Film Festival, performed with Arrested Development for dozens of grade school kids in Nashville as a part of the festival’s community program Imagine Me Children’s Summer Film Series in collaboration with Belmont University, Metro Nashville Police Department, Metro Nashville Parks and Salama Urban Ministries. The group performed a couple of hits and then encouraged the kids to rap and dance onstage with them.

“I feel like the young generation has so much in their hearts and so much in their minds that they need to express and need to get it out,” Speech said. “There’s a future Prince or there’s a future Michael Jackson that we’re all going to be talking about.”

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