Coming off a decade where hip-hop music became a staple in popular culture, a group came along to welcome a fresh alternative in the early 1990s hip-hop music scene. Their name was Arrested Development. During this period, the genre was being dominated by gangsta rap from the West Coast. Their eclectic mixture of Afrocentricity, gender inclusion, and storytelling was a stark contrast to their counterparts, but highly instrumental in continuing to bring forth a new dimension within the genre and the larger urban culture. The release of their debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… would quickly thrust the group into the heights of superstardom. 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… was released by Chrysalis Records on March 24, 1992.
EBONY recently sat down with the co-founder of the group, Todd “Speech” Thomas to discuss the history behind the making of their debut album twenty years later.
Thomas tells the story about the group’s creative mindset and how they secured a record deal.
“We already recorded a lot of songs,” says Thomas. “In 1989, we wanted to come with something that addressed a lot of the problems, but with solutions to them. We wanted to talk about the issues in the world, but especially within the black community. At that time, the group NWA was talking about police brutality. There were a lot of records talking about social and political issues, but there wasn’t any records talking about a solution for these issues. So we wanted to bring some solutions to the table with our music. It was one of our goals while we were recording our music. We wanted to mix blues music with men and women, an elder and young people. We wanted to mix this Afrocentric energy with spirituality.
He continues “We started to shop our record around. We printed up 200 copies of our own record on vinyl. We started to send them to deejays and friends. It ended up in the hands of Michael Mauldin, who is actually Jermaine Dupri’s father. He loved the record and he started to reach out to us to talk about things. He got us a record deal with Chrysalis Records in 1990. It was actually a single deal for the song “Mr. Wendal.” It wasn’t even a deal for an entire album. We had been turned down by a lot of labels before that. When we got that album deal with EMI, we said to ourselves let’s do it.
I wrote the song ‘Tennessee’ because that was the last place I saw my grandmother and brother. The song is a prayer.
“I was the producer of the record and I wrote a lot of the lyrics,” says Thomas. “It was a cool process because before we got into the studio our song, “Mr. Wendal” was already three years old. Songs like “People Everyday” was already a year and a half old and “Give a Man a Fish” was two to three years old. “Washed Away” was two in a half years old. A lot of the material we recorded on a little cassette tape in our apartment. The whole group wasn’t even together yet. At this point, it was just me and Headliner. So when we got into a real studio and had some money to produce the record in our own way, it was almost like doing these records again. It gave us a chance to perfect any problems that we thought we had with the material. It gave us a great opportunity to make something that we felt was perfect.
We were actually recording in Wisconsin. I’m from Milwaukee and I was in my third year of college studying African History when we got our record deal. The whole group relocated from Atlanta to Wisconsin. We recorded in this studio way out in the country side of Wisconsin.
He adds “It was also a tragic time then because I lost my grandmother. She lived in Tennessee and within that same week my brother died from an asthma attack. It was a really tough time. I wrote the song ‘Tennessee’ because that was the last place I saw my grandmother and brother. The song is a prayer. It was the newest song we did and it ended up being the first single that we released. It was the only song that we hadn’t recorded from back in the day. It was the only song we recorded during the making of the album.
It was an amazing thing because right before my grandmother and brother died; she had heard ‘Mr. Wendal’ and my brother was saying, ‘Man, you really got something there and you’re doing something special.’ This was my older brother. We felt like we were on a mission. We felt that lyrically we were doing something to uplift the people and musically we were doing something fresh and cool to hip-hop music. All of this