Every single interview in XCENTS is special in its own way. That means, none is more special than the others. But some are more personal. Like when you, once again, interview the person you have interviewed more than any other. Here, it is hip hop legend Speech of Arrested Development. But even before our first meeting – 2004, in the upstairs/backstage room of a small jazz club – this man had already had an impact on my life. It all started with one song on a hip hop compilation – the sociocritical track Mr. Wendal. Already not your run-of-the-mill rap song. Then followed an MTV Unplugged gig that was nothing short of a musical awakening for the 13-year-old version of me. 20 years later, we sit down once more, for our most personal interview yet. And by pure chance, he is getting ready to release something that could turn out to be very interesting for the XCENTS crowd.
► Do you remember where you were on December 17, 1992?
Gosh, not at all. Does December 17th have a certain significance?
► Oh, I’d say so. What if I told you, you were in New York?
1992, December 17th, New York? I have no clue.
► The Ed Sullivan Theatre …
Now that feels special, yes. But I still don’t know.
► The MTV Unplugged …
Oh wow. We did that in December? Now that you’re saying it, I can definitely tell you where I was two days earlier, because this is how MTV works or worked in those days: They ask you to put together a band and arrange your songs and do a show, but all very quickly. So we had about two days to put together a ton of stuff. We were on tour at that time, too. Maybe that is why we only had two days. And let me tell you, it is a lot of work to put together a show. So in the two days leading up to the 17th, I was under a lot of stress.
► The reason I am asking is this: The show was first broadcast in the US on March 31, 1993, and because we didn’t have simultaneous broadcast back then, a little later in Europe. I taped that first airing – still have the VHS somewhere – and when I watched it, I was out of my seat the whole time. In a way, it was my first real concert experience, and it showed me what live music can be.
Wow, that means a lot to me. I remember that I really wanted it to be an extravaganza – well, in two days you do what you can – but we had dancers, 15 people with us on stage. And you have to remember that, at this point, not a lot of hip hop acts had done an MTV Unplugged. Tribe did it. LL tore it down and did an amazing job. To my knowledge, this was it, so there weren’t a lot of bands to look to and see how they did it. We were definitely trailblazing with that one and we knew it.
► And you had just won two Grammys back then, as new artists. How did Speech in 1992, with that success and attention, see the next five, ten or more years?
Honestly, it was a very tough time. At the very moment all this was happening, behind the scenes Headliner was suing me, I was going in and out of court, the band was sort of split in half in terms of whose side they were on – me or Headliner. A lot of internal drama, mixed with this new found fame. Everyone I’m meeting in the industry is all new. Everything I learn as a business is all new. Working with record labels was all new. Touring on that type of calibre was all new. It was a whirlwind. We had just won the Grammy – which is the highlight of any artist’s career if you can win it – and we had just done all these award shows back to back; the American Music Award, MTV awards, etc. Right then, it was very tough for me to think about the future. I was mainly trying to breathe.
► I only know part of that story, so let me ask: Why was he suing you?
In the end, it was greed. Headliner was my best friend and I wanted him to be part of the experience of Arrested Development. So I taught him how to DJ, tried to help him to be more of a creative force than he already was. Because of all we have been through, he then wanted half of all the rights to what we were doing, which was ridiculous because he wasn’t doing half of the work. Suddenly we were in a very volatile place and he took me to court. You can imagine the drama of going in and out of court, award shows, photo shoots, interviews. Of course regular life was also happening. It was very tough to foresee what was going to happen in the future.
► Have you and Headliner made up?
Yes. I have forgiven him for the pain he has caused me, and he has forgiven me for the pain I have caused him. We will never be as close as we once were, though. It’s one of these unfortunate casualties of war that is the music business. But if he was to walk into the room right now, I’d give him a big hug and we’d talk about the good times.