Swing Um

From the album: For The FKN Love by Arrested Development

Song produced by Configa.

Emcees – Speech, Fatman Scoop, Dell-P, Masta Ace

KRS One introduced HipHop to the concept of Edutainment, Arrested Development have perfected the concept. For The Fkn Love is the finest example of it to date.

One word best describes this song – ANTHEM. It’s literally in the chorus. This is an automatic add to any DJ’s setlist. If the crowd isn’t hyped after this then you’re probably playing it in a graveyard, although rumour has it that this is what resurrected all those bodies in the Thriller video.

Scene not set yet? Check out the video. An amazing explosion of colour and energy. It’s actually my preferred format to experience the song. I fkn love this song and this video.

As with Never Had Your Back, this is one that I’d happily play around kids knowing they’d have fun listening but also that they’d unwittingly absorb knowledge. Its the type of song they’ll hear in 10-15 years time and hear in a totally different way.

Music is a snapshot in time, chronicling a small moment in history – which is ultimately why art is so important. Swing Um, more than the songs prior to it on this album, provides an insight in to the pandemic and how it impacted some people. It does this without being in your face about it or preachy. Just this happened, this is what we learned.

Configa has provided an upbeat boom bap monster of a sound bed. Beginning with a soundbite of legendary producer Marley Marl. So much of this brings a smile to the face, even the understated scratches – this is like a sonic homage to the Doug E Fresh era of entertaining. Don’t know if that was the intent, but its where it took me.

The Marley Marl soundbite is barely finished before Fatman Scoop drops the vocal equivalent of a party. The scene is set. Not even 15 seconds in you know you’re getting a God tier emcee and a pure HipHop anthem in one song.

Just incase you weren’t sure, in comes Speech

We keep climbing like we’re King Kong
No, this ain’t a song baby this is an anthem

Speech, Swing Um

The King Kong reference is obvious, but when you know you’ve got a monster of a song why not point it out?

Speech delivers a verse that recognises the tough times, but is full of hope and gratitude.

But im feeling sorta nice and its great
Cuz the demons directed fans to take another take
At this collective ironically named arrested development
People needing that connection

Speech, Swing Um

While subtly promoting their last album Don’t Fight Your Demons, Speech flips the negative of the pandemic in to the silver lining of fans re-connecting with Arrested Development. To be honest this verse works on so many levels, but its beauty is in its simplicity. My take? We’ve been forced to face our demons this last couple of years, but thats not a purely bad thing – there are lessons we will have learned, positives too.

That connection line couldn’t be more true either. In a world full of communication, connection seems to be at an all time low. Simplicity, but so much meaning.

Dell-P shifts the theme slightly, but ties in to Speech’s verse perfectly.

Country under stress hard times absorb our energy
A must we connect gotta rise and reform the industry
It’s urgent bout to be a shift and I’m determined
To carry on tradition listen it’s time for learning

Dell-P, Swing Um

While Speech talked about how the pandemic stopped performers earning, Dell-P acknowledges this and calls for change. But that one word surfaces again, connect. I don’t know if that was deliberate, but this is why so many of these songs work. The emcees build on each others messages.

Again it’s not all negative, shit happened lets deal with it. Acknowledging there will be hard work ahead. So many lessons in this song.

Vocally Dell-P wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Symphony. He’s the perfect bridge between Speech and Masta Ace, he has an old soul vibe in his delivery and writing. His love of Hiphop is evident, not afraid to throw in a boast or two (old school style) but also brings an intelligence.

The song is rounded off with Masta Ace, who pulls no punches. A pure contrast to Speech in approach, reinforcing the need for Dell-P to connect the two. Check the video, he’s pure New York attitude. You’ve had your sugar, now here’s the medicine.

On paper this shouldn’t work. But somehow it does. It helps that Configa didn’t switch the beat up, which would have made the change too jarring and killed the song (in my opinion). Masta Ace is an elite emcee who makes it work. Again this song is so deceptive and deliberate in its structure, it couldn’t fail.

Masta Ace brings pure messages here. No mess. A reminder that recent times have been bad, but black people in America have rarely seen good times in 400 years.

He’s a stern teacher, but then when the odds are so stacked against a whole race that is definitely needed. The whole song has been the Trojan horse that allowed Ace to sneak in and hit you over the head with his hard hitting message.

Whats his message? The country wants black people dead (hard to contradict what he’s saying based on history) and black people are playing in to its hands by not looking after themselves and by not taking control of their own lives.

The one line I will mention of his is

You can hear the urgency in every quote

Masta Ace, Swing Um

I’m not quoting anymore of his lines. They need to be heard, reading them would just dilute the message. His seriousness and conviction are so important to the lyrics and lessons.

Never Had Your Back

From the album: For The FKN Love by Arrested Development

Song produced by Configa.

‘Cause the beats and the lines are so dope
Listen for lessons I’m saying inside music that the critics are blasting me for
They’ll never care for the brothers and sisters

Chuck D, Bring The Noise

Where to begin? Let’s start with the production. It is strikingly juxtaposed with Speech’s lyrical content. The delivery of the music and the lyrics are uptempo, keeping the boom bap soul of the album.

As a parent this is the kind of message rap I would love to play around my kids – they can vibe to the music, even if they weren’t hearing the message (that would drip feed in). Configa and Speech have found a way here of producing a song that could get radio play (assuming they scrap payola) whilst not watering down the hard hitting message.

I think this is why they work so well together. As an emcee Speech has always been deceptive, he is literally that spoon full of sugar vocally disguising the intellectual hard hitting medicine content. Configa mirrors this with his production, boom bap with an upbeat twist. The way they combine is genius.

Now the subject matter. Being a white, middle aged, Englishman I’m probably not best placed to fully understand the pain behind the words. However, I’m also not blind, death and dumb to what Speech is talking about.

Being a similar age to Speech and having a daughter of a similar age to his, I can totally relate to his first verse. My daughter could list 50 modern artists and I’d be “who?” to most of them. Like Speech, all you can hope for is that the foundations you’ve put in place when they were growing up will counter the messages they get bombarded with in the media.

Dropping names like Langston Hughes and Angela Davis, on a track you can play in front of children is where the brilliance of this song is. It opens up opportunity for parents and children to have a conversation, or at the very least gets children re-searching for the history of the names they’re hearing.

Verse 2 is where the message gets hard. Speech pulls no punches here. This verse covers a lot of ground, but can be broken down to three stages. Starting with a firm statement that those who negatively judge black women should check their own history and the way they have treated black women and their children.

In the second act of the verse he covers the abuses of black women and children and the tactics used to divide black people. Highlighting the mental and emotional harm that has done. how that history has caused so much damage in black communities today. But Speech isn’t one to merely present the problems, he finished with very clear ways this can be fixed.

His solution? Separation. Stop trying to divide black people. Oh and stop degrading black women.

The songs chorus is almost an affirmation for black women and a reminder that America really doesn’t care.

Speech finishes with a cutting verse about the hypocrisy of the fascination and craving of the stereotypical black female aesthetic, whilst the same people are dismissive and derogatory of black women.

This is message HipHop at its finest. The only way this gets better is with U.N.I.T.Y era Queen Latifah on a remix.

Building From The Bottom

From the album: For The FKN Love by Arrested Development

Song produced by Configa.

Emcees – Speech, 1 Love and 4ize

Life is divided in to three periods

Seneca

In my opinion so is this track. Speech deals with what it takes to get to the dream, 1 Love the insanity of living it and 4ize how to deal with it and keep grounded.

There is a swagger to this track. Everyone involved is making it sound effortless. Think of the greats in their prime (Rakim on any of the Eric B & Rakim albums, Kane on pretty much anything, Guru over a Premier beat). This is how well matched emcees and producer are here.

If Yes Always was Speech’s battle cry to always be prepared and never giving up, then Building From The Bottom demonstrates how he put that theory in to practice to build a 30 year career from nothing. It’s a small insight in to his early days as an emcee.

Chuck D once said something about rap being a contact sport. During the hype around Arrested Development in the early 90’s it was easy to overlook that they got to the top in a cutthroat era, those without skills were sniffed out and discarded. Speech sums it up best:

So no relaxing or laid back attitude more like

Murder everyone that’s in the way push on through

Speech, Building from the bottom

The groups success was no accident. Speech’s verse succinctly describes how it was achieved.

Each emcee builds on the story here – from hopeful to the eventual jaded veteran. In my mind each emcee is playing the same character at different ages and stages in life.

Speech begins with the young mans dream and ambition to get a foot in the door.

1 Love’s verse is the mid-career eye opener to what achieving the goal is really like – from losing friends, to people in the industry trying to dictate lyrical content. The final realisation that being independent is the way to go and the way to truly build and take back control of your voice. Why is this so important, in 1 Love’s words:

Radio they won’t play us folk cuz I want hip hop to get a soul again

1 Love, Building from the bottom

4ize rounds the song off with the tale of the personal toll the industry can take. Protect your legacy and self esteem, apply lessons learned from the bumps along the way. Develop a thick skin to the inevitable knocks and heartbreak. Buried in here is the line:

In the sunlight, master my craft until its done right

4ize

This thought stayed with me. It echoes Speech’s line of no relaxing. The way you stay in is the same way you got in. Hard work and honing your skills.

Yes Always – Arrested Development

From the album: For The FKN Love by Arrested Development

My personal take on Yes Always.

Yes Always is an anthem. It’s built to be played loud when you need inspiration to get through difficult times. It’s a reminder that you are more resiliant than you think, you just need to dig in to your past experience. Configa sets the scene with the sample on the intro, you know this is not going to just be some fluff of a song.

Musically Configa has crafted an uplifting boom bap back drop to Speech’s lyrics. Even before Speech begins his first verse, the scene is set in sound. Reflections of old school Arrested Development in Speech’s harmony, their even feels like a nod to ATCQ in Speech’s “grunts” (with a nod to Native Tongues in the lyrics later). Before the song even gets going it is enticing the listener to turn it up loud.

Then Speech hits us with the songs theme, his vocal harmonisation perfectly balanced with Configa’s sample vocal stabs.

I don’t know how this works. But a legend from Milwaukee connected with a Phd from Newcastle (in the words of LL “Two Different Worlds”) and they are creating music that embraces and celebrates the whole of HipHop culture.

Opening verse, Speech has never been a slacker on the mic and at 53 years old he approaches it like a blacksmith approaches Damascus steel. You know it’s going to go through some trauma to produce a thing of beauty. I won’t lie, I had to hit Google to get some of the references in the lyrics (even the Black Rob nod). In fact Speech sums the lyrical side of this song best:

Conscious Hip Hop maybe not for tourist

Speech, Yes Always

But that is the beauty of this song. It works for all levels of attention. Cursory level, you’re getting an uplifting head nodder. Deeper level, there is some listening and understanding to be done. I guarantee the more you listen to this the more you’ll get out of it. I’m still trying to work out the Boxter Porsche line – a nod to a mid-life crisis, or Speech saying he earned his rewards the hard way?

Arrested Development have always been very self aware of where they sit within Hip Hop – never the trend, always off kilter. Thats why this line resonated:

Opposite of Muslim, BRING HOME THE BACON

Speech, Yes Always

Thats a hard line, in stark contrast to so much of Hip Hop from the era AD came up in. It took me right back to those times. Weird how certain lyrics hit that way.

Dee-1 closes the song perfectly. I especially liked his lines about looking to the youth for inspiration and energy needed when times are hard. That hit me personally, as I look at my kids and learn from them how to navigate an ever changing world.