Greetings, my peoples! I hope you all enjoyed the holidays, and that the New Year is treating you well! I definitely enjoyed my hiatus, as I was able to devote my time to some of the other things that are important to me in this life. But it’s time to dust off the pen and get back into the swing of things. So, let’s kick off 2022 with the year in hip-hop that was 1996.
By 1996, Arrested Development already had two albums under their collective belts (three, if you count their MTV Unplugged album), a multi-platinum selling album, four gold plaques, five Grammy nominations and a couple of Grammy wins. They had also experienced the highs and lows that come with the music industry. Their debut album, 3 Years, was a huge commercial success (thanks to songs like “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendal”), but their follow-up, Zingalamaduni didn’t receive nearly as many accolades or make as much noise as its predecessor (I personally, thought it was a better album than the first, but that’s neither here nor there). Even with the disappointing numbers on their sophomore effort, AD’s label (Chrysalis/EMI) didn’t give up on the group, as they would get one more group project off in 2000 (Da Feelin’ EP). But before AD would release their third project, the voice and backbone of the group, Speech, would strike a solo deal with Chrysalis, releasing his self-titled debut album at the beginning of 1996.
Speech would handle most of the album’s production duties with an occasional assist here and there from a helping hand. Like Zingalamaduni, Speech was a commercial failure that came and went without a peep. But based on Speech’s music and aura, he doesn’t seem to be one motivated by money and/or accolades.
I found Speech in the dollar bins at one of my spots a few years ago. Since I liked some of the stuff on Arrested Development’s first two albums, I copped it and here we are. So, let’s jump into and hopefully get 1996 off with a great start.
Can U Hear Me? – Speech starts the night off with a little mic check and gets some help from Pappa Jon (not to be confused with that racist muthafucka who used to be the face and CEO of the pizza company with the same name). Speech spits passable bars, but Pappa Jon sounds like he borrowed Marty McFly’s DeLorean and traveled from 1983 to 1996, and that’s not a compliment. Speech’s instrumental is technically solid, but something about it feels dull and boring.
Ask Somebody Who Ain’t (If U Think The System’s Workin’…) – Over a mid-tempo folkish backdrop, Speech shares the story of a struggling single mother of three doing everything she can to make ends meet. The anonymous female’s story is used to highlight the bigger issues of wealth, poverty, employment and etc. in America. This was a cute little bop that’ll leave you with a few things to think about.
Filled With Real – Some young lady’s got Speech wide open on this one. So much so that he decided to write and sing a love song about her. Wait…did he just tell her “I’d like to fill you up with me” and then ask her “Have you ever climbed this tree, uh, uh not that tree, but this tree?” Them hippy niggas be the freakiest. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s not terrible, either.
Why U Gotta Be Feelin’ Like Dat – Pappa Jon returns to join Speech on the mic for this duet that finds the duo taking turns calling out a couple of toxic ladies in their lives. Poppa Jon delivers (no pun intended) his verses and the hook in this super annoying singing rap cadence that sounds even worse when paired with the cheesy instrumentation backing him.
If U Was Me – On the surface this appears to be a traditional love song, but it’s actually a somber acoustic ballad dedicated to white America from a black man’s perspective. This was dope, and it seems to sound better after every listen.
Impregnated Tid Bits Of Dope Hits – Our host hooks up a dark minimalistic instrumental and gets off some “stream of consciousness” bars over it. Speech’s rhymes are solid on this one, but his instrumental sounds empty and soulless. He does shout out A Tribe Called Quest on the hook (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check), so that should atone for at least a portion of the backdrop’s transgressions.
Let’s Be Hippies – Speech gets into his Prince bag on this one, putting his own unique folkish acoustic twist on it. Speech plays in the falsetto range for a large chunk of this song, and some notes were cringe worthy, but for the most part, he pulls it off. This is the farthest thing from a hip-hop song, but it’s easily one of my favorite records on the album.
Freestyle #8 From Speech’s Vault – Thanks to vocal distortion and the vocals being recorded way too low, Speech’s rhymes are almost impossible to understand on this minute-and-a-half freestyle. The only thing I understood was the end when he gives a promo for his vinyl only underground album called Beats From Speeches Vault that this short freestyle was taken from. I hope the rest of that album doesn’t sound like this shit.
Like Marvin Gaye Said (What’s Going On) – Our host pays homage to Marvin Gaye’s iconic record, but unfortunately, the results are subpar.
Hopelessly – Speech is in love again. But this time instead of singing to the object of his affection (well, he and Laurnea Wilkerson do sing on the hook), he raps poetically about his love (or infatuation) for this beautiful black Queen over a slick bop built around light mid-tempo drums and a few ruggedly smooth flute chords. In the immortal words of Q-Tip, this is a fly love song.
Insomnia Song – Over a creamy upbeat backdrop, Speech sings about some of the things that keep him up at night, like his newborn child, bills, and his parent’s well-being, as he laments throughout the song: “I got a million stories in my head, Insomnia song got me rollin’ in my bed.” I love the melodic instrumental, and Speech’s content is timelessly refreshing and easily relatable to all.
Poor Little Music Boy – This was too folksy and abstract for my taste buds.
Ghetto Sex – Speech comes from the perspective of an innocent young brother in the hood who meets and gets turned out by a voluptuous young sista, whom the streets say has poom-poom so good it will make you cream your draws, or if you’re Speech, your “bloomers”. In true Speech fashion, there is a deeper underlying meaning to the song than just a brother getting whipped by a bangin’ ghetto chick. The instrumental, which sounds like it’s in a tug of war between melodic and funky, is dope and works well with Speech’s sexy and deep content.
Tell Me Something (Let Me Know) – This is Speech’s ode to the motherland, that he explains at the beginning of the song he wrote while on his way to South Africa :”Yo, I’m going back to Africa, all the people around the world they laugh at ya, called you savage as they smile at Rwanda, call you a bitch after they bust a nut in ya, I’m upset cause their hands are covered with blood, puppet leaders shook hands with colonialism, despite some bad I’m glad you’re livin’, and I’m comin’ to return the love you’ve given”. Speech’s rhymes come off more like a spoken word poem than a rap, but they work well with the somberly soulful vibes of the instrumentation.
Runnin’ Wild – Speech invites Laurnea back to join him on this duet that finds the two sounding like newlyweds as they sing (Speech also sneaks in a quick rap) about their love for one another. This soulful groove is only for the grown and seasoned, and I loved it.
Speech isn’t your traditional hip-hop album. Matter of fact, you could argue that it’s not really a hip-hop album, as it plays like a gumbo mix of pop, r&b, folk and hip-hop all stirred together and served hot to feed both your soul and thought. Speech is a freeform artist who happens to rhyme when inspired, as he spends just as much time singing as he does rapping on the album; and occasionally, he blurs the line between the two art forms. Every song on Speech comes with a message over our host’s unique brand of quirky production, and while I appreciate Speech’s artistic spirit and bravery to explore outside the restrictive box most hip-hop artist tend to rest in, only about half of the songs connect, rendering the other half forgettable, too abstract or just down right corny. Speech’s music isn’t for everybody, but if you’ve acquired a taste for his music, I’m sure you’ll find at least a couple of songs on this project that’ll tantalize your musical taste buds.