"3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in The Life of..."
1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Okay, stick with me for this one. In the era of modern hip-hop, even my mom has come to admit that perhaps more mainstream and less positive-minded rappers like Jay-Z and Eminem really are better at wordplay than their more Christian counterparts. This is why a rap group like Arrested Development stands out today and in 1992 when its debut album “3 Years, 5 Months…” came out: It’s essentially hip-hop for your and my mothers.
The messages are varied, but every track on the album is brimming with wholesome fare that strays far from the typical “gangsta” or otherwise morally devoid fare of the day, the Dr. Dre/2 Live Crew stuff. Primary emcee Todd “Speech” Thomas encourages listeners to support unwed mothers, help the homeless, use religion as a method of change, and get kids outdoors, among other things. My personal favorite is “Give a Man a Fish” because it embraces a non-partisan political stance I support, getting the government to teach the lower classes essential life skills, instead of just throwing money at them.
Even in the album’s edgiest tracks, Speech rounds the rough edges with an ultimate message. On single “People Everyday,” when he rhymes of laying the beat-down on a rival who is harassing his woman, the final lesson is that Africans will win out over wannabe gangstas. In “Natural,” he expresses his sexual longing for a woman, but does it the most respectful way possible, lusting in a way much more honorable than 2 Live.
A humorous element of the album is noticing one thing common to hip-hop across the board, righteous or not: ego. On the fourth track, “Blues Happy,” a short introduction of the group by Speech, the vocalist labels himself as the “leader” not once but twice. And, although every track but one (“Children Play With Earth”) is written mainly by Speech, that track is the only one with its lyrics not represented in the CD booklet.
Is Speech the sickest of rap lyricists ever? No, not by a long shot. Are DJ Timothy “Headliner” Barnwell’s beats the best or most groundbreaking? Not really. But the approach of Arrested Development is refreshing, and it led to better "conscious rap" groups like Black Star, and, believe it or not, Atlanta hip-hop in general. And yes, you can listen to this with your mom.
INTERESTING FACT: The group sued Fox Television over the name of the show "Arrested Development." The show made light of this several times, including the episode where narrator Ron Howard emphatically points out the difference between the mother/son pageant "Motherboy XXX" from the '80s hair metal band Motherboy.