2x Grammy Award Winning Musician, Conscious Rapper, Minister, Arts School Founder, Documentarian, Father, Husband & Music Icon
Listen to the Full Interview with Speech
Todd “Speech” Thomas made his name in the lates 1980s as one of the pioneers of a socially conscious hip-hop movement with his group Arrested Development that he founded in 1988 — an alternative sound to the gangster rap that was permeating the African American music scene at the time.
Their debut album “3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…” went four-times Platinum in the U.S., and the title refers to the length of time it took Arrested Development to get a record contract. Hailed by critics as being a trailblazer of afro-centric positivity, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of… won two Grammy awards and was included in a list of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
One of our favorite stories that Speech shared with us involves Spike Lee…yes, Spike Lee! Just a few months after the release of their debut album, he was tapped on the shoulder by the legendary film director and asked to compose a song for his upcoming biopic based on the life of Malcolm X. This chance encounter spawned the song Revolution”, which was a focal point of the film’s soundtrack when it was released in 1992.
Never wavering in his social activism and message of unity over the past 30 years, in the 2018 documentary, “16 Bars,” Speech helped to mentor and guide four musical artists in the prison system — winning best documentary at the Downtown L.A. Film Festival in the process.
We talked to Speech about coming of age in Milwaukee and how his childhood molded his view of the world. From racism to gang crime and the suicide of a close friend, Speech has experienced many personal challenges, yet his positivity still endures. We are insanely stoked to present you with an episode that is as inspirational as the man himself.
Here are favorite takeaways from our chat with Grammy-winning artist Speech from Arrested Development.
His Love of Music Started Early
From wearing his mom’s afro wigs and performing Jackson 5 routines for his neighbors, writing letters to his idol Michael Jackson, Speech spent his early childhood enamored by music and dance. His love of music grew more profound when he started to visit the popular nightclub his father owned, named “Fox Trap.” It was here that he fell in love with Hip-Hip, and he proceeded to spend his days at school and his evenings at his dad’s club, learning how to D.J. from one of the resident DJ’s.
“I just see people on the dance floor and just having the time of their lives and just seeing the power of music from the D.J. and everything. It was just amazing to me, and I wanted to be a part of that world. I wanted to have an impact on people through music, and that was the beginning of career music for me like that was when I knew I wanted to do this for real.”
Activism Starts at Home
Speech reminisced with us about how his parents heavily influenced him on his own views about being a black person in America and how it affected his future decisions in life.
“My mom and dad were always involved in activism, I mean, being black, period, you’re in a constant state of anger, you’re in a constant state of striving to find a way to freedom. And my mom and dad were no different. In fact, they probably had it even more because it was more blatant racism during their upbringing… So we would wake up in the morning and eat breakfast, and we talked about the various issues that affected the black community.”
Embrace Negativity and Channel It Positively
Speech’s refusal to accept that status quo and strive for change has made him famous for his social activism. He shared with us how he encourages people to take their pain and adversity and make it into something positive.
“I actually don’t tell people to escape it; I tell them to embrace it, embrace that anger. And then once you embrace it, channel it, because a lot of times anger gets a bad rap, you know, anger many times is the catalyst for great movements and great change, and people have first to get angry. If you’re not angry, you’re likely not going to do anything about it.”
Appreciate Others Art
Unsurprisingly, Speech is a staunch supporter of other artists dedicated to their craft. He explained to us how he finds inspiration in other artists, music, and performances and uses this to advance his work and stage-presence.
“I see somebody, that’s amazing, I feel like that, that is my opera, the very fact that I’ve had a chance to witness them, the blessing of witnessing them, tells me that I can do better. And so it doesn’t make me jealous of them. It makes me more inspired. I love being inspired by excellence, not just in music, but in any area. And when I see it, I’m not intimidated by it; I’m more so drawn to it, I want to be around it more, I want to see what they did.”
Getting to chat with Speech from Arrested Development and having him share some of his most pivotal life experiences with us was truly a “pinch me” moment. We feel so inspired, honored, and humbled by all that he had to share, and we’re sure you will too. To hear the full conversation click the play button on this page or go to any podcast player.
Links & Resources
3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life Of… – Arrested Development’s Grammy Award-winning album
Malcolm X – 1992 movie by Spike Lee
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