3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of. . .

Arrested Development

album cover

Life-Affirming Alternative Rap

The title refers to the amount of time it took the idealistic Atlanta hip-hop group Arrested Development to find a record label willing to issue this, its first effort. That there were few executives who believed in the group's life-affirming, socially aware messages is dismaying, especially considering this hit their desks before gangsta rap broke big. Even more incredible is the way rapper Speech and his counterparts handled the rejection: They pressed on, taking in feedback but retaining the basic ideology. Before anybody else did, they believed in this music.

The group's persistence was rewarded: On the strength of its searching single "Tennessee" and several follow-ups, Arrested Development became a sensation. The album sold over four million copies and brought the group two Grammys including, in a first for hip-hop, Best New Artist.

It's easy to hear why Arrested Development clicked—Three Years is the giddy utopianism of early Sly and the Family Stone grafted onto a hip-hop rhythmic frame. Many of the tracks aim to galvanize through messages of self-reliance and responsibility, with grabby chanted choruses reinforcing the slogans. Some talk of empowerment ("Give a Man a Fish"), while several of the medium-tempo tracks directly discuss race and faith, invoking Sly's positivity more directly—"People Everyday" is a flip update of the 1969 hit "Everyday People." Other alternative-minded rappers before and after Arrested Development (especially A Tribe Called Quest) offer more intricate musical foundations, and weightier messages. But these stirring and exuberant tracks endure: Cue this up whenever you need to be reminded that in hip-hop, inner strength can matter just as much as blustery street bravado.

Genre: Hip-Hop
Released: 1992, Chrysalis
Key Tracks: "Mama's Always on Stage," "Tennessee," "Fishin' 4 Religion"
Catalog Choice: Speech: Spiritual People
Next Stop: A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory
After That: P.M. Dawn: Jesus Wept
Book Page: 27

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#1 from ken gehosky, camphill PA - 11/06/2008 5:23

in light of Barack Obama’s election… a little “Life-Affirming Alternative Rap” is fitting. 

I remember when I first heard this album as a recent high school graduate during my first semester away at college.  A white kid from the suburbs who’s knowledge of rap music began and ended with RUN DMC’s remix of “Walk This Way”, I was blown away by the sounds on this album.  It became a kind of anthem for the changes in my life that college would bring.

#2 from zach cole, boston, MA - 11/06/2008 8:36

This album is a hidden gem that ought to receive more attention whenever the discussion of best hip-hop albums comes around. Predecessors of alternative rap legends, Arrested Development raps about things that matter to the socially aware and conscious. All in all, this album is special to me because it changed my perspective on life, and my entire way of thinking really. This album is proof to me that music has the power to make changes for the better in everyday lives.

#3 from T.B., around - 12/28/2008 12:34

In an era where the simplistic, nihilistic sounds of 50 Cent and Eminem represent the epitome of rap music in the mainstream pop outlets of MTV and radio, “3 Feet High and Rising” stands as one of the most optimistic, life-affirming and wildly creative albums that hip-hop has ever produced—and it is indeed thanks to the soul of its three architects.

#4 from Visitor, around - 12/28/2008 12:36

What a great album, so original in sound and uplifting in spirit! It encompasses a stunning variety of styles in a set of highly accomplished songs.

#5 from HRS, USA - 02/17/2009 7:43

All in all, this album is special to me because it changed my perspective on life, and my entire way of thinking really.

#6 from Mike J. - 02/26/2009 4:00

What ever happened to life affirming rap? It seems like there was plenty of it before “gangster rap” took hold, in the early days of rap.  Now it’s poo pooed, although it does seem to be making somewhat of a comeback.  You have to figure that the gangster period of rap is coming to an end…no fashion lasts for ever.
Mike J.
San Francisco DUI lawyer

#7 from zach cole, boston, MA - 02/26/2009 6:23

Mike J.,
You’re right, there is a big comeback in alternative hip-hop. A lot of it’s coming thru the west coast. Check out groups like People Under The Stairs, Deltron 3030, Living Legends, Murs, Giant Panda, New Jack Hustle, Blu & Exile, Johnson & Jonson, and C.R.A.C. Knuckles. As for artists and groups not from the west coast go for CYNE, of course Common, Lupe, and Kanye are still out there, Animate Objects, man i could go on all day, and a lot of foreign hip-hop is moving in the right direction as well, check out then french and japanese scenes esp!

#8 from tom moon - 05/30/2009 6:42

To Zach’s list of alt-hiphop I’d add

Blackalicious. that Blazing Arrow album holds up astoundingly well!



#9 from werewolf, Turkey - 08/01/2009 10:07

This album is perfect.

#10 from rapper, Turkey - 08/14/2009 1:22

What a great album, so original in sound and uplifting in spirit!

#11 from Manish @ Funny Quotes, India - 11/13/2009 10:12

Ahhhh….. ahhhhhh…… Mr Wendell…..yeah…..Mr Wendell…..
Remember that song?
For such a long time I repeatedly played that song Mr Wendell on their album ‘3 years, 5 months and 2 days in the life of….Arrested Development’.
Totally trashed it, and who could blame me, its such a great song and should be played more often!
As far as I know that was the only album released by the band as I haven’t heard anything on the radio or television about them.
It is more a reggae album, the best thing about the ‘Mr Wendell’ song is the introduction…
Ahhhh…. Ahhhh…… ahhhhh…….. Mr Wendell…… yeah…..

#12 from Debra, PA - 03/09/2012 1:07

This album is on my own personal top 5 albums of all time.  So glad to see it included here.  The lyrics were everything to me at the time, and the groups own diversity captivated me.  I never understood why their second album was their last.  It always seemed incredibly understimated, and was just as good as their first.  I remember being in perpetual torment in trying to decide which was their greatest song, “Tennessee”, or “Ease My Mind”. Still not sure!

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