Arrested Development: Town and Country Club, London

ATLANTA hip hoppers Arrested Development are the very antithesis of Ice Cube, whose tour they follow by just a few days. They counter Cube’s scatter-gun fury with reasoned discourse, his misogyny with feminism, his gang with their extended family. They’re even accompanied on tour by Baba Oje, their elderly “spiritual adviser”. It transpired that the white-bearded Baba is part of the show. He wandered on stage with the six band members and settled down at the back. Bare-footed, beneficently smiling, he looked for all the world like the Beatles’ guru, the Maharishi. As the first number, ‘Give A Man A Fish’, got under way he stood up and danced in a little circle.

Arrested Development are technically rappers, but no accurate term exists for their home-brew of hip hop, funk, and family values. The family analogy was especially apt at this gig. People drifted around, swapping roles: DJ Headliner left his decks to rap on a couple of numbers; the female dancers, Taree and Eshe, took turns on backing vocals. The whole thing was anchored by speed-rapping MC Speech and by Toni Williams, a vocalist of earth-scorching power. Baba Oje beatifically beamed, undoubtedly concentrating on love-vibes.

The group’s unity was as uplifting as their music. The gender-balance of three women and four men created a positivity unique in hip hop. The audience responded — ‘People Everyday’, a percolating tune about sexual equality, received as big a cheer as the recent hit ‘Mr Wendal’.

This fine if rather exhausting gig proved that live rap doesn’t have to be dull. Integrated, in all senses of the word.

© Caroline SullivanThe Guardian, 18 March 1993

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