Back in the late ’80s when Gangsta Rap was rising in popularity, on the other end of the spectrum was a new form of Alternative Hip Hop. Popularized by groups such as Digable Planets, De La Soul, and The Pharcyde, undeniable pioneers also include Arrested Development. Coming together in Atlanta, Georgia, Arrested Development built a a foundation on hopeful yet realistic lyrics that promoted positive thinking and positive imagery of African Americans, all while glorifying life, not death.
Making a huge impact with their 1991 debut album 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…, thanks to founding Lyricist Speech, the group continues to move forward strongly three decades later. Operating as an independent entity for the past 20 years under Speech’s Vagabond Productions, they have consistently released new material, made it accessible to listeners, and continued to tour the globe. Continuing along this path, on Friday, September 25, 2020, they return with their latest studio album, Don’t Fight Your Demons.
Coming at a critical time in American history – when there is a looming heath crisis, civil unrest, and overt racism is rearing its very ugly head – Don’t Fight Your Demons is contextually quite heavy. Brought to you by Speech, along with his longtime supporting cast, the album features production/engineering from British Producer Configa, who is known for his authentic Hip Hop beats. Together offering 16 full, solid tracks of music, the conceptual backstory behind the album follows a prisoner called Anthony; a character featured in Speech’s 16 Bars documentary which shines a light on the messy criminal justice system.
Important details behind the inspiration for this new collection, Don’t Fight Your Demons is indeed extremely topical, real, and at times heartbreaking to listen to. You see, whether we want to admit it or not, there is a problem with systematic racism in America. While some might like to down play it or dismiss it completely, if you really open your eyes, it is there. A hard pill to swallow for some, Don’t Fight Your Demons pushes all the chips to the center of the poker table in its effort to enlighten. Not an attack on white people, it is more an education to both whites and blacks on the past, present, and what we can do together for a better future. These factors hit hard in the lyrics and the sound samples amidst the music with narratives that really provoke deep thought.
Hitting you between the eyes with tracks like “Back Down,” “Moses,” and the self-growth anthem “Amazing,” there is a lot in between the lines to digest. There is also a very soulful vibe felt on the single “Becoming,” which also features a stunning dialogue at the end – so please wait for it. Then, “Young Americans” presents a vivid story within its words and instrumentation, “The Same People” tells a truth about the hypocrisies and corruption around us, as “Do or Die Mantra” stabs you in the heart with its raw reality.
As mentioned, all very heavy and powerful, there are also lighter moments as heard on the spectacular “Sunset in Ghana.” This before a groove sets in for the cautionary tale told on “Play With Fire,” and “We’ll See” finds Speech laying all his inner thoughts on the line, becoming breathtakingly vulnerable in the process.
All in all, Don’t Fight Your Demons is proof that Hip Hop is still a viable artform that can bring a message. Arrested Development raise awareness, but all while doing so with rhythmic flow, authentic Hip Hop beats, and a feel good vibe. If you are a lifelong fan of this group, then you already know what is going on. However, if you are reintroducing yourself to them after many years away, this is an album that will bring you back to the days of classic Alternative Hip Hop music. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Don’t Fight Your Demons 4.5 out of 5 stars.