Widely adored when it appeared in 1992, Arrested Development
's debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of...
seemed to herald a shining new era in alternative rap, when audiences and critics of all colors could agree on the music's importance. Of course, that didn't happen, as Dr. Dre
instead took gangsta rap to the top of the charts with The Chronic
. In retrospect, 3 Years...
isn't quite as revolutionary as it first seemed, though it's still a fine record that often crosses the line into excellence. Its positive messages were the chief selling point for many rock critics, and it's filled with pleas for black unity and brotherly compassion, as well as a devotion to the struggle for equality. All of that is grounded in a simple, upbeat spirituality that also results in tributes to the homeless (the hit "Mr. Wendal"), black women of all shapes and sizes, and the natural world. It's determinedly down to earth, and that aesthetic informs the group's music as well. Their sound is a laid-back, southern-fried groove informed by rural blues, African percussion, funk, and melodic R&B. All of it comes together on the classic single "Tennessee," which takes lead rapper Speech
on a spiritual quest to reclaim his heritage in a south still haunted by its history. It helped Arrested Development
become the first rap group to win a Grammy for Best New Artist, and to top numerous year-end critical polls. In hindsight, there's a distinct political correctness -- even naïveté -- in the lyrics, which places the record firmly in the early '90s; it's also a bit self-consciously profound at times, lacking the playfulness of peers like the Native Tongues
. Nonetheless, 3 Years...
was a major influence on a new breed of alternative southern hip-hop, including Goodie Mob
, and Nappy Roots
, and it still stands as one of the better albums of its kind.