The Revisit: Arrested Development Tennessee
Hip-Hop 20th Anniversary Edition
Artist: Arrested Development
Album: 3 Years, 5 Months, 2 Days In the Life of
Label: EMI/ Chrysalis Records
How blinded was the writer of this review to overlook at the symbolic importance of hip-hop group Arrested Development’s (AD) 1992 groundbreaking hit “Tennessee.” The television channel or radio dial would change when this video or song would broadcast. Perhaps, being a naïve adolescent at the time of its release and having lack of knowledge of what AD represented as a movement resonated little to no buzz to these two ears. In addition, the rebelliousness of a teenager not fully grasping the theological aspect of a GOD driven purpose life is the notion of this song’s disregard.
The fascination with “Tennessee” developed during the writer’s college years during a class presentation. The revisiting of this song helped gain an appreciative insight for Arrested Development. What continuously keeps the writer’s head nodding is the song’s use of the mesmerizing sample of Prince’s “Alphabet Street” and it’s reiteration of the word “Tennessee” that gives the song its mystique before rapper Speech delivers his heartfelt sensibilities. Rarely in today’s hip-hop where equilibrium in flow and production are imbalanced, the vitriol flow of the rapper and architect sound of “Tennessee” becomes succinct like blood cousins.
The song’s aphoristic and homily messages are attention grabbers. The first verse, “I don’t know where I can go/ To let these ghosts out of my skull/ My grandma’s past, my brother’s gone/ I never at once felt so alone,” is the cynosure of the song’s encomium. Speech mourns over the passing of two significant people in his life just a few days apart. He lyrically drowns in profound infliction while asking the Lord for guidance as he expands, “Take me to another place/ Take me to another land/ Make me forget all that hurts me/ Let me understand your plan.” The crooning of AD’s Aerle Taree in the chorus gives “Tennessee” its vivifying and yearning coarse.
The sentientness and spirituality enshrined in song gives it its timelessness in hip-hop. “Lord its obvious we got a relationship/ Talkin’ to each other every night and day…I set myself on a quest for truth/ And He was there to quench my thirst/ But I am still thirsty.” The break or pause between “thirsty” and the next lyric exhibits hardship, misery, reflection on life, and a moment of silence for the deceased, and the hunger for the word of GOD.
The journey to the Green Mile in the final verse is the epistle of ancestral expedition and biographical farsightedness, “Out of the country…past Dyesburg into Ripley/ Where the ghost of childhood haunt me/ Walk the roads my forefathers walked/ Climbed the trees my forefathers hung from/ Ask those trees for all their wisdom…Now I see the importance of history…Many journeys to freedom made in vain/ By brothers on the corner playin’ ghetto games.” This made the writer shed a tear. African Americans free of indentured servitude centuries ago are still chained to shackles from a mental aspect due to a corrupt system.
What better way for Speech and AD to euphoniously redeem themselves from subjugation than to put it on wax. In essence, Dionne Farris proves to be delivered by exhilarating a strong vocal box towards the song’s ending providing listeners a frigid sensation to ear canals and awakens the ancestors from their resting graves. Her angelic crooning lets one know one does not have to travel far when Farris proved there is a “Tennessee” in all of us if we look within ourselves.
The righteous “Tennessee” is not only a historical landmark. It is hip-hop’s form of self-discovery and salvation making “Tennessee” and Arrested Development close but Distant Relatives.
-Hector De La Rosa-