He was a young man in his early 20s when we he charged onto the music scene with his conscious rap lyrics that challenged our hearts and minds.
Today, as a minister of the Fayetteville, GA-based church The Seed, Grammy Award-winner Speech Thomas from the 90s hit group Arrested Development is out to make a difference in the music industry by helping to teach and develop young entertainers in his recently opened art school, Victory Spot.
JET talked with Speech about his new calling and why it’s so important at the moment.
JET: Why did you create Victory Spot?
Speech: My wife and I tour the world a lot. In our life of touring for the last 20 years or so, we have seen a lot of artists who have succumbed to the industry’s ideas for their career and have sabotaged their personal lives, their spiritual lives. They’ve lost their marriages and families in the balance. They’ve lost, sometimes, their sobriety in the balance…so we wanted to create a counter-balance, an art school that trains people on how to navigate the landscape of the music industry.
JET: What kind of impact are you hoping it will have on the community and ultimately the industry?
Speech: Already, we are making an impact with our current students. [Here] they can explore their creativity without being guided into an image or style of music that they’re not comfortable with. Where we are in Atlanta, unfortunately for the music industry is the heart of Babylon to some extent. Most of the music that is doing the best in the industry really had its roots in the strip club. We’ve made an impact by allowing our school to be a place of refuge from that type of influence.
JET: Why is it important to infuse the music industry with positive messages?
Speech: (Someone) gave this quote “if you can get a country’s pop culture under control, then you have the country.” If you turn on the radio to any regular secular station that is playing today’s top songs and were to analyze the lyrics of those top songs, I guarantee you that you would be appalled at what is being marketed to kids aged 8 and up. The music that is being marketed to them is without question filled with very adult themes– from drugs to ménage a trios, to girl on girl, guy on guy, you name it, oral sex, anal sex, all of these things are being talked about bluntly in today’s music themes.
And I’m not talking about the late night shows. I’m talking about 2 in the afternoon and 5 O’clock drive time. And these are artists that are being looked at as household names.
JET: You’ve gone from Grammy Award-winning artist to preacher for the last 16 years. As you travel the world touring, when given the mic, what instinctively comes out now? A song, or a sermon?
Speech: A song…but for my songs, they’re somewhat a sermon. To me, a sermon is a message that helps someone understand my relatability to an issue. In other words, the fact that I’ve been through something. It’s, “Let me share with you my life, and in doing so, let me teach you some of the things that I’ve learned.”
JET: Over the years, you have utilized your influence in a number of ways in the music industry. Now, it’s Victory Spot. But, what are some of your most memorable efforts?
Speech: Writing songs like “Tennessee.” In a hip hop era, we talked about being “real stressed…[Lord] take me to another place, take me to another land, help me understand your plan.” It was a prayer. Here’s a song that talks about spiritual attributes and needing God. It was the same with “Mr. Wendal” that talked about being “strong, serve God only, know that if you do beautiful heaven awaits.” These were secular songs that literally shook the world. So, when I think of the things that I’ve done, I’d have to say that’s #1. The second thing that’s more on a regional or local level is the Arts and Entertainment Conferences. I have a deep appreciation for how the arts and the message of Jesus Christ intertwine, and how they interact. Conferences like the Arts conference, where we are specifically talking about artists glorifying God, was my second proudest effort. Third would be my book, What is Success? That book is specifically how to be successful God’s way. It helps to define for people success from a spiritual point of view instead of just a materialistic point of view.
JET: Are students able to become a part of Victory Spot if they aren’t local to Georgia?
Speech: In the coming month, we will be launching our online Skype sessions. There are already people waiting to take advantage of that from around the country and the world.We don’t have it yet, but it’s coming.
To learn more about Victory Spot, check them out at www.victoryspot.org. You can also visit www.adtheband.com to keep up with Speech and Arrested Development and to download Arrested Development’s two latest albums – “Changing the Narrative” available for free, and “This Was Never Home” available for $9.99.