Talking “16 Bars” with Speech of Arrested Development (Interview)

3 Years 5 months And 2 Days In The Life Of is the title of his group’s multi platinum hip hop classic from 1992. This is ironic, considering that’s nearly how long it took to formulate his movie debut 16 Bars, which takes Arrested Development frontman, Speech, into to a Virginia jail to collaborate on a music project with 4 men – all with different stories to tell.

Speech aka Todd Thomas was gracious enough to grant a phone interview, giving me an overview of 16 Bars, which has garnered international attention, shedding light on the prison industrial complex and how important it is to reform how men and women are reintegrated into society upon their release.

Here’s what we spoke about…

SPEECH PROFILE

INTERVIEW

So how did this all come about? What spawned 16 Bars?

I was watching This Is Life by Lisa Ling, and that particular episode was centered around a daddy/daughter dance for incarcerated fathers. My manager was also watching and we were blown away by this. The sheriff, C.T. Woody, saw the importance of maintaining strong relationships despite the inmate’s predicament at that moment. We started the conversation, reached out to some writers and thankfully they immediately saw the vision.

How long did the film take to put together?

It took us two years just to get through the red tape regarding clearances and such. We filmed inside the jail for 10 days and collected additional footage over time. We considered both male and female inmates, but the most cohesive stories ended up being four men.

What are some of your most compelling memories during the filming?

Initially I didn’t know how I would be received by the inmates and staff. Fortunately I was met with open arms by both.I spent a night in the jail. I was able to leave at any time. I stayed. But the thought of my freedom being taken away was frightening and enlightening. I didn’t partake in the jail cuisine.

In conjunction to the film, the soundtrack is equally important. What are your feelings on it?

The soundtrack doesn’t dumb anything down. It’s reality. It’s also diverse; from hip hop to country. Garland’s “Freedom Wind” deals with regret and optimism, while Teddy’s song “Inspire” seeks to do exactly that for future generations faced with the same situations.

Stream/Buy 16 Bars Soundtrack

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Going forward, do you see a follow up for 16 Bars and have you maintained contact with those involved?

Absolutely on both questions. Schools, jails and prisons are already making 16 Bars part of their platform for change and education. I’m ecstatic that it has sparked so much conversation and the possibility of changing how we reintegrate people into society and keep them connected to their families.

2 of the 4 (Garland and Devonte) are currently locked up. Anthony has been in and out, currently out, but TBH he is struggling. Teddy is headed to a recovery center in San Francisco.

Well, bro, thank you so much for your time and this gem you all have given us. Do you have any final words?

Thanks to Weekly Rap Gods for this platform. Thanks Twan for this piece. Please subscribe to BrotherSpeech.com for further updates on music and the progress of 16 Bars.

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