Speech creates Juneteenth celebration with Arrested Development at City Winery June 19-21

“It was just fresh,” Todd “Speech” Thomas said of the tune “Rapper’s Delight.” “It didn’t feel or sound like anything that happened before it.” Hearing “Rapper’s Delight” inspired Thomas to begin his own career as a rapper, and to form the group Arrested Development. TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

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“It was just fresh,” Todd “Speech” Thomas said of the tune “Rapper’s Delight.” “It didn’t feel or sound like anything that happened before it.” Hearing “Rapper’s Delight” inspired Thomas to begin his own career as a rapper, and to form the group Arrested Development. TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

He’s hoping to make it an annual event

The group Arrested Development has a unique place in early hip-hop history with its progressive social justice framework, Southern vibes and basic positive feel. Its celebratory sound jibes well with a Juneteenth celebration, something Arrested Development lead singer Speech has decided to capitalize on at the City Winery Atlanta for three nights June 19-21.

“We were wanting to raise the consciousness in the community,” said Speech in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We will have tables set up for people to learn about burial insurance and property mortgage and home ownership. I want them to be informed and empowered. And of course, we want to uplift people.”

The band will also honor long-time employees of Hosea Helps, the long-running nonprofit organization that helps the homeless and those who are in poverty. Tickets are available at citywinery.com for $35-$45.

Three decades ago, Arrested Development had a trio of massive hits — “Tennessee,” “Mr. Wendal” and “People Everyday” — from their Grammy-winning album “3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of...” While the group never found comparable chart success after that, it has continued to churn out music and tour. The group just came back from 35 dates in Europe, where it built up a following back in the day as well.

“Our record went platinum in numerous European countries,” Speech said. “We were one of the first hip-hop acts to do well overseas. I think people around the world connected with our positivity and authenticity. Plus, we always had a melodic nature to our songs that made it more relatable in a lot of different countries.”

He said Paris was especially fun. “There are some countries where our message resonates more,” he said. “France is a great example of that. They are very freedom loving people. That is what Arrested Development is about. It connects.”

He said the Juneteenth celebrations will embrace the 30th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough album as well as more recent music.

“Our latest album is a love letter to our fans,” Speech said. “It features Big Daddy Kane, Master Ace, The Sugarhill Gang and Monie Love. So many legendary hip-hop artists. It’s a celebration of hip-hop itself.”

And the band changes things up every night with 30 to 40 songs ready to go and only about 20 slots available. “We never do the same show twice,” he said. “We don’t have a set list per se. We do whatever the crowd wants. They’ll throw song names out.”

Speech is happy to see Juneteenth gain awareness outside of the Black audience. He said he has known about it since he was a little kid in Milwaukee. “It was always one of those memorable special cultural experiences from my childhood,” he said. “We’d get together, have barbecue, listen to great music. I remember balloons and clowns. It’s all fond memories.”

He hopes to make the Juneteenth concert much bigger down the road, comparable to The Roots Picnic in Philadelphia. “We want to make this an annual thing,” he said.

IF YOU GO

Arrested Development

8 p.m. June 19-21. $35-$45. City Winery Atlanta, 650 North Ave. NE, Atlanta. citywinery.com.