On this solo debut from the former leader of Arrested Development, the rapper-singer tries to rebound from AD’s sophomore slump by mix-and-matching the pastoral hip-hop blues of “Tennessee,” his ex-band’s breakthrough ’92 hit, with the slick party-time grooves that now rule rap. The result is uneven. Rough-and-tumble tracks like “Can You Hear Me?” and “Why You Gotta Be Feelin’ Like Dat?” boom appealingly, but such commercial concessions would be more at home on a Coolio album.
Luckily, Speech has melody on his side. “Like Marvin Gaye Said (What’s Going On),” the first single, offers a nicely textured, funky bit of mellow hip hop. Speech’s rap complements the song’s keyboard melody rather than merely riding the rhythm, and that contrapuntal tactic gives his conversational, zigzag style a fluid, tuneful quality—a rarity in rap’s rhythm nation. Too bad his lyrics often lapse into socially conscious platitudes: “I open my shades to my window I see crime/ Crime of the mind,” he declares. Duh. (Chrysalis/EMI)