There’s a growing pattern happening in Minnesota rap music right now: fatigued and bored by the cliche “indie rap” sound, many scenesters are cueing in on artists with a more hardcore, street-smart, dancefloor-friendly sound. Artists like Muja Messiah and Trama, whose street credentials are never questioned and have probably never been called emo-rap, are gaining popularity and packing shows from wall to wall. This has some interesting side effects—for example, you can now go to a local rap show and the majority of attendees might not all be white hipsters from Uptown. It’s also opening up new opportunities for artists whose sounds are inspired more by Dead Prez and Nappy Roots than by Atmosphere and Aesop Rock.
But RDM is far from a new arrival on the scene. One of the defining members of the Abstract Pack, one of the Cities’ oldest and most respected crews, Roosevelt Darnell Mansfield III (RDM) been doing his thing since the mid-’90s, including performing not just as a rhyme spitter but also a DJ (under the name DJ Digie). The Abstract Pack split up—or rather, took an extended hiatus—in the late 90s, leaving most of them to tend to their personal lives and solo efforts.
12 years later, we catch back up with RDM on his first solo release, Priorities. This also happens to be the first solo project off of Pack Material, LLC, the Abstract Pack’s business wing.
Priorities doesn’t waste time with self-indulgent, melodramatic intros crafted from esoteric movie samples like some albums, instead railing the listener right off the bat with hard-hitting, street-savvy beats and aggressive yet cool raps. He isn’t afraid to rock a little crunchy guitar riffs here and there, or digitally altered, impossibly low-octave vocal samples. One or two tracks even take a cue from Lil Jon, driving the melodies with chopped-up, Euro-techno-style synthesizers over boom-clap, boom-clap rhythms.
Some of the songs are of an R&B-infused nature, riffing off some of the definitive East Coast sounds. Others are more street-tested, dirty beats with catchy refrains such as “Low down and grimy, that’s where you’ll find me,” which seems to be a recurring theme sonically if not lyrically. But some of the songs are genuinely emotional and personal, too, such as the memorial to RDM’s late grandmother. This song can put tears in the eyes of the strongest of men. This is followed by a heartfelt dedication to his wife, which is both deeply personal and completely universal in its portrayal of the beauty and strength of womanhood.
RDM shows off his singing abilities toward the end of the album with a syncopated “I-got-people-hate-in’-on-me, but-I’m-still-R-D-i-g-i-e—RDM!” which, for better or worse, is vaguely reminiscent of an Eminem song but with smoother rhymes, and without the “Look at me! Look at me! I’m shocking you!” subject matter for which Slim is known.
The album ends on a refreshing note, cooling the ears with a chill, jazz-influxed guitar riff over a simple yet perfectly ample straight boom-bap beat. A little cutting on the turntables, which have been scarce throughout the album, livens it up even more. But as great as this finishing track is, there’s something missing—some void that hasn’t been totally filled when the sound stops and the CD player switches to the next disc in the changer.
After thinking about it for a while I think that feeling is comparable to a sudden drop in air pressure right before a storm. Because if message from the album is clear, it’s that the Abstract Pack has returned, and to quote Bob Dylan, “It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, ’cause the times, they are a’ changin’.”