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RDM: Priorities

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The Abstract Pack's bracing reunion at 2008's TC Hip-Hop Awards was proof, for anyone who needed it, that the '90s St. Paul rap crew had been one of our great bands. It was also a sign of how active various members had stayed since 1998's Bousta Set It (For the Record), the group's only CD: Glo, Ra, and Eklipz kept busy in Braille Method; Knowledge MC did solo; and Roosevelt Darnell Mansfield III (a.k.a. Digie, a.k.a. RDM) has built a live rep behind 2004's The R.D.M. Experience EP, which paid homage to the grind of good family men everywhere working square jobs, but with a style that made this sound like the nastiest of illicit business in the maze-like streets of "Shots Paul."

For his debut full-length, RDM keeps these wholesome Priorities straight, with a back-cover photo of his wife and children under the title, and an intro that states, "You never live if you don't got nothing to leave." The album contains a grandma tribute ("Missin' U...Grams") and no cuss words, and has a homemade look, like one of those Run-DMC-fonted "I Run STP" T-shirts at Rondo Days. But it's no glorified demo. Producing almost entirely himself, with D.Mil (SP Style) and Big Jess (Unknown Prophets) mixing and mastering, RDM creates a sound big enough for his good intentions, and for a few thousand party people as well. The digital boom-clap and echoing chorus of "Live/Die For" are the best argument in years for conscious rap, while the recorder and sitar samples of "Lock the Place Down" conjure a South Asian playground for a possibly accurate demographic breakdown of RDM's audience: "thugs on the left," "queens in the middle," and "hip-hop heads" on the right, while "haters always stay to the back."

Produced by longtime collaborator B Linch, the bongo-fied "Hate'n on Me" is so tunefully funky, you wonder why anyone would hate on RDM at all, unless it's for too much abstract positivity: "The aim is to shame kids," he spits on "Rock to the Beat," except he never really gets around to shaming anyone amid his readymade slogans, obscure boasts, and infectious iterations of his nickname. So RDM's jittery dance-rap musicality takes center stage, especially on "You Ain't Hard (Trust Me)," which has the best chorus, and the head-rattling "Low Down N Grimey." As a closer, Abstract Pack reunite for "My Poetry's Deep"—another promise of good things to come, but not all that deep either.