Aesthetically Speaking

UP ROCK: Black to the future

“Afrofuturism” as a concept combines ideas of Afro-centricity, history, science fiction and essentially a new way of communicating.

Musicians Dean “Dundee” Brewington and Roosevelt “Digie” Mansfield have made their mark in Minnesota as part of the group, Abstract Pack, but their new incarnation is opening many doors into how the future can look and sound.

I spoke with Digie and Dundee midway into mixing their new EP and preparing for their Late Night at the Dakota Jazz Club showcase this Saturday night (June 13). This eclectic duo straddles the lines of performers, producers and DJs. In addition, Digie, is a behavioral specialist with his company DigieMade, LLC and Dundee is a highly acclaimed stylist.

AS: Your group name has several connotations. What is your definition of Up Rock?

Dundee: It celebrates our culture past, present and future. To come up with the name, it needed to be something that we identified with, that our peers could identify with and that was also relevant to the hip-hop culture. Breakdance was my way in. That was the liaison into this wider culture that we now call hip-hop. That was a necessary tool in my mind frame. What we try to do is stay true to all of the elements that help build culture we now know and love. We try to reflect that in our art – from dance, to dress, to speech, to the music and the DJing. There was a time that we were blessed to be a part in with uplifting of our community.

Digie: Dundee presented the name, and immediately that spoke to me. To me it was music and dance that relates to everything that’s me and expands generations. It’s this language that we have.

AS: On Saturday you are playing the Late Night series at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. What should people know about the show?

Dundee: The impetus is for the show, in this dope historic venue, we wanted to keep this notion of Black futurism … really movement. When we do shows it needs to be a representation culturally. We wanted to find some acts that deal with what we see as a futuristic voice. (DJ) Adora Tokyo is on her own thing. She deals with fashion. She deals with other communities. It’s vast and wide in how she speaks in her art. Adrianna Levett, she has a new project, Midnight + Mustafa. She has always been at the forefront of pushing new boundaries.

Digie: The future is a movement and the voices that need to be heard are not the mainstream. We represent the voices that need to be heard.

AS: You have legendary status as members of the group Abstract Pack. How does this new work relate to your history?

Dundee: It’s part of our personal story and it’s OK and that’s real. The Pack is our family. It is a real family. We have literally grown up (with) and raised each other. We are raising our kids together. We discuss a lot of our personal and artistic moves with the crew because we hold our family in high regard. We know they aren’t going to give the B.S. It’s lovely to have that support.

Digie: It’s a piece of history that we don’t want to forget. Underneath the many layers of Up Rock, the Abstract Pack is still there but it’s not the focus. Nothing that we do now is in the name of the Abstract Pack. (Up Rock) is our personal beliefs. Me personally, with the youth educating, uplifting and communicating. What we do is our bridge. It’s really evident in the work that I do. My last day at my school was (recent). All of the kids in their goodbye letters instead of Mr. Mansfield addressed me as DJ Digie. I have no idea where they got that from [laughs]. It was so dope. I brought my MPC to class one day and plugged into the sound system and was making beats. I had kids freestyling. What I was able to do was connect with kids through our universal language of hip-hop. They trust me more than they trust the teachers because we speak the same language.

AS: What is unique about the group outside of performing and why have you been able to connect with (youth) better than others?

Digie: Young people are hungry for knowledge. They’re actually smarter than teachers give them credit. It’s not in this manufactured MCA based learning – they are hungry for life. And they want somebody to teach them. When they saw somebody that looks like them, understands dance and doesn’t give them dirty looks … once I built that trust they look at me and see uncle, cousin and dad. Music, dance and slang is all a part of that. It’s an instant connection.

AS: And as a stylist?

Dundee: Obviously we go to work and do our jobs and then there’s reason you chose to do that job. When you are in the industry you talk to successful people that love it and don’t leave it. To touch someone on their head is a very personal thing. I couldn’t stress how incredible it is to allow someone to get that close them when they don’t even know you. I love having those opportunities to connect with people on a higher level. It has nothing to do with the hair. It transcends color and creed, and allows you to talk. Brothers know that when you go to barbershop conversations stay there. It’s the same connection. I like connecting with women. There’s a level of connection that average brothers don’t … you can t just touch a woman any old kind of way. Men, women, cross-cultural, social economic … I’m able to deal with a lot of people from one sort of simple service. I appreciate that.

AS: Last but not least, why do you represent St. Paul with such intent?

Digie: It’s my community. It’s where I learned to be who I am. I have an obligation to my community.

uprock-realLate Night at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant feat. Up Rock, Midnight+Mustafa and Adora Tokyo
1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
Saturday, June 13
11:30 p.m.

June 17, 2015
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