It's hard to believe it when you hear his enthusiasm and confidence for the art form he's been mastering since his teens, but Dwynell Roland said he was finished with rapping a couple of years ago.
COVID-19 lockdown was the primary culprit. A breakup played a role. He also felt burned by gossip and sniping in the music scene.
"I went from feeling like I was about to blow up and nearing the top of my game," he said, "to everything shutting down."
"It was such a blow. Mentally, I was out of it."
Then came a call from the sports team that the 31-year-old north Minneapolis native had been following with religious fervor all his life.
It's largely thanks to one of the most promising NBA teams of the 2023-2024 season, the Timberwolves, that Roland has bounced back with one of Minnesota's best hip-hop albums of 2023.
"I took it as a sign," the lanky, wiry rapper recounted last week, his religiosity for the team apparent. "Without that call, I don't think we'd be here now."
The local NBA team approached Roland and his producer partner, Lazerbeak of Doomtree, to create a song for its 2022-2023 season tied to the release of new "city edition" jerseys. The duo had caught the team's attention with a prior collaborative track, "Ride."
They came up with a real banger for the Wolves: Titled "Ones," the rousing fight song's lyrics rang back to Roland when he heard them blaring over the speakers at Target Center last season:
"This is everything that we want / It's all or none, been ready since Day One."
Roland took the momentum from that song — both its musical vigor and the way it reinvigorated him personally — and applied it to "I'm Not Mad, I'm Flattered," his second full-length album. He and Lazerbeak will come off the bench to celebrate its release Saturday at the Turf Club.
Known to family as Jamari Roland — his middle name became his stage name — he grew up an only child with two loving moms and a supportive dad who also urged him to not give up rapping.
"He reminded me how much time and effort I'd put into it already," Roland recalled.
He had been honing his rap skills since his early teens, when he was part of the TCB crew (Twin Cities Boyz).
In the mid-2010s, Dwynell started catching on as a solo act. He was named "most relatable rapper" by City Pages in 2016. He made a big splash at First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2017 show, coincidentally alongside a contingent of his classmates from St. Anthony Village High School (singer Jaedyn James and members of the Bad Man). The next year he dropped his debut album, "Young Roland," and performed at Rock the Garden.
"I busted my ass to get all that," he proudly recalled, pointing to one of the songs from the new record, "Came From Nothing."
"No one handed me my music. No one handed me those shows. It really all came from me, my hard work, and my own creative juice."
The new album is similarly personal and proud in tone, but it's also more clearly a collaborative work. Roland credits Dessa and Lizzo cohort Lazerbeak (Aaron Mader) for spurring him on and challenging him into new territory.
"He and I were both going through some hard [stuff], so we'd just get together and make music and try to forget everything else," he recalled. "He made beats you wouldn't think would come from him, and I did different styles of rapping I'd never done before."
One of the most overtly oddball tracks wound up being one of the highlights: "Triple Double," a sporty, hard-spitting romp built around a full-blown house music dance beat. Conversely, another standout track, "Cherish: Heart," is a mellow, hazy, flowery song about a resilient family member's heart transplant.
Between those musical bookends are a lot of fast, feisty tracks that find Roland throwing out rapid-fire braggadocious lines like on his debut, but this time with more wisdom and hard-earned experience tossed in.
"I don't give a [expletive] about the high / I just want a peace of mind," he repeatedly declares in the opening track, "Peace of Mind," about him trading wild behavior for more sedate pleasures.
In the Kanye-esque "Love Me for Me," for which he recently released a fun, drone-enhanced music video, Roland raps, "Feeling so good, but I stay in my range" — a pledge to not outspend what he earns at his day job doing HVAC installation work.
He knows his financial parameters nowadays, but maybe not yet his sleeping limits. On the night of our interview, Roland planned to be up till midnight despite a 5 a.m. start the next day. The reason: The Timberwolves were playing Golden State on West Coast time.
"I'm not missing this one," he insisted.
Good thing he had the same response when the Wolves approached him.
Dwynell Roland & Lazerbeak
With: Sophia Eris & Makr, DJ Snuggles, more.
When: 8:30 p.m. Sat.
Where: Turf Club, 1601 W. University Av., St. Paul.
Tickets: $15, axs.com.