Local songstress Dessa celebrates new CD releaseby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — One of the more anticipated local CDs in recent years has hit the stores, and rapper and songstress 'Dessa' will celebrated the release of "A Badly Broken Code" at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis Friday night.
Dessa's facility with language can be intimidating if you're not ready for it. When she talks or sings, her words come at you with a ferocity and intellectual velocity that's pretty uncommon in rap music. Her verbal prowess probably served her well as the only female member of the Minneapolis hip-hop collective, Doomtree.
In fact, the writer, former philosophy major and spoken word artist laid down the law when she first entered its ranks.
"When I started getting involved with Doomtree I knew I didn't want to sing choruses while the boys rapped," she said.
To prove her mettle, she let go of her writing sensibilities and started molding herself into a more traditional emcee. But it didn't feel right. That was when Doomtree mate P.O.S. suggested she rap the way she wrote her essays.
"Cause I think I had been trying to fit in to what I imagined the rap aesthetic was," she said. "Instead, [I] kind of imported my fascinations and stylistic preferences from prose into this medium. And I feel much more comfortable now."
The songs on "A Badly Broken Code" carry a lot of Dessa's trademark qualities: an unusually soft alto that shifts rapidly between coos and caresses and razor sharpness, melodies drenched in minor chords, a lyrical stream that dispenses poetic turns of phrases and poignant insights about family, friendship and romantic tumult almost like afterthoughts, and maybe most important, emotional honesty.
"Very often we have an over-representation of some of the celebratory things, she said." 'Here I am in the club, here I am with the girls, here I am in love, here I am ...' and people understandably are kind of shy to talk about feelings of inadequacy or feeling down."
As she crafted the songs for the new CD, Dessa said she didn't want to be cast merely as an R&B singer, and she didn't want to be a rapper without content. Last year, her first book of creative non-fiction was published, entitled "Spiral Bound."
City Pages Music Editor Andrea Swensson said Dessa's stylistic versatility and lyrical vision are pushing hip-hop's boundaries.
"She's rapping in some instances, but she's also singing," she said. "She's looping her own voice in these a capella arrangements that are really experimental and really forward thinking.
"I've just been really impressed by the different avenues that she's gone down and when you listen to the album as a whole, it doesn't really necessarily fit into any one genre," Swensson said.
After her Fine Line show, Dessa will get ready for a 39-date national tour supporting P.O.S. When the tour arrives in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 10, Seana Quental will be waiting.
Quental, a budding rapper from Boston, wrote a rhapsodic review of "A Badly Broken Code" for the California-based music blog "Mind Equals Blown." She drew particular attention to Dessa's fearlessness in a genre that still remains largely closed off to female emcees.
"I hope it inspires a lot of other people to be creative and for more girls to also come out and rap, she said."
Meanwhile, Dessa claims she's not looking to be the new face of hip-hop or its new feminist voice. She's most proud of the range of subjects she tackles on her new record, and of course, the words.
"I wanted to be the best person I knew how to be, without being a Pollyanna and without being preachy," she said. "And I feel like, as well as I could on this one I did that."
Dessa said she's excited to supply another contrast to the materialism and hyper-sexuality that's still very prevalent in rap music.