Emcee | Writer

From its first track, Dessa’s new full-length Parts of Speech (out now on Doomtree Records) announces itself as something different. The Doomtree veteran and inveterate wordsmith — having proved her mettle in the fields of creative non-fiction, spoken-word and hip-hop — jettisons all genre expectations on “The Man I Knew” and croons a heartbreaking lament to a disintegrating relationship at an explosively-building clip.

From this moment on Dessa — oft–described as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker” for the wit and flow shown off on previous solo albums A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin — proves she has truly coalesced as an artist, transcending the restrictions of genre to reveal an astonishing multi-platform voice.

“I wanted to investigate the idea that a cohesive record isn’t always made cohesive by having twelve songs that sound the same. I figured when you make a mixtape for a friend, you can get away with a range of genres and a lot of dynamic change. Why can’t I approach an album like that? The sequence has to be just right, and we worked hard to nail it, but the thing that holds this record together is the sensibility of the lyrics, rather than a uniform theme.”

Track two kicks off a stunning hat-trick of the record’s standout numbers. “Call Off Your Ghost” is an admittedly haunting dirge on the “struggle for grace in the wake of a long relationship.” An arena-sized chorus tucked into a melancholy lullaby, “Ghost” has that unique ability to perfectly soundtrack new love or bitter breakup at the same time.

Dessa then puts her fists up for “Warsaw.” The track boasts a beat like Azealia Banks playing Pacman, which provides a background for our emcee’s confident, hypnotic flow. Narrative takes a backseat to mood here, as Dessa spits impressionistic one-ups like “I sleep with both eyes open, standing up,” daring you to blink first.

“Skeleton Key” contains Parts of Speech’s mission statement: “I haven’t met a locked door yet.” An ode to female self-reliance that doesn’t waste ambiance for message, the track plays like a great, lost M. Night Shyamalan movie, calling forth an era out of time in the story of a woman, a key and a bottomless reserve of courage.

“This record involves multiple narratives. It explores the same themes of love, loss, connection and communion as a lot of my work, but the angle and lens through which they’re explored sets this album apart from my previous ones. The production techniques were new for me too — we spent a lot of time crafting a record that could include live players, Doomtree production, and sometimes a blend of the two.”

While the album is born of Dessa’s artistic vision, it benefits from the collaboration of her varied friends. Parts of Speech owes much of its impact to its diverse production. Dessa got her start as a member of Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree — eventually going on to help manage the group’s business affairs as they launched their own label — and members Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger lend their production to several tracks.

The players in Dessa’s live ensemble all contributed to the record, as did several top-flight Minneapolis musicians working in rock, folk, and opera. She even enlisted a cellist she found on Pandora to make the gorgeously-layered foundation of penultimate track “It’s Only Me.”

Dessa, born and raised in Minneapolis after her parents met at a Duluth music store, was valedictorian of her high school, eventually skipping a year of college and graduating with honors before she could legally drink. Armed with a philosophy degree, the intrepid Midwesterner spent her nights as a waitress and days writing reference manuals used by doctors in the implantation of pacemakers.

“Language and verbal communication were important in my family. If I could argue my way into a later curfew, that argument was entertained. My parents may have regretted that policy later but it was a great motivator to help me develop a facility with words.”

A love of words is evident in both Parts of Speech’s title and its ethos, as Dessa’s philosophy training surfaces too. The rousing chorus of “Fighting Fish” references the Greek philosophical paradox of Zeno’s Arrow. “Beekeeper,” polished up from a starker appearance on Castor, finds Greek god Prometheus repossessing fire from the humans. “Sound the Bells” sings of Mercator, the cartographical genius who pioneered flat maps of a round world.

Parts of Speech could be made by no one but Dessa, but in its evolution and awareness it is the perfect culmination of the journey started with 2010’s A Badly Broken Code. Middle album Castor, The Twin was in many ways a blueprint for Speech. The earlier albums were praised widely for their focus and depth, but Speech shows a fantastic breadth.

By uniting a wealth of different tones and narratives under Dessa’s unmistakable poeticism, Parts of Speech greatly resembles Sherwood Anderson’s modernist fiction classic Winesburg, Ohio. Dessa creates a new world, populating it with complex characters, beautiful sonic landscapes and refreshing, assertive production.

An album that can boom out of a car window after its summer release, or soundtrack a November night in, Parts of Speech marks a highpoint in Dessa’s career and demonstrates the crossover power of the rising star’s burgeoning arsenal.

Bio written by Zack Rosen

–Chicago Tribune

“Dessa has emerged as one of the most diverse and talented artists in indie rap.”

“A one-woman powerhouse…with a literary sensibility and an aversion to genre clichés”
–Utne Reader

“If wordsmith-songbird Dessa isn’t the future of hip-hop, she should be.”
-Insight News

“Profound and moving”
-Star Tribune

“equal parts Ani Difranco and Mos Def”
-Rift Magazine

“Dessa combines the dry wit of Dorothy Parker with the beat of Mos Def”
-Minnesota Public Radio

“clear-eyed candor…understated realism and dark wit.”

“witty, sardonic, and keenly observant of human behavior.”

“Absolutely brilliant.” (London)

“A paramount, intimate look into an astonishing human being.”

“Dessa stands alone in her brand of music.”


False Hopes
Spiral Bound: a short collection of essays and poetry
A Badly Broken Code
Castor, The Twin
Parts of Speech, Re-Edited

Dessa's Blog

Tuesdays With Dessica

Posted on September 29, 2015

Hello, assorted friends.

This is Dessa, reporting by proxy for the esteemed Lazerbeak, whose weekly updates we all enjoy so thoroughly. Beak’s been burning the midnight oil in preparation for this weekend’s big show so I’m pinch hitting to allow him a few extra minutes of REM sleep today. He’s no doubt dreaming of a perfectly balanced spreadsheet that extends to the horizon in gentle, rolling hills. Sweet dreams, Beak, sweet dreams.

The whole crew arrived home yesterday, after a brief East Coast run with Speedy Ortiz and Serengeti. There were encores, there were cupcakes, there were laboriously rerouted driving directions to stay out of the Pope’s way, there was only one stern scolding by hotel management. In all, a win. Here a few pictures that our friends took along the way.


Photo credit: Chad Kamenshine

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.56.32 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.57.00 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.54.59 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.55.48 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.56.11 AM

Photo credit: Jessy Gonzalez

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.44.27 AM

 Photo credit: our own Andrew Sims.

Now our collective attention turns to Saturday’s Doomtree Zoo, our biggest event yet. We’ve got rehearsals with singers and players; we’ve got meetings with puppeteers; we’ve got TV and radio interviews all lined up. It is, at long last, go time.

If you’ve missed our (pretty intense) messaging about the Zoo, here’s the short story.  After retiring the Blowout, we wanted to flip the format, create a kind of show we’d never tried before. We wanted it to feel immersive, so that the action was all around, not just on stage. We decided it should happen outside, should last all day, and should have all sorts of stuff for kids. We booked a double Dutch troupe and a facepainter (who’s busy working up special Doomtree designs). We also partnered with In the Heart of the Beast Theatre. Beak and I visited their warehouse of larger-than-life puppets to do a little scheming.


Selecting the musical line up required long and hard deliberation. We held meetings in coffee shops, in moving vehicles, and in airport bars. We drafted and redrafted for weeks, then months. At last we arrived on a bill that’s as varied as our individual tastes—everything from hardcore to choral music. The artists we invited to play at the Zoo almost feel like a map of the influences that combine to shape the sound of our collective. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the list of the artists who’ll be performing (we’ll be releasing the exact performance schedule on Thursday):


If you haven’t scored tickets, you can still do so at the advance rate: $35 (they’ll be $45 at the door.) In the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to catch us on air or say hello in person; we’ll be running around like crazy all week. As you’ll see below, Stef and I will be at Glam Doll Donuts today, swing through at 12:30 for a sugar fix and a high five.




After we’ve shut down the Zoo in a blaze of glory, we’ll head west into the sunset (and conveniently towards the first stop of our West Coast tour). Our friends Astronautalis and Sister Crayon will be rolling with us for this one. If you’re on the left coast, or you’ve got homies there, check out the tour dates below.


Then in December we’ll do a loop a little closer to home, with a handful of Midwest dates. Tickets went on sale on Friday: you can check out the full details on our events page.


Before powering down the ole’ blog, permit me to doff my cap towards all those players who’ve made it through the whole Pop Quiz, Hot Shot game (*borrows Cecil Otter’s cap, doffs it, and returns it*). If someone told my ten-year-old-self that her interests in wordplay, competitive low-stakes games, and mystery-solving would coalesce into a rap trivia program she invented with her friend named “Lazerbeak,” well, she would have probably headed for the nearest trusted adult. And she’d most likely try to weasel an extra dessert out of the unsettling encounter with a creepy stranger. (Her worldview was, and is, dessert-centric.) In all seriousness, big thanks to Clockwork for the killer design, and shouts out to everybody who made it to the tough rounds. If you’d like to try your hand at an answer or two, there’s still time. Simply log on here, and give it a go. You’ll be automatically entered to win all sorts of nonsense, including airfare to a Doomtree show or a chance to retain me and Lazerbeak as your personal life coaches.


Your friend,



P.S. We’ve all been lucky enough to perform in to faraway places this year. I just managed to confirm my first solo show in Cardiff, Wales and can’t wait to visit for the first time. If you’re in Cardiff, have friends in Cardiff, or travel to faraway rap shows in fits of whimsy, you can score a tickets here. (Stay tuned for news of an a show in Ireland.) See you soon. -Dess.



Dessa on tour Australia with Welcome To Night Vale — February 2016

Posted on September 07, 2015


Tickets are moving pretty quickly! More shows added!

A late show has been added in Melbourne, and the Brisbane and Auckland shows have moved to a larger venue. All tickets purchased for the Auckland show will be honored at the new venue, Skycity Theatre. Tickets still available for Adelaide, Perth and Auckland shows.


Date City Venue Country
02.06.16 Dessa in Auckland Skycity Theatre New Zealand
Time: 7:00pm. Admission: $69. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 78 Victoria St W. UPDATE: The venue for this show has changed to Skycity Theatre. All tickets purchased for the Maidment Theatre shows are being honored at the new, larger venue, and some tickets are still available. Buy Tickets
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: Corner Melbourne St and Grey St. Venue phone: +61 7 3840 7444. Buy Tickets
02.09.16 Dessa in Sydney City Recital Hall Angel Place Australia
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 2 12, Angel Pl, Sydney NSW 2000. Venue phone: +61 2 8256 2222. Sold Out
02.10.16 Dessa in Adelaide Her Majesty’s Theatre Australia
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 58 Grote Street. Buy Tickets
02.11.16 Dessa in Perth Octagon Theatre Australia
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: he University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley WA 6009. Buy Tickets
02.13.16 Dessa in Melbourne Athenaeum Australia
Time: 7:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 188 Collins Street. Venue phone: +03 9650 1500. Sold Out
02.13.16 Dessa in Melbourne Athenaeum Australia
Time: 9:30pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 188 Collins Street. Venue phone: +03 9650 1500. Buy Tickets

Subscribe: RSS | iCal

Sign up for the Doomtree Records newsletter.

Tuesdays with Dessica

Posted on May 26, 2015

[Taps mic] This thing on? Hey, Vinnie, can I get an AV guy in–Oh, hang on, there’s a switch.

Ahem. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I, Dessa, am honored to formally convene this week’s blog. As you know, it’s rare for Monsieur Lazerbeak to take a day off, and it sometimes takes a little forceful persuasion to induce him to cash in some PTO. But, with the help of a dayspa that specializes in executive abduction, Beak is now in very good [and unyeilding] hands. By now he’s probably got a cucumber slice over each eye, and a Mai Tai taped into his fist. Enjoy, Beak. And relaaaax.

Since I filed my last report, I’ve had a chance to tour most of Europe and a little tiny bit of Africa too. I set off in mid-April, boarding a night flight from MSP to Heathrow. The Current was kind enough to invite me to join their adventure in London [doffs cap], where a touring party of a dozen listeners galavanted through musically significant sites throughout the city. We had a chance to meet Joe Boyd (record producer to little-known hopefuls like Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, and Nick Drake), to tour the BBC, and to visit Speakers Corner where insane people and sane people gather to try and sort themselves out and exercise a little free speech in the open air. My favorite character, however, was the Bubbleman of Hyde Park. I spent a long time watching him at work.  Sensitized by jatelag, I watched the passing children succumb to his brand of magic and I felt something in my own chest expand every time his wand managed to produce an especially large one, wobbling to find an axis and make itself sphere. Sometimes if a bubble drifted back towards him, he’d blow at it as it passed and a stream of new small bubbles would form inside the first. I spend a lot of time and money trying to make beautiful things; it was both exciting and vexing to watch this man make something so compelling and otherworldly out of a few cents of glycerine and a bit of soapy yarn.


Here’s a quick snap of a commuting Londoner, similarly impressed.

Bubbleman and Bubbleboy

Not-so-coincidentally, London was the first stop on my first headlining run through Europe. Aby, Dustin, and I played two sold-out shows at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch–the Williamsburg of the East End. A few show-goers were kind enough to post a few images of the evening. You’ll notice that Ms.Wolf is playing a drum machine in the image below. A woman of myriad talents.



Mark Wheat was slated to accompany the London cohort, but learned at the last minute that he’d be unable to join us. Wheat’s shoes are sizable, but I did my best to fill in, recording an interview with the English band The Vaccines in a BBC sound studio. The Vaccines are a platinum-selling arena act in the UK, teenage female fans go into hysterics at their shows. In the US, though, they haven’t quite reached that level of success (they played at First Ave during their 2013 visit to Minnesota). I’d braced for the worst: intolerable egos and condescending, monosyllabic answers to my painstakingly crafted questions. Justin and Arni, pictured below, were thoughtful, funny and honest. They told stories that made them seem like rockstars with the same honest affect that they share unflattering anecdotes or self doubts. In as much as one can glean from an hour-long encounter these two seemed like stand-up, charismatic dudes–easy to root for. (Also, please let the record show that No, that is not how my mother taught me to sit in a chair. And yes, that is the same shirt I wore at The Old Blue Last. Get off my case, huh?)


Photo courtesy John Getsinger

From London, Aby, Josh and I boarded a plane to Nuremberg to begin the continental leg of our tour.  (A little exposition here: Josh is Aby’s fiance, the tour merch master, and a guitarist who briefly abandoned his post at the merch table to join us on stage for a few songs every evening. Lots of hats were worn on this tour–bags and bags full of hats.) Now, I’ve already gone on record with my disappointment with Ryanair. Can’t overemphasize the point. If you’re considering traveling with Ryanair, might I suggest a change of plans? Just Skype your loved ones, Google the sites, and stay where you are. Arbitrary fees, policies so opaque so as to have been translated from aramaic, and customer service you might expect at the intake desk at the county jail. Ryanair is way, way off fleek.


We took several Ryanair flights during our travels and on the last landing, the exit sign actually fell of the ceiling and landed at our feet.

When we arrived in Germany, Aby, Josh, and I met Leto–the Czech band with which we’d be traveling. This sort of meeting can feel like the start of a miniature arranged marriage: you’ll know you’ll be spending a lot of time in close quarters with strangers you’ve only heard described. I was nervous that the two members of Leto wouldn’t like us. I learned later that the two members of Leto were also nervous they wouldn’t like us–that we’d be some commercial hotshots, pulling diva stunts all over Central Europe.


I’ll spare you the sentimentalism, but suffice it to say that Leto became very, very dear to me and to Aby. Indos–guitarist, husband to Palma, and a Marxist PhD candidate–had a propensity to blame capitalism for all variety of mishap (“Kurva, capitalism broke my sunglasses.”). Palma–lyricist, keyboardist, graphic designer, thoughtful feminist, and wife to Indos–drove the entirety of the tour, deftly maneuvering through the foreign signage and city traffic.

Indos regularly lambasted himself on his imperfect English (still exponentially better, of course, than any scraps of Czech that Aby, Josh, and I could sweep together). Before a gig in Pilzen, he became especially exasperated trying to express himself, “Kurva. When I speak English, people die.” Palma promptly art directed this photo in which the three Americans had been killed by Indos’ English.

Indos English Death

Only on the last night, after a week of joking and drinking and singing one another’s songs did our conversations turn serious. Palma and I did our best to compare notes about the lives and work of women in our respective countries. I asked Indos, all jokes aside, what drew him to Marxist ideology. His father, it turned out, was a miner in the Eastern part of the country–a beautiful but economically depressed region, where most men worked the mines. He’d died on the job when Indos was a boy. So Indos set out to study and critically examine labor and laborers. Before we parted ways, he gave me this copy of The Communist Manifesto. Although he doubted communism was viable at the state level, Indos said that he could draw what communism meant to him–communism was this tour: people sharing their music, gas money, sandwiches. On the title page I found he’d sketched a pair of stick figures holding hands. This book is one of my most prized possessions.

2015-05-03 16.08.22

Our last show together was in Prague, a big room with great lights and a sizable crowd. Aby and I drank some whiskey backstage before showtime and Palma treated us to this impression of me performing the last few bars of Sadie Hawkins, Ask me to dance.

YouTube Preview Image

Aby opened the show, entrancing the room. She then sat in on several Leto songs too, adding harmony lines to Palma’s powerful melodies. After the performance, when the room had emptied and the lights went back up and we’d loaded our gear into a cab, I got teary saying goodbye to our new friends. By this point in a tour, the fatigue becomes an amplifier: a little loneliness becomes existential alienation, that little cough blooms into bronchitis. For me touring is the the best and worst part of this music thing. It’s exciting and utterly demoralizing in turn.

Which brings us to the next leg of tour, Paris and Italy. Aby, Josh, and I had a great show in Paris in a little club filled with a few fans and many friendly faces willing to give us a listen. Good food, good wine, and a kindly promoter Francesco who worked in artificial intelligence and set theory when he wasn’t busy throwing shows for visiting artists.

After the show, however, I contracted bedbugs.

BedbugsI knew that my clothes must either be thrown away, fumigated, or washed and dried in very, very high heat to solve this problem. We were, however, in region where most people hang their clothes in the fresh air to dry them. For three days we sought out a laundromat willing to wash my backback and boots. Despite an increasingly bedraggled appearance, we were welcomed graciously Italy. Our hosts assured me that we’d find a way to wash the clothes. Sit, have some wine. We sat for a warm, coursed Italian meal. But something was wrong. I caught Aby’s eye across the table and mouthed Do I look normal? She leaned in, took a good look, and nodded. Nonetheless, the right side of my face was starting to go numb. I excused myself to the bathroom. Nothing obviously awry, but my thinking started to cloud and slow. A soft knock came at the door. Aby entered and within a few minutes we were in the midst of a new adventure.

Swelling eye with Aby

As an allergic reaction started to advance towards the outside corner of my eye, Aby helped me collect my coat from the table and walked me to the apartment where we’d be staying the night. In Milan, the fashion capital of the world, it became clear that I would take stage with bedbug bites and a swollen eye, dressed in the clothes I had slept in. I called Lazerbeak, cried a little, and ate a bagful of biscuits for dinner.

The morning brought a brighter mood and I set out with a mission to prepare for the evening’s show. It was a feast day, and families frolicked happily at the beach. I found a tent full of EMTs, stationed to assist any revelers who might exhaust themselves in the sunny festivities. What I need, I explained, is one of these:


Through some pantomime, a little English, and some Spanish, one of the nurses correctly relayed my story to her physician: “This woman is a singer. She needs to cover her swollen eye for tonight’s show. No, no, not with a taped bandage, with an eyepatch. A black one.”


The physician suggested two possible solutions. 1) Find a costume store for bambini. 2) Find a sex shop.

The costume shop thing had occurred to me and I was grateful to the doctor for teaching me to pronounce the word ‘pirate’ in Italian. I admit I hand’t considered the kink solution. American role-play trends more towards schoolgirl than ship wench. As it turned out, I was able to buy an eyepatch from a toy vendor on the beach (packaged with a plastic sword and a nerf gun). A relief because walking into a sex shop with a swollen face and flea bites sounded humiliating–I could hear the proprietor thinking, You’re gonna need more than a little pirate costume, Honey.  By the evening, whiskey and Claritin had worked their magic and a little concealer did the trick.

After Milan Aby and Josh were slated to return to The States, while I continued on to South Africa. Hugs, one missed train, two passport scares, and 20 some hours later, I arrived in Port Elizabeth for a week of educational programming capped off by a concert.

Rapping at Patterson

(Photo credit: Rabea Ballin)

CreativeX students

The day after arriving, I had the chance to perform in the courtyard of Patterson High, a coloured school in the Northern Areas (Race is gloriously complicated in South Africa, a crossroads of dozens of languages and cultures; the designation ‘couloured’ works differently there than it does here in the US.). I also worked with adult artists, sharing some of the career strategies that have been useful for Doomtree. And I learned of new approaches, tactics I hadn’t heard of before. Hope Masike, a musician from Zimbabwe, explained that Youtube involves much too much data to be a useful tool. Instead musicians often rely on WhatsApp. Some musicians, tired of fighting the bootleggers, hired their own army of vendors to sell their CDS on the street, for the same prices and on the same corners as the unlicensed sellers. Below Hope plays the mbira, a thumb piano ringed by a resonating chamber. For me, this was a spell-binding minute of music.

YouTube Preview Image

Schaik, pictured below, was my primary companion for most of the trip. He’s also a rapper. Funny and open, Schaik speaks coloured Afrikaans and a melodic English with heavily rolled Rs. We exchanged notes on our aspirations as emcees, our thoughts on race and gender and the media, and a shared enthusiasm for alcoholic milkshakes.

Schaik with students

Quite obviously, South African artists face different challenges than my Minnesotan cohorts, and do so with a different set resources. I was asked to deliver a talk to other creatives at City Hall in Port Elizabeth and before embarking on my presentation I wanted a quick calibration, to make sure I had a rough understanding of the local arts economy. “Will people here part with $8 for a cover charge?” The assembled artists nodded.

“And how much do CDs sell for at shows?”

“100 rand,” said several voices. Just shy of ten bucks, about the same as what we’d ask for at home. I felt confident in continuing; the approaches I had in mind seemed likely to translate without too much friction. But a hand went up in the second row.

“But it’s not the money.” The speaker lived outside the city of Port Elizabeth, he said, and “It’s too dangerous to go home after dark.”

Ah. We talked about the possibility of throwing twilight shows in the summer months. I thought of Jeremy Messersmith’s supper club tours and I mentioned the Sofar series: small shows set in private apartments, which might save showgoers the danger of a long commute in the darkness. Email lists weren’t effective, but SMS lists were. We talked piracy and merch and social media. I delivered my short Powerpoint presentation.  Then I mentioned that Twitter had served me patricianly well, especially when trying to connect to people far away. For example:

Several months ago, Amanda Palmer visited South Africa. She posted a picture online of a bowl full of what looked to be small squares of bread. Rusks, she said, were incredible. I’d never heard of rusks. When I landed in South Africa, I sent this tweet.

Rusks Tweet 1

Amanda Palmer sent this one.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 10.08.13 AM

And within 24 hours, 3 bags of rusks had arrived to my little hotel room.


I assure you, they are delicious.

On the night of my own show in Port Elizabeth, I met with DJ Keniche in his basement studio. I chose my songs, handed him a flash drive with my instrumentals, and we discussed two spots in the set where he’d scratch a solo–then the lights went out and we were engulfed in complete darkness. After a beat,  “Welcome to Africa, Dessa.”

The power in Port Elizabeth is regularly shut off, in rolling blackouts. Many suspect that coloured neighborhoods and black neighborhoods are more frequently subject to “load-shedding,” 2- or 4-hour periods without electricity. Those who have them, switch to generator power, those who don’t flip on battery-opeated LED lights, or navigate dark hallways by the glow of their cell phones. Sometimes these blackouts are announced in advance. Sometimes they are not.


Mercifully, the power held for our concert. I got to see Schaik in action and he caught my set too. On stage, I was elated to find that a couple hundred people turned up for our show and was struck but how quickly they learned choruses. By the end of a song, the front row could rap along to the hook–that happens never at shows in the US.

The revelations of travel don’t always translate well back at home. But as I prepared to fly back to Minneapolis, I tapped out the following note on my iPhone.

I am lucky that my money and my language are accepted in far-away places.
Lucky to have a serviceable singing voice, inherited from my mother.
Lucky my brain works well and quickly.
Lucky my face is symmetrical (except my mouth, which lists starboard just a little).
Lucky to have received an excellent public education.
Lucky to live in a culture where women are allowed to give voice to their ideas.
Lucky to hold a passport issued by a country whose citizens are permitted to travel as they wish.

Thanks to those to helped set me up and bail me out on this run. (Particularly to Adam and Rushay for shouldering the logistical burdens of bringing in a foreign artist.)

Alright, alright, before I go all the way soft, let’s shut this thing down. Before I go, however, a couple of notes about the goings on here in Minneapolis.

My friends with Taj Raj have recently released their new project, Night Speech. You can listen to Dreams of Flight, Part 1, one of my favorite tracks, right here.

And, Mr. Lazerbeak, who should be getting a hot stone massage by now, will be back on his feet by Friday, spinning some of his favorite favorite records at Surly’s Bitter Brewer Release Party at Como Dockside Pavilion. 5-10pm. Luther Vandross and Meghan Trainor jams pretty much guaranteed. Click here for details.


 And next Friday, Sims will be performing at the Icehouse.


Alright, comrades. Thanks, as ever, for your time and support. Your friend,

Dessica. @dessadarling 


Tuesdays with Dessica

Posted on March 17, 2015

Our faithful friend Lazerbeak is taking the morning off (having cleared it, of course, through Doomtree’s HR department) and in his stead I’ll be reporting live from the field.

Having descended the West Coast, we’re now turning inland, making our way towards Austin, Texas. There we’ll convene with thousands of other bands for the music-and-barbecue-super-fiasco of SXSW.  Some of us have already donned practice sunburns in preparation for the Texan heat. (I’ve warned the guys that I’ll be periodically ambushing them in Austin with SPF30. All told I’m not much of a den mother [too fond of whiskey], but a sunburn–well, gentlemen, that’s just an unforced error.)

I’m proud to relay that we sold out a bunch of shows this past week (thank you to showgoers in Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and LA for the full houses). On our way through California we picked up our photogrofriend Ricardo. He shot this pretty sweet team photo outside the Roxy in LA.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 6.17.36 PM

Ricardo will be cruising with us for the rest of the run; you can check out his handiwork in real time at the Doomtree Instagram account. Here are a couple images and a little video he put together, recapping our last couple of shows in Cali:



YouTube Preview Image

Speaking of videos (alright, alright, I’m no Lazerbeak with these segues), our recent performance at KEXP is now live. My favorite moment happens at 1:03, when we’re all plainly thrilled that we remembered not to swear on the radio.

YouTube Preview Image

After some great shows and some long drives, we snuck away into the woods for a much-needed day off. Snake, our tour manager, secured a TRAIN CAR at a motel in the forest.


All were delighted, but none more so than Cecil “Boxcar” Otter. (It should be noted that the photo below was originally posted with the caption, “Don’t stop believing…hold on to that feline.”)

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 6.25.20 PM


 Here’s Stef captured in a classic Amanda Damn Weber pose.


Sims, inverting it for a while.


And yours truly, with a red-bellied newt, a Macbook Air, and a cup of wine.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 8.37.49 PM

On returning to civilization, both Stef and Mike got tattooed by Isaiah Toothtaker in Tucson.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 6.20.32 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 8.39.57 PM


We’ve got one last show before hitting the SXSW madness. If you’re near Albuquerque tonight, you can still score some tickets here. For those of you making the trek to Austin, we’ll see you soon (and bring some sunblock, huh?). The Doomtree official showcase goes down on Thursday at the Karma Lounge, but we’ve got a bunch of day shows too.


Mike is playing a solo show as well:


For those following along from home, stay tuned. Lazerbeak will be back as regularly scheduled next Tuesday.

Til then, your friend in art and commerce,


Tuesdays with Dessica

Posted on February 10, 2015

If we were to consult the framed Doomtree org chart on Lazerbeak’s wall, Blogger in Chief is at the very top of the hierarchy. (For the curious: Blogger > President > CEO > Viceroy > Eagle Scout > Rook > Feudal Serf.) And while Lazerbeak’s shoes are tough to fill, I have very large (yet still elegant) feet. Today the duty and the honor rests with me: Dessica, Vice Blogger.

We’re exactly one week into this All Hands Tour. For those of you too busy to read entire web posts (but not too busy to keep up on the adventures of touring rap acts), here’s the executive summary: we’ve made our way through Texas and we’re now turning eastwards; Mike got a new face tattoo; we’re loving the hell out of this bus.

First, a big thank you to those who attended our shows in Columbia, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans. Here are a few images from our sold-out gig at Trees in Dallas courtesy of Central Track (you can read Ashley Gongora’s review of the show right here).

6582_5 6582_2 6582_6 6582_9 6582_15
And here’s a snap of Open Mike Eagle who’s opening this entire run and impressing the hell out of everyone with his songs, considerable charm, and personal style.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.59.31 AM

And here’s a picture of Stef straightening my hair while I make an unflattering expression.


Billy the Tattoo Artist came out to our show at the Red7 (which was waaaay sold out—thank you, Austin), and set up shop in the back lounge of the bus. Stef got a tattoo on his side, which he’ll probably flash you from stage very soon. Mike got this one, which he designed:

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.53.04 AM

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.52.51 AM

Most of us usually drink whiskey, but every once in a while we’ll down a vitamin drink (to combat all the whiskey). Two of my favorite health nuts, going in.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.52.24 AMThough you may not be able to tell as much from the photo above, both Sims and Paper Tiger are standing up in that shot—which would not be possible in tours of yore. (The bus, as you may have gathered, is a rap lyfe game-changer.) You can stand in a bus. The human bodies that we inhabit appreciate this luxury immensely. Also, the bus travels while you sleep and arrives in each city during daylight hours. In a van, in contrast, you spend your waking hours in transit, stopping just long enough to refuel the vehicle and the people in it. As someone who’s spent her touring life pulling into town just in time to be half an hour late to soundcheck and then do her grocery shopping at a 24-hour Amoco, this benefit cannot be overstated. Now, I’m also well aware that many of you are concerned about the welfare of MOUNTAIN. I’d like to formally assure you that he is still very much a part of the Doomtree family and I’m happy to report that he’s thriving during his sabbatical.

Speaking of thriving [doffs cap towards Lazerbeak and his long-standing segue streak], this first week of shows has been incredible, in part, because so many people already know the songs from All Hands, our new record. Thank you to those of you who pre-ordered, those of you who played the record for a friend, those of you who helped hang posters at the local record shop, and those who brought a newbie to a show. Word of mouth is, hands down, our most powerful tool. It’s free (which aligns perfectly with the budget of an indie rap label), it’s effective, and it’s real. Doomtree’s objective isn’t to make music formulated to please every listener. Our objective is to make genuine music that moves us and then work find every listener who’s gonna like that sort of thing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 12.06.23 PM

The day I left for tour, Lazerbeak came over to my apartment in Uptown. We ate homemade kimchi (thanks, Ma) and we talked about what we could do to support this new project. We’d already filmed some great videos (more on that soon), we’d booked a solid tour, and we’d made plans to play a bunch of shows at SXSW. We both agreed: word of mouth is best, but that’s a variable that’s out of our control–you can’t ask people to share something organically, they just have to do it. Then I thought, wait—why can’t we just ask? So here goes: Hey, if you like the record, would you mind texting a friend about it? Or if we’re coming to their town, would you let em know?

In that general spirit, I’m sharing a few of the texts that Lazerbeak and I have shared when we’re excited about music. Be forewarned: we’re both about to forfeit some serious cool points.


Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 12.25.40 PM



Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 12.21.49 PM


Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 12.20.17 PM


Thank you, in advance, for sharing the word. If you wanna screen grab your texts and put em up online, I’ll be looking for em (hashtag: #AllHands). We’ve got a mess of tour dates ahead us, hitting both coasts in the coming weeks. With any luck we’ll see you in person very soon.

Your friend in art and commerce,


This is Lazerbeak (the same kimchi-eating guy from the above texts) and I’m taking the blog back with some BREAKING NEWS:

We’ve just added another show to the All Hands Tour! Iowa, we did not forget about you. Our good friends at Surly Brewing Co. are beginning their Iowa Invasion starting March 3rd, and they’re bringing Doomtree down to Des Moines to kick everything off. Tickets to the actual rap show at Wooley’s that night will go on sale to the public this Friday at 10:00am CST (right HERE), but before we get ahead of ourselves, we wanted you to know about this awesome contest that could get you into the show and then some. Check this out

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 9.36.30 AM

In honor of this special kickoff event, Surly is going to be loading up a bus full of people in Minneapolis and driving them down to Des Moines in style for the big show. You’ll get to kick it with the Doomtree and Surly crews on the way down, run around to some different bars, and then have a blast at the rap show with us all. Think of it as an out-of-state bar crawl similar to what we did on Surly Doomtree Day. Here’s how you can enter to win a spot on this glorious bus: Go to Surly’s Facebook post right HERE and tell your awesome story of why you should be on the bus in the comments below. Surly will pick and announce the winners by this Thursday, and then the public on-sale will start on Friday morning right HERE. OK, now you know. Go doooooooooit!

OK, that’s it. Huge shouts to Dessa for the fantastic guest blog appearance. I hope you all have a wonderful week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday!

— Beak

The Final Hours

Posted on January 17, 2015

All the clocks at the Doomtree HQ are chiming; it’s the 11th hour of our All Hands pre-order. If you’ve been with us for a minute, you know how these things go. If you’re new to the party, here’s the story:

For labels like ours, pre-orders are crucial for two reasons. First: smaller businesses are a little more sensitive to cash flow issues, so preorder income is a huge help in bridging the gap between the making of the record and the release date. (A big thanks to everybody who’s helped us do so.) Also, preorders count towards our first-week sales—a number that’s a benchmark in the music biz. By concentrating our sales in that week, we can turn a few heads that might not otherwise look in our direction. We might get a little more press to spread the word about the record, or maybe get the chance to play a venue or a festival that wouldn’t otherwise consider us. Preorders help us stay competitive, even without a bunch of money to spend on marketing.

So, if you’ve already pre-ordered, thank you. Each record helps finance the next one—as I write this, Stef is in LA, banging out verses for the next P.O.S project. If you haven’t checked out the packages yet, we did our best to make them well worth the early investment. We’ve got colored vinyl; a custom metal pin; signed posters; a limited-edition glow-in-the-dark t-shirt; and even a miniature ship in a bottle delivered with a custom box of All Hands matches.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.58.54 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.56.31 PM

You can check the complete packages here. When the gear arrived in Minneapolis, we all gathered in Sims’ backyard to light the little ship on fire—took more gasoline than Lazerbeak and I were totally comfortable with, but we got the thing burning. (More importantly, we were able to get it to stop burning.) We’re excited to share the music, grateful for the support, and we’ll see you on the road very soon.


Ariel & The Boy Sopranos

Posted on January 09, 2015

The confetti has settled; the champagne is cashed. Here at Doomtree’s underground headquarters and we’ve enjoyed a few days of R&R.

Before our new record, All Hands, hits shelves and we hit the road, I’d like to share a quick glimpse into one of my favorite projects from last month. On the third night of our tenth and final Blowout, each member of Doomtree performed a solo set at the Icehouse, a classy club in Uptown, Minneapolis. I sang with my group the Boy Sopranos: a little whiskey-drinking choir in white dresses and black boots. This time around I enlisted Aby Wolf, Ashley Gold, and Janey Winterbauer to sing with me. Andy Thompson sat in to help out on the piano.


Photo: Ben LaFond

I wanted to do some special costuming for the Icehouse Blowout set–something with lights. Something beautiful and spooky. I wanted our sternums to glow, and I wanted lights in our mouths. (After about ten minutes of daydreaming, I realized I was striving to recreate a dramatic [and formative] scene from the Little Mermaid.)

As it happened, I knew the exact guy for the job. Adam Wolf.


Adam is a maker and an expert in LED lights. He works in a little lab, also in Uptown, called Wanye and Layne, LLC. They make all sorts of open-source hardware kits and projects.

The mouthpiece has gotta be small, I said, and it can’t interfere with speech sounds. 

How long does the effect have to last? 

Not long, just a few minutes. 

Adam took out the slim disc of a battery, smaller than a dime.

Yeah, that’s great. We could hide that in a cheek no problem. But the light has to be somewhere at the roof of our mouths. And small, really small. 


As it turned out, the lights that Adam and his team used were so small they had to be soldered under a microscope in his lab. They were just little LED flakes really, that he mounted between two fine wires. But when he wired them to our battery they were bright. For one moment, we worried they might be too brightthen we giggled like idiots because what a delightful problem to have when building a glowing mouthpiece.


Now we just had to figure out how to turn them on and off during the show. I didn’t want them to be lit for the duration of the performance–I wanted to reveal them only at the end, a finale.

Could we get a little switch that we’d depress with our tongues? That sounded iffy and rather ungainly.

Could we work it by remote control? Yes, but that would require putting a receiver in our mouths, way too big.

Adam came up with a brilliant solution.



Adam wired together a device with three parts: a light, a battery, and a little switch that was magnetically activated. The electrical circuit remained open until a magnet was near, then the circuit closed and the light flashed on. The earth metal magnets he gave me were small, but crazily strong. It was hard to pull them apart, hard to keep them apart, it was hard to handle them without losing one as it jumped towards the nearest mic stand or metal shelf.

YouTube Preview Image

Really strong.


The tricky part, Adam said, was making sure your mouth didn’t close the circuit. To ensure that my spit didn’t interfere with the electronics, Adam covered each of the three parts with a mouth-safe moldable plastic. Here he’s heating the plastic with a hot-air gun to do a little shaping.

I left with one device for me and one for Aby.

Next stop: The Dentist.



I’d first heard the name Dr. Nelson while drunkenly admiring my bartender’s teeth. Man, you have great teeth. Like really great. At the time of this admiring, I happened to be in the market for a dentist, so I jotted down the name of the guy who’s handiwork so impressed me. (If you happen to be in the market for a dentist, holler at him, I think he’s still taking patients.)

I called Dr. Nelson and asked if he’d like to get involved in an art project of sorts.


I gave him what we’d come up with. Give me a day or two, he said. Also, can you ask Aby to stop by so I can make an impression of her bite? 


The next time I saw him, Dr. Nelson had mounted our device on a little plastic mold, that fitted to my molars. 



And it worked.

YouTube Preview Image



Next Adam wired up some LED panels for our sternums. They could be operated remotely by Arlo (Light Guy Extraordinaire).



He rigged them up to a little box with dimmer switch so they could glow and fade with the swells of the music.


Boy Sopranos Lights


Image: Ricardo Zapata

One of the most satisfying 20-minutes I’m likely to have on a Monday night. Thanks to Aby (who wrote “Hive” which we performed that evening), Ashley, Janey, Andy, Adam, Casey, Quinn for the Geisha make-up, and Laura of the Apiary Salon for the last-minute haircut backstage.



The next adventure is just over the next hill. Doomtree’s All Hands drops on January 27th and we’re steady scheming. New music, big tours, custom dessert foods (seriously). If you haven’t had a chance to preorder the record, you can check out the packages here. There’s stuff that glows in the dark, there’s extra music, there’s colored vinyl and there’s a tiny ship in a tiny effing bottle.

See you very soon. -Dsa.













Posted on September 30, 2014

ASTRONOMICALLY HUGE NEWS DAY: Yes, you read the heading correctly. This December will mark the tenth and final Doomtree Blowout. 


Before the rumors ever have a chance of flying around, let’s make one thing clear: This in no way marks the end of Doomtree. When we all met up earlier this year to start planning the big Blowout X, we got to thinking about how incredibly lame and boring the idea of ever throwing a Blowout 11 sounded (let alone a Blowout 18). We’ve been talking for awhile now about wanting to switch things up a bit and challenge ourselves to create new traditions moving forward. With the retrospective Every Single Day book out this past summer and a brand new crew album on the horizon early next year, this just seemed like the perfect time to put an exclamation point on the last decade of awesomeness and close out an important chapter before gearing up for a truly insane 2015. So that’s pretty much that in a nutshell. Now for the glorious details.

12/6-12/13. Saturday to Saturday. 10 events in 8 days. Every hour on the hour we’ll be announcing the details of each unique day’s schedule. For our first show we’ll be taking it over the river to St. Paul and kicking things off  at the newly renovated Turf Club!

12:6 TURF 9AM

Keep coming back every hour for new details on all eight days! Huge shouts to our sponsors at The Current,, and Surly. Equally huge shouts to the great organizations that we’ll be donating a portion of all Blowout sales to: Southside Family Nurturing CenterAnimal Humane Society, Hope Community Center, Domestic Abuse Project, and Kicker Project. Sign up for the Doomtree Mailing List HERE to get a shot at ticket pre-sales this Thursday. Otherwise, the public on-sale starts at noon this Friday, and a bunch of us will be at The Depot at 4:30 on Friday selling tickets hand to hand.

10:00am UPDATE: Sunday is Surly Doomtree Day! We’re keeping the details on this one pretty close to the chest for now, but here’s the gist. For those that don’t know, Surly is a local beer company that has been killing the game for quite awhile now. We hung out with these guys a lot over the summer and realized how similar the Doomtree and Surly build-it-from-the-ground-up stories are, so we decided to use one of the Blowout days to showcase and bring together our two different worlds of music and beer. Full details coming soon. Stay tuned!

12:7 SURLY 10AM

11:00am UPDATE:  Monday 12/8 we’ll be rocking a super small and intimate show at Icehouse! This night will be a big showcase of all the different musical endeavors our individual members get into when we’re not working on a new crew record. Side projects, tomfoolery, and tons of friends. Anybody’s guess really. Going to be insane.


12:00pm UPDATE: Doomtree loves the kids! On Tuesday 12/9 we’re christening it Kids Day. Members of Doomtree will be visiting various schools throughout the Twin Cities in the morning and afternoon; reading books to pre-schoolers, teaching workshops with junior high kids, and writing raps with the big high schoolers. Then at night we take it back to the Triple Rock for a huge all ages show. A show for the (all) ages if you will. Dad jokes!

12:9 T-ROCK 12PM

1:00pm UPDATE: This is a special one. Wednesday 12/10 marks the exact ten-year anniversary of the very first Doomtree Blowout (to the date!). So it only made sense to take things back to the Varsity Theater where everything began. It’s real sentimental for us right now. Our friends at TPT will also be filming this event for a special episode of their Lowertown Line show. TEN YEARS! Crazed.


2:00pm UPDATE: Now it’s time to bring it all back home to First Avenue, our favorite venue in the entire world and the prime location of every Blowout since our second one. Thursday 12/11 will be an 18+ show in the First Avenue Mainroom. It will be guaranteed NUTZ.


3:00pm UPDATE: Day 7 of the #LastBlowoutEver will be an epic doubleheader. We’ll start things off at The Current at noon for a live taping, performance, and interview in the acclaimed UBS Forum (more details on how to score passes to that event coming real soon). Then we take things right back to First Ave for our second 18+ show over there before Saturday’s final event. Maaaaaaan this is gonna a fun week.


4:00pm UPDATE: THE GRAND FINALE! Our tenth and final event will conclude with the last night in a three-night stand at First Avenue. In my opinion the Doomtree Blowout and First Ave are pretty much synonymous with each other at this point. We basically grew up at this venue. I couldn’t imagine closing out the #LastBlowoutEver anywhere else. This one’s for the grown folks. 21+ and I’m sure plenty rowdy. Going out with one hell of a bang.


BAM! So there you have it. 10 events in 8 days. The last Doomtree Blowout ever. Thanks for following along all day to the hour by hour announcements. If you’ve already signed up for the Doomtree Mailing List, expect an email shortly with special pre-sale ticket information. Otherwise tickets will officially go on sale to the public at 12:00pm CST on Friday. If you’re in the Twin Cities, come on  down to The Depot at 4:30pm on Friday and buy your tickets directly from us. We’ll have 50 “ALL IN” passes that will grant you access to all of the ticketed events, if you’re looking to make a real week out of it (must be 21+, only available in person at The Depot). So excited to have all this news out into the world. Here’s a quick rundown just in case your head is spinning like mine right now.


Carrier Pigeon

Posted on July 14, 2014

Ahem. (Taps mic.) I’m here today to proudly announce that I’ll be working with Lauren Neal. She’s the artist behind Carrier Pigeon, an independent jewelry studio in Northeast Minneapolis.

photo 1

What exactly will our partnership entail? Like most Doomtree initiatives, Lauren and I are just sort of making it up as we go, communicating primarily via late-night text message. I like what she does, she likes what I do–that seemed like enough to go on. I visited Lauren’s studio last week to learn about casting (it got real Mr. Rogers for me), a more exacting process than I imagined.


Most of Lauren’s designs start with a block of wax. And a knife. This piece of wax is a hollow tube; a thin slice is the starting point for ring design.

photo 3

Lauren doesn’t sketch out many of her designs, she instead goes straight to 3-D, using files and fire and all sorts of specialized tools to shape the wax into the form of the ring or bracelet she’s imagined.

photo 3

This tool is called a doming block. Holding it made me feel like a she-wizard. (Not sure if wizard is gender-specific, I checked.)

photo 5

If she plans on making a few bracelets or rings at once, she’ll replicate her wax form. To do this, she makes a mold of her form in silicone. She’ll then inject hot wax into that mold to set in the exact shape of her original. (I’m using lay terms here, so if you’re with the silversmithing union or something, you might as well log off now, reading further is only gonna drive you nuts.) I took special delight in the fact that the necessary temperature of the wax-injecting machine is “pork” on a meat thermometer.

Next she  secures her wax form in a little heat-safe container (think of a coffeemug that could survive the apocalypse) and pours a clay-like substance called investment over it. When the investment sets, she puts the whole shebang into a little kiln-type-thing. The original wax form melts away, leaving a hollow space in the investment into which she’ll eventually pour silver, gold, bronze.

photo 1

Lauren uses recycled metals whenever she can. Here she showed me a little jar of silver shavings that will be melted and reused.

photo 2I took a special liking to a pair of earrings that she created using a process called organic casting. Instead of starting with a wax mold, Lauren started with a couple of wooden matchsticks (she has to buy boxes from the 50s to find the strike-anywhere kind). She poured the investment right over the matchsticks, put the whole thing in the kiln-thing and let the 1250-degree heat burn away the matches. When she shook out the ashe, she was left with a  perfect impression, woodgrain and all, into which to pour molten silver. Pretty rad.

If you’d like to check out more of Lauren’s designs, you can do so here. Otherwise, stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted on whatever it is we’re in the middle of scheming up.

Castor, The Twin LP Available Now!

Posted on April 20, 2014

Yesterday we celebrated Record Store Day in a big way by releasing a limited initial run of Dessa’s Castor, The Twin album on vinyl for the first time ever. Knowing that not everyone would have the opportunity to pick it up at their local shop, we decided to hold on to 180 copies for ourselves and make them available on the Doomtree Webstore starting right NOW!

UPDATE: All limited edition vinyl copies of Castor, The Twin have sold out. The standard black vinyl version is now available HERE


Click HERE to pick up the limited edition hand-numbered white vinyl, with bonus “Beekeeper” sheet music insert and digital download card, before they’re all gone. Check out this sweet hands on packaging video for the whole rundown. BAM!

YouTube Preview Image