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

Castor, The Twin release concert

Posted on October 31, 2011

On Friday night, I performed at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul. It was the biggest production of my career. Thank you to every musician, technician, and attendee. Zoe Prinds-Flash photographed the concert.

Catch Dessa on tour in November

Posted on October 24, 2011

Dessa is hitting the road in support of her new album Castor, The Twin with a few shows on the east coast.

No shows announced at the moment.

Dessa on the East Coast

Posted on October 12, 2011

I’m writing from a Chicago sunroom (thanks for putting us up, Anna) with some pretty big news for me and the band. In a few short weeks, we’ll be heading out on our very first East Coast headlining tour.  Just a little trip, but feeling like a pretty big adventure. Here goes.

Thursday, November 10th. Iota in Arlington.
Friday, November 11th. The Tin Angel in Philly.
Saturday, November 12th.  Joe’s Pub in NYC.
Monday,  November 14th. Middle East in Boston.
Wednedsday, November 16th. Beachland Tavern in Cleveland.
Thursday, November 17th. Magic Stick in Detriot.

Tickets go on sale verrrry soon. And we may add a date or two before the week is out, so please check back for updates. Okay. Loading the starting gun.

No shows announced at the moment.

Castor, The Twin.

Posted on October 04, 2011

Today’s the big day! The official Castor, The Twin release date is upon us. Hyperbole! It’s like a secular Christmas for which you must buy your own gifts.

Preorders are arriving and the record is now available online and at record stores. And, as always, Doomtree has a master plan. But–as always–this plan is woefully simple. Here it is: Convince everyone who plans on buying the album to buy it today. Why? Because if we can consolidate the purchases, then we stand a chance of charting on iTunes and maybe even on some Billboard lists, effectively making us competitive with mainstream artists who have blogs made out of pure gold.

We are like David. And Goliath is the guy who holds the drinks for our competitors. It’s a pretty dramatically pitched field, but we’ve done it before and–dare I say?–I think we can do it again. So, if you’re thinking about buying a copy online, please consider doing so…nowish. The album is available from iTunes right cheer.

If you’re more a brick-and-mortar man, I’ll be at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis tonight from 7 to 8 pm, signing copies of the disc, eating candy (which I will share), and giving away a pair of tickets to the Good Time Zoo homecoming show at the Fine Line on October 15th.


To those who preordered my album, ah man, I hope you dig it. The first reviews have been good; Spinner posted a very generous article in which I explained a bit of the writing process for the new single, “The Beekeeper.” You can read it here if you like. On the advice of Ander Other, I’ve posted the lyrics to that tune at the  very end of this communique. Thanks for the vote of confidence, my guy.

In other news: there are Doomtree shows everywhere all the time. The Good Time Zoo touring party is like a goddamn Hadron nuetrino; they’re arriving to the next show before they’ve packed up at the last one. You can find tickets here for their remaining dates.

10/4 – Washington , DC – DC9
10/5 – Philadelphia , PA – North Star Bar
10/6 – Brooklyn , NY – Knitting Factory
10/7 – Boston , MA – O’Brien’s
10/8 – Pittsburgh , PA – Smiling Moose
10/9 – Pontiac , MI – Pike Room at Crofoot
10/10 – Chicago , IL – Bottom Lounge (Upstairs)
10/15 – Minneapolis , MN – Fine Line Cafe

Meanwhile, I’ve got some shows of my own: 

10/7 (this Friday!) I’ll be in Duluth at Kirby ballroom on the UMD campus. Only $5. Info here.
10/11 Chicago, Lincoln Hall, opening for Hindi Zahra. Tickets.
10/12 Madison, High Noon Saloon. Tickets.

Okay. “The Beekeeper.”
























By now the sentiment is probably too familiar. But: thank you.

One Last Push.

Posted on September 23, 2011

The pre-order for my new disc, Castor, The Twin is drawing to a close, so the The Kid Ander and I made a little video to more fully explain the project. Thanks to everyone who’s spent a bit of their lunch money with us.

If you’d like to pick up a signed pre-order copy, you can still do so here. The pre-order gift is a tiny little book, just a few inches tall, called “Sleeping with Nikki.”

 There are still some tickets available to my CD release show at the Fitzgerald Theater, but I’m happy to report that they’re moving quickly. Oct 28th, 7 pm. If you’re coming, get a sitter, or just tape the kids to the couch. Box office info here.

For the out-of-towners, we’re finalizing some touring plans, check back for announcements of new shows in your city. In the meantime, I’ll be doing a few Midwest shows with my band:

Chicago October 11th, with Hindi Zahra. Tickets here.
Madison, October 12th. Tickets here. 

Til then, go see the guys, huh? The Good Time Zoo tour has put like 25,000 miles on the van.*

*Lazerbeak will insist that the van is named MOUNTAIN. I persist in calling it My Guy.








Tuesdays with Dessa.

Posted on August 16, 2011

Well helloooo there! This is Dessa writing to bid you a very Good Morning!

Okay, first things first: Lazerbeak is just fine. He is safe and he is comfortable and he is breathing easily through the tape. And now I am here. To hijack his blog.

Welcome to Tuesdays with Lazerbeak Dessa.

Today I am announcing the details of my new project, Castor, The Twin. Those of you who subscribe to the Doomtree mailing list received this news yesterday. (And, on the whole, you were pretty good keepers of secrets. #cyanide.) From here on out, Doomtree will be sharing news and music with the mailing list before we take it to the wider world. If you’re inclined, you can sign up at the bottom right-hand corner of the page.

Now, without further ado:

Castor, The Twin drops on October 4th, with a release show on October 28th. There are 11 tracks: 10 are ambitious rearrangements of previously released songs, the other is an advance single from my next full-length project.












Those of you who’ve attended a live show in the past year know that I’ve been performing with a pretty killer live trio. Sean McPherson plays bass, Dustin Kiel plays keys and guitar, and Joey Van Phillips plays drums. Whenever we can, we corral Aby Wolf to sing too. The album owes a lot to the musicianship and imaginations of these performers. We recorded the project exclusively with live players–no programmed stuff this time around–and it leans towards a classical sound. The instrumentation involves stand-up bass, grand piano, timpani, vibraphone, mandolin, and viola.

The album title references the twin brothers Castor and Pollux of Roman mythology (the pair of bright stars in the Gemini constellation). Pollux was part god, a fighter with metal hands. Castor was the mortal of the pair, but the two were inseparable. I was drawn to Castor and Pollux because I liked the idea that each song on the album was the human twin of the more aggressive compositions that had been released on other projects.

Every Doomtree album is something of a collaborative effort, but special thanks are owed this time around to the producers who allowed me to reinterpret their arrangements: Paper Tiger, Marshall Larada, Lazerbeak and Cecil Otter.

You can listen to the Castor version of “Palace,” originally produced by Paper Tiger, HERE.

We’ll be announcing the pre-order for record soon. If you invest $13 in a ROTH account now, you should have the $10 you need by next week.

In the meantime, I’ll be performing my last show of the summer this Saturday at the West Bank Music Festival. It’s an outdoor street fair on Cedar Avenue–reminiscent of the Cedarfest from the days of yore. You can check out the full line up HERE, though I think I’ll take stage at 8:30 as opposed to the 9 pm listed.

Many thanks for your for your time and attention.
Be assured that Lazerbeak will return in his full glory next Tuesday.


Mother’s Day

Posted on May 09, 2011
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Posted on May 03, 2011
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Into The Spin Tour – Sioux Falls

Posted on April 25, 2011

Take a look at these photos of Dessa, Sims and Lazerbeak from the first night of the Into The Spin Tour! Click on any of the three to view the whole set, shot by Kate Monson.




Make sure you don’t miss the show if we’re playing near you….are we playing near you? Find out at!

Also be sure to check out this video of Sims performing “One Dimensional Man” on the first night of the Into The Spin tour in Sioux Falls!
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Junior High, Benders, and Dress-up gigs.

Posted on April 01, 2011

In this edition:

  • 8th Grade Talent Show Relived
  • SXSW Reviewed
  • Road trips, Radio, Snowboots and Dress Shoes

Every year P.O.S and I visit the 8th graders at the FAIR school. It’s a remarkable place where young people beat the snot out of national averages and teachers all but eradicate the achievement gap.  P.O.S and I talk about finding your voice, turning off your TV, race relations in America, buying reasonably priced clothing, and living as an artist. Then we do a little performance in the auditorium.

After our visit this year, a former student sent me a little video she’d shot. I don’t remember the circumstances precisely, but judging from the footage, P.O.S and I must have had some technical difficulty on stage and decided to try a song a cappella. I don’t know if this clip will amuse you, but I was stifling laughter at the coffeeshop while watching it: P.O.S starts a soul-clap and when it completely falls apart, he just sort of…glides away as if he’s unassociated with anything that may be happening on stage.

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Metro Magazine invited a few musicians to submit their perceptions of the SXSW experience. Doomtree has been indie for a long time, and we’ve managed to make our way using business strategies that–to say the least–aren’t industry standard. For me, SXSW is always a look into an alien model: the dominant one. You can click on the image below to read the whole article, it’s about a page long.

On the 23rd of April, Sims, Lazerbeak and I set out for the Into The Spin Tour, my first headlining run up the West Coast. You can get tickets or just check out the routing here. In the meantime, there are a few hometown shows I’m unusually excited about.

Rochester with The Current
On April 2nd, I’ll head to Rochester as part of The Current’s Road Trip series. The band and I will play a set at the Rochester Art Center and participate in a Q&A conducted by Mark Wheat.

Live Radio Performance on Midmorning
On April 4th, I’ll play a new song, Anabel, on MPR with Kerri Miller. In the Twin Cities, you can tune in at 91.1 FM. You can also log in here to stream the broadcast. Just click on ‘Listen Now.’ You never can anticipate the exact moment that Kerri will fix you in her laser gaze and command “Sing!”, but I’d guess about 10 am Central Time.

Party at the Bunny Hill
On April 8th, P.O.S and I will head to Lutsen Ski Resort to do some face-melting (no snow will be affected). He will probably snowboard and I will probably drink whiskey, waving occasionally in the direction of the lift. Cheap ticket, good show. Details here.

Opera at the Riot House
On April 9th
, Jeremy Messersmith is curating a night at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul. He kindly invited me to make a cameo; I’ll be singing a couple of tunes in the company of a bunch of other talented dudes, including Chris Koza. Tickets and info here.

Songwriting, Strings Attached.
On April 14th
, I’ll be performing two songs as part of the Southern Theater’s installment of their Songbook series. This time around all the songs will be arranged for strings (get it? get it?). I’ll be doing a little bit of new material as part of an evening formatted to showcase a myriad of talented songwriters. Other participants include members of Arcade Fire, Dirty Projectors, and Devotchka. Info here.

Until next time,