TWEETS

Dessa

Emcee | Writer


From its first track, Dessa’s new full-length Parts of Speech (6.25.13, 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
>ZackRosenIndustries.com

“Enchanting.”
–Chicago Tribune

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

“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.”
-Culturebully.com

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

“Absolutely brilliant.”
-Crossfire.com (London)

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

“Dessa stands alone in her brand of music.”
-HipHopDX

Releases

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

Dessa's Blog

Final Countdown

Posted on July 19, 2010

Tomorrow is the last day to pre-order Paper Tiger’s full-length record, Made Like Us.

As most of you already know, pre-orders are what allow little fish like Doomtree to swim in the big tank. Pre-orders help us convince decision-makers in the industry that we can, in fact, sell albums—even though our budgets don’t allow for shiny magazine ads or expensive promotional swag. With good music and hard touring (and some inexpensive promotional swag), we’ve been able to build a small business and a big network of supporters.

Most of the members of Doomtree have been involved in the collective for a considerable share of their adult lives. During many of the years we’ve all spent together, Paper Tiger has served in a crucial behind-the-scenes role. He’s designed flyers, posters, stickers, and album art on red-eye deadlines and bake-sale budgets. He’s the producer responsible for some of Doomtree’s most anthemic singles, including P.O.S’ “Low Light Low Life,” Mike Mictlan’s “Game Over” and my song “The Chaconne.” If you’ve been to our crew shows, you know that he’s also our debonair live DJ.

Now, for the first time, he’s releasing an official record. It’s a project that Doomtree is proud to present and it includes some of Paper’s best work to date. Maggie Morrison of Lookbook features on the album and I make a couple of appearances as well. Last week, we all visited The Current’s studios to promote the project and perform a couple tracks.  By now I’ve heard the songs on Made Like Us many, many times—first in Paper’s basement as he finalized the production, then in the mixing studio to tweak levels, then in Lazerbeak’s car to check the mastering, then looping in my headphones as I wrote the onesheet for the record. Even after hearing the music so many times, Maggie’s performance at The Current moved me to distraction. I was pulled out of my role as our in-house publicist and I was reinstalled into my first role with Doomtree: a fan.

It’s a strong disc and if you’re thinking about purchasing it, we always ask that you do the pre-order thing, which is where your dollars have the most impact. To those of you who’ve done so already, thank you.

Ok, end of the Earnest Appeal. See you on Saturday at Sauce. The whole Doomtree crew will be performing to celebrate the release. We’ll also be doing some Doomtree karaoke—your chance to rap to a Doomtree track backed by Paper Tiger himself.

Dessa.

Linking Up

Posted on June 19, 2010

The satellite images show a lot of activity at Doomtree HQ this week. Paper Tiger has been working round the clock to finish a special Doomtree musical compilation for our art show at the Minnneapolis CO Gallery on the 26th of June. We’ll be presenting a decade of our own visual artwork and some selected pieces created by (pretty effing) talented fans. Fora an interview with the gallery curator, click here.

Meanwhile, Made Like Us (Paper’s full-length debut) is getting a bit of well deserved attention from the blogosphere. If you’re the calendar-keeping type, make sure to mark the release date. July 27th. It’s gonna be a party. Two words: Doomtree Karaoke.

Lazerbeak, P.O.S, and I recently accompanied Sims to one of the final studio sessions for his full-length record. We argued about snare drums, back-up vocals, and asked Joe to turn up sounds he’d just turned down. In the middle of the afternoon, a reporter from Kare 11 came by and shot a bit of candid footage. If you’d like to check out the awe-inspiring informality of a Doomtree recording session, you can do so here.

A couple of weeks ago, a MTV.com invited me to select a book for the literary forum on their site. (This warrants a pause in the action to thank MTV for maintaining a literary forum on their site.) I picked a book of essays by one of the writers I most admire, David Foster Wallace. My interview is posted here. The photo was taken by Isaac Gale, last-minute, in a hotel lobby in Pheonix. He’s a monster with a camera/jumprope/fur-lined hat.

In personal news, I moved into a new apartment this week. Big ups to Lazerbeak, Sims, and Ander for hefting furniture down three flights of stairs, and then up another three flights ofstairs. I don’t know how people without rap crews get anything done.

Oh, and thanks to Dad to. Don’t forget it’s Father’s Day tomorrow. (Hot tip: Dads love grilling in a Classic Doomtree Tee this year.)

Dessa.

New Paper Tiger track “Palace” featuring Dessa

Posted on May 30, 2010

Paper Tiger’s new album “Made Like Us” is available 7.27.2010. You can pre-order the album in the Doomtree Store

The Guthrie

Posted on May 03, 2010

I’ve got a calendar full of red Xs indicating that the Cadence Hip Hop Series is almost upon us. This Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I’ll be hosting a run of pretty effing cool performances at the Guthrie Theater. On May 5th, Maria Isa and M.anifest will perform. On My 6th, it’s Sims and Toki Wright. On May 7th, Matthew Santos will perform (!) and I’ll headline with a new ensemble. Shane Hawley, my favorite Twin Cities spoken word poet, will perform all three evenings. For the record, that’s a Grammy nominee, a spoken word champion, and a bunch of highly decorated rappers. Here’s what the press has to say about the first performer of the line up:

M.ANIFEST
“What’s a rapper from Ghana who’s as smart as Talib Kweli and as funky as Kanye West doing in Minnesota? Who cares? As proven on his just plain entertaining debut CD, “Manifestations,” (No. 5 on our recent year-end Twin Cities Critics Tally), the 25-year-old African transplant is as at home laying old-school rhymes and Afrocentric grooves as he is at keeping up with the Joneses (as in Nas and Mike), and his songs are positive and thought-provoking.”

-Star Tribune

To get tickets for the show, snag your mom’s Visa and click here.

See you at the the-atah.

Dessa.

Feed Your Calendar

Posted on April 15, 2010

Ok, let’s just have out with it. Lazerbeak is the only one of us with the temerity, discipline, and purity of character to blog on a regular basis. But, I’m determined to get my ass in gear and start contributing more regularly.

Let’s start with some light fare: our schedule of upcoming shows.

During my lap around the country with P.O.S, I acquired  a (drumroll) BOOKING AGENT. For the readers amongst you who are not underground rappers signed to independent labels, suffice it to say that this was an exciting development. I’ve been trying for four or five years to get a booking agent. Now that I’ve got one, I’m not sure exactly what to expect–every rung in the carreer ladder is a fresh opportunity for wide-eyed confusion. But his name is Joe and he seems like  a decent, genuine guy and he works for a fancy agency named CAA in a fancy city named New York.

While Joe is busy seeing if any of his pre-existing contacts would like to book an evening of sad rap songs, Doomtree has lined up a pretty great run of summer shows. The non-exhaustive list is below:

Cadence Hip Hip Series at the Guthrie — May 5, 6, 7

Sue McLean, one of Minnesota’s big-time promoters, kindly invited me to curate a three-day hip hop series at the Dowling Studio in the Guthrie. I enthusiastically agreed. I’m happy to unveil the Cadence Hip Hop Series. Put on your Sunday best for some first-rate secular entertainment. Each evening will involve live musical performance, really good spoken word, a killer DJ, and a smattering of literary talent. The line up is below. You can buy tickets for all three nights here.

May 5: Maria Isa, M.anifest, DJ Paper Tiger, Shane Hawley
May 6th: Sims, Toki Wright, DJ Plain Ole Bill, Shane Hawley, Maggie Sanford
May 7th: Dessa with live ensemble, Matthew Santos Trio, DJ Paper Tiger, Shane Hawley, Brian Judd

Soundset–May 30

Rhymesayers’ annual hip hop festival. If you don’t know, ask somebody. Or excuse yourself from the conversation for a bit of frantic googling on your iPhone. Both Cecil Otter and I will perform at this year’s event. Tickets and information here.

LynLake Festival–May 16

Sims, Mike Mictlan & Lazerbeak tear up Uptown–with permission.

Grand Old Day–June 6

The whole Doomtree crew tears up Saint Paul–no matter what they say.

More announcements to follow, please keep us in your hearts. And day planners.
Dessa.

Thank You

Posted on January 19, 2010

Well, it’s the middle of the night, and my album is slated for official release tomorrow. My impulse is to write a long, lyrical ‘thank you’ note, but my other impulse is the pass the eff out. Splitting the difference:

SanFranBeakEatingOKHey Lazerbeak? Thanks. You and Ander have put so many hours into this thing. I owe you one, man. And you’re next.

MK Larada, you’re ridiculous. The album art elevates the entire project.

Hey Lupe Fiasco['s intern], thanks. I got a little mention on your blog today, and that means a lot. Cause I’m a fan.

People who’ve purchased the album: Thank You. When I did my live broadcast last week, no one leaked the password. No one. If you’re not running an independent record label in your free time, I can’t impress upon you how rare that it is in hip hop–in popular music in general. It’s almost impossible to attracting a listenership who’s willing to buy music, let alone who’s willing to play by the rules to be part of a larger idea, to make a bigger plan possible. Thanks.

-Dess.

DESSA + vitaMN

Posted on January 14, 2010


Dessa scores the cover of vitaMN!
CHECK IT HERE>

Video Premiere

Posted on January 12, 2010

 The Current was kind enough to post a video for one of my new Boy Soprano songs. You can check it out here.  For those of you who preordered, see you tonight. 

-Dess

(Pre) Sales Figures–Update

Posted on January 06, 2010

Moments ago, I received the updated sales figures for my new album, A Badly Broken Code.  The bean counters at Doomtree’s HQ just submitted their final tally via certified airmail. They’ve clicked off their desk-lamps, leaned back in their chairs, and are now smoking in the semi-darkness of another endless dusk on the island where the Doomtree Main Office is headquartered.

PreSale Thermometer

With no small measure of pride, I am here to announce that the pre-sale numbers have almost reached the goal that I set back in mid-December. The Excel spreadsheet at left substantiates that fact.

Many thanks to those who’ve helped make this dream (almost) possible. For those of you who’ve considered making that big click, I’ll sternly remind you that the opportunity ends soon…the presale window closes in just a few days. 

Promotionally yours,
Dessa.