The only double X chromosome member of the mid-west hip-hop collective, Doomtree, Dessa certainly holds her own. And with lyrics like “It’s been assumed I’m soft or irrelevant / Cause I refuse to down play my intelligence,” it’s hard for a self-professed strong female to not fall in love with her work. Her music strikes a perfect ‘realness’ balance between being strong and being vulnerable. Some of her songs elicit fist pumps in agreement, and some songs bring a flood of tears of heart-crushing empathy. Her song “Call Off Your Ghost” speaks to anyone who has loved and lost and stuck around to examine the wreckage. The video, as all of her music videos do, serves to amplify the feelings and emotional experience. You can be strong with her, and you can bleed out with her, too.
Dessa tours frequently, and plays a lot of intimate venues with $10 covers. She waits around after shows and talks to every single person who wants an autograph, a photograph, or just to confess how her music resonates with them. Her personality certainly resonates as well. It’s a treat to see her tour her solo stuff, not just for the live band, but in large part for her witty and charming stage banter and the opportunity to hear her share personal tales with a twinge of humor and self deprecation.
As a musician, Dessa refuses to be put into a box. She raps, and she sings, and she creates music that is interesting to her despite criticisms of her body of work containing songs that are too disparate. In an interview with Last.fm, she dismisses such concerns, “I’m not in the business of shelving shit. I’m in the business of making the best songs I can.” The whole Doomtree crew makes music that’s socially conscious in a way that sets it apart from a lot of other rap. In the same interview, Dessa, ever humble, mentions that she thinks she receives too much credit for being the ‘conscience of hip hop:’ “I learned these ideas from people who’d been in the game for a very long time. And I’m one of a whole host of artists, female, male, black and white, who have some serious qualms with the way that gay people and women are portrayed in hip hop music.” As far as the misogyny portion goes, in an interview with New Noise, she defends hip-hop as not ubiquitously misogynistic while also recognizing that the faction that is, is certainly not benign. “An enormous percentage of Hip-Hop listener’s demographic is young and we’re forging meaningfully the ideas of how young people expect to relate to each other and if we’re spreading the idea that women are expendable and that a man’s worth is determined by how badly he dare treat beautiful women, I think we’re doing a disservice to the young people listening.”
Beyond hip hop, Dessa is an accomplished writer, from her essay comparing iTunes to Monsanto, to her small format books Spiral Bound and Are You Handsome? She’s also a professor at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, MN. If you’re looking for a role model, she’s your woman. If you’re looking for some new beats to connect with, Dessa has you covered there too. And if you’re still not convinced that she’s an absolute badass, take a swig of her favorite drink, whiskey and amaretto on the rocks, also known as The Godfather.