Fresh bedrock

Probing Dessa's multifaceted persona
By SONYA TOMLINSON  |  March 8, 2010

RAP030510_dessa_main 
HEADING FOR A TIGHT FADE? Dessa’s disc drops to huge acclaim.

Dessa Darling could never be limited to one area of interest to devote her passions — an author, lyricist, singer, teacher, philosophy-degree holder and lover of linguistics who cuts off and donates her hair to children in need every time she releases something big. So big is her recently released debut full-length album, A Badly Broken Code (Doomtree Records), we imagine she'll need to get a tight fade after the acclaim received from NPR and hip-hop heads alike. We spoke with the polymath about all these interconnections.

A SELF-DESCRIBED "NERD," WE ASKED HER HOW SHE QUALIFIES.
It's kind of embarrassing to run down the trappings of my nerdiness. I geek out on words. I love etymology. I love science. I'm a sucker for an unusual fact. I used to lead a trivia night here in Minneapolis. I dig the scholastic thing. I'm kind of unapologetically academic.

ON HER INTRODUCTION TO MINNEAPOLIS BASED HIP-HOP COLLECTIVE/LABEL, DOOMTREE
I knew them socially before I was involved with them musically. I opened [one poem] for Sage Francis and one of the MCs in the Doomtree crew said, "I didn't know you could do that," and I felt really proud. (Doomtree producers) MK Larada had been working on a beat that asked for melancholy lyrics and kind of slow stuff. Working very closely with him I sang that and I remember at four in the morning how his face looked — raised-eyebrow impressed. And he's a hard dude to impress. I felt like I got a green light, a very reluctant green light.

ON ALBUM FEEDBACK
I was tweaking out because some of these songs I've had for so long, and I've had so much time to second-guess everything. When the record dropped and the reviews started it was a really big relief. It's being pretty well received.

THE CATALYST FOR ALBUM SINGLE "DIXON'S GIRL"
"Dixon's Girl" ended up being about one woman who I met. I was touring and I met this woman and she was fresh. She was just handling her business, she was taking care of her kid, and she was in a relationship that seemed like it left a lot to be desired. And it was really exciting, as we were talking before and after the show trading experiences. I'm from the North, she's from the South. Listening and maybe even delighting in one another's accents because we talk so differently as we're having this conversation on some otherwise very shared content.

ON THE "DIXON'S GIRL" VIDEO
I worked with the director, Todd Cobery. I gave him the album and asked if he could give a listen to "Dixon's Girl." He sent back a song treatment that had some ideas of exactly where he wanted to go with the image — and there's this kind of surreal moment, and there's this vintage vibe, there's some slow-motion performance shots. I dug it, I really liked it. Then we shot it in two days. One day in the studio and one days in the woods at Fort Snelling (in Minnesota).

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