Lady killer

Anything they can do, Dessa can do better
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  March 2, 2010

HEAR HER ROAR "I was completely preoccupied with not being the token female MC in Doomtree," says Dessa. "Now, I'm comfortable enough to know that I got here on my own merit."

Since the only way to write about female rappers is to harp on gender, here's the catchy kick-paragraph buzznote that we're playing: Dessa has more in common with black Republicans than you might realize. Although she's proud to hail from Venus, the poetic Minnesota songstress has refused to let prejudice paralyze her rise in a male-weighted industry. She also has way more homeboys than homegirls in her game — one could imagine misogynists using her success as proof that there's no sexism in hip-hop.

The truth, of course, is quite different. If Dessa (who comes to the Middle East on Wednesday) has one negative notion about the state of women in rap music, it's that there are not enough of them. In fact, she would be happy to school any promising young fatal femmes on the lessons she learned in her ascension from Doomtree neophyte to marquee MC alongside crew headliner P.O.S. It took her some time to self-realize, but she didn't get drafted from the Twin City spoken-word scene for her smile alone (pretty as it may be).

"In the first three years, I was completely preoccupied with not being the token female MC in Doomtree. I would wear big hooded sweatshirts and gigantic pants just to make sure that no one would assume I had gotten the gig for any other reason than my musicianship. Now, I wear my street clothes on stage — I'm comfortable enough to know that I got here on my own merit."

Dessa's confidence has been compounded since fans and critics worldwide validated what Midwestern heads have known since she cut an introductory EP five years ago. Her January-released full-length debut, A Badly Broken Code (Doomtree), showcases her delicious knack for marrying hip-hop, spoken word, and song. Wings spread wide open, and with delicate Doomtree sound clouds to rain from, she embraced her vocal instrument and cut the best 15 songs that "I knew how to make."

"I've wanted this for years," adds Dessa, who also teaches hip-hop language and songwriting at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul. "I was hoping that this album would do it, but I was also trying to talk myself out of that hope, because I didn't want to be so disappointed if it didn't introduce my solo material nationally. I didn't know what the reaction would be to having so much variety on there. Now, I'm glad I didn't hedge my bets just to make sure that rap listeners would take a risk with me."

What with her being featured in this month's Spin (and on virtually every blog and Web zine in the alt-beat echo chamber), rumors have proliferated through a typical game of new-media telephone. Given a chance to correct viral misinformation that's been amplified by Wikipedia, she assures me that she has never scored an Ivy League hoops scholarship or been called "Margret."

Superfluous Net noise aside, Dessa remains a dynamic and compelling character who serves substantial allegories with more layers than lasagna. In that regard — given that cats dig her for what she is inside and out — she's not really like black Republicans at all.

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