Dessa - Building a Music Mecca in Minneapolis

The rapper/singer/poet is the latest member of the Doomtree collective to break out.
Dessa at Riot Fest
Dessa at Riot Fest © Catie Laffoon/Red Bull
By Cole Louison

It’s been a busy few weeks for Dessa. The 32-year-old Minnesotan has been touring the west and east coasts in support of her new release 'Parts of Speech,' working with her collective Doomtree, and hitting book fairs to promote 'A Pound of Steam,' a poetry collection.

You might have heard or heard of Dessa. Her band-backed rhymes are instantly recognizable. Her shows, like last months sold-out performance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, are a high-energy melding of singing and spoken word, and her audiences look more like they’re at a rock concert than a rap show.

Dessa sings, raps, writes, teaches, produces, works solo and collectively, and fries an egg while she’s on the phone with you the night after she’d touched down in her hometown of Minneapolis, a place she loves to come back to.

“Out here, genres are really permeable,” she says of her home base. “We’re a little smaller, so often on a bill you’ll have a folk musician, then a punk band, then a metal band. It’s such a collaborate scene, and so you learn basic skills in a lot of areas. How to book. How to record. How to flyer your shows.”

She was once mistaken at a venue not as the upcoming headliner, but as the parking lot girl who tries to hand you a flyer. But that’s OK, she says. That’s the whole idea. “We don’t have any corporate interests developing artists. Artists develop the artists here.”

Doomtree certainly does that. Since 2001, the seven-piece hip-hop collective have worked as a group and as individuals, singing, rapping, playing, mixing, writing and spearheading the Twin Cities music scene.

Dessa joined them before appearing on their 2008 self-titled release. She already loved their beats, when she learned they were neighbors. Proximity led to friendships, which led to collaborations, which led to an official invite to join the club.

“They sat me down on the floor of their garbage home and asked me in,” she remembers. “It’s one of the proudest moments in my musical career.

The collective would go on to produce and release her first solo record, 2010’s 'A Badly Broken Code' and remain involved in her career. The propulsive beat on the new single 'Skeleton Key' was created by Lazerbeak, fellow Doomtreer.

Which brings us to the new poetry collection, partly written at the nearby McNally Smith College of Music. Once a creative writing instructor (“I love teaching and hate grading,” she says), Dessa is now an artist-in-residence who builds master classes ranging from the power of good lyrics to the empowerment of a solid press release.

Tales from the road also come in handy, like laptopping her bio to the various news outlets of the city they’re driving to, then reading her words in reviews the next day. “Those hours were well-spent,” she says.

Well spent for her, the teller of these tales, and for us, who’ll soon get to hear them, now that she’s on tour again.

Dessa headlines Red Bull Sound Select Presents Seattle at Neumos tonight with Dude York and Wishbeard.

Cole Louison is the author of 'The Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, and the Fantastic History of Skateboarding.'

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