What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the midwest? Well, you might be thinking snow, farm country where they grow ‘em big and dumb, or maybe you’re thinking cheese curds and deep-fried EVERYTHING. What I’m betting you’re not think of is genre-shattering hip-hop. No, that isn’t a typo. I am talking about lyrical and poetic hip-hop on a level you should need the Konami Code to achieve. I’m sure you think that the midwest is just that “place between New York and L.A.,” but in a not-so-little town called Minneapolis there lies a beacon unto rap music that shines like a bat-signal on any given snow-dusted night. There, in the sprawling metropolis that is the Twin Cities is a veritable cornucopia of artists ready to answer the call. Not least among them is Dessa of the increasingly legendary DOOMTREE crew who is taking her superhero skill set on the road and “repping wings & teeth” at The Roxy Theatre May 6th, with the help of fellow crew members SIMS and Lazerbeak on her first headlining tour.
You might be saying to yourself, “Gee, Wes, I don’t know. Sounds a little far-fetched.” Well hold on to your trousers Beav, ‘cause Wally’s gonna let you know what’s what. Dessa’s background is slam poetry, a cappella quality alto pipes and a philosophy degree. She released “False Hopes,” her first EP to rave reviews despite only being 15 minutes long. Her first LP, “A Badly Broken Code” got four out of five from Urb, a shout out in Spin Magazine and was listed by the likes of the Seattle Times and the Chicago tribune as being an album deserving of a Grammy nomination. Dessa’s LP is almost literally a journey from life to death with tracks titled “Children’s Work” and “Momento Mori” (Latin phrase translated to “remember you must die”). Dessa took five years to create an album that cannot easily be quantified or categorized with its haunting, a cappella tracks like, “Into the Spin” (name for her tour, by the way) and declarations of presence like, “The Bullpen.”
With that kind of background, is it any wonder she operates on a plateau few can achieve? Dessa will sing for you, rap for you, give you some slam poetry, but all the while it can feel like she is leaving everything out on the stage. What else is gonna be on that stage at the Roxy? How about a three-piece band? Yeah, I’m talking a damned stand up Bass for God’s sake. Dessa is bringing the show she gives her Minneapolis fans right to your doorstep. Dessa is not shy about the skill you’ll find. “These are killer musicians—both as players and as composers—and I think we’ve put together some new arrangements that represent familiar songs in some really dynamic, imaginative ways.”
You can’t call it a hip-hop show, that’s not all it is. She blends so many musical genres that I’m pretty sure your iTunes might as well slap her with a question mark. Dessa herself explained that, “[It’s] not because I hope to be some genre-bending rebel, but because making good music seems more important than knowing what to call it.”
DOOMTREE as a whole, has always done it’s thing its own way. Dessa explains the meager beginnings: “We started out by recording music in the basement of a shared house and burning CD-Rs to sell at live shows. We now operate a lean little indie record label, tour the country in a gray van, and have had the good fortune to play some pretty stellar stages.” Dessa is a perfect reflection of this gritty, no-holds-barred approach to making what she makes. In addition to being a teacher, hip-hop star, and a cappella singer, she also published a 70-page book of poems and fiction that has been described as a “dizzying literary debut.”(City Pages) She is never satisfied, and this tenacious drive is reflected in everything she does, and she surrounds herself with people that have that same lust for the next level.
So, of course she is touring with SIMS and Lazerbeak on the, “Into the Spin” tour. SIMS, a founding member of DOOMTREE, released “Bad Time Zoo” in February to rave reviews and the top spot on the CMJ hip-hop charts. SIMS is powerful and thoughtful in his rhymes. Idealistic, almost to a fault (like myself), he flirts with liberal preachiness from time to time, but with a bounce-inducing rhyme skill that will get even the toughest, mean-mugging wallflower off the wall and moving. Lazerbeak, the mastermind behind the beats on “Bad Time Zoo” will be plying his trade on this tour with skills shown on stage, and in the tracks, that cannot be denied; an almost interacitve funkscape that echoes everything from tribal choir-inspired tracks to futuristic bass beats like on “The Veldt.”
Dessa has been putting in the work, paying the dues, and cutting her teeth on the road for years. This is her headlining coming out party. The (fan)ily is gathered and it is time to just come out of the closet; she’s a superstar. One part Aphrodite, one part Athena, Dessa brings to the mic wisdom, beauty, and skill, weaving a musical and lyrical tapestry that few can match. If you find yourself next to her at the bar, asking her whether “she thinks, therefore she is,” might get you locked in to a diatribe on the philosophical implications of existence, or more likely a sideways stare and a smirk. Dessa is “acutely aware of how many dues an artist must pay.” She knows not just anyone gets to sing the song of the caged bird just anywhere. “My goal in LA will be to introduce people to the live band format. A lot of people have been skeptical of the transition, but almost everyone has been converted. We’re not a jam band...” With SIMS bringing socially conscious, rat-a-tat lyrics, Lazerbeak with ridiculous tracks, and Dessa with her band and unidentifiable genre, this has the makings for an epic show the likes of which you don’t want to miss. I know I won’t.
For the entire Dessa interview, visit
Cacophony of Bad Noise
Can’t make the May 6th show at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood? Don’t worry, here are a couple other shows going down that might be closer to your neck of the socal woods.
Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, CA
The Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara, CA
The Casbah in San Diego, CA
About the Author
Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He's contributed to the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://www.wesleybauman.wordpress.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly. Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol