Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Sometimes, one of the best things to read or hear is the way that someone writes about one of those cold dark nights that doesn't sit right on the skin, but instead it tries to pry itself right off. These descriptions get into the different, but physical ways that the breath looks coming out of mouths and they focus on fireplaces and the obliviousness of pooches, curled up snug in front of them. They are usually testaments to survival, or of toughing out the elements in a way that's not so much heroic, but necessary - doing whatever it takes to keep the blood circulating.
The nights that Dessa, a poet and rapper out of the Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree, writes about are those that we find deep in the heart of July, in the middle of the most downtown segment of a city, where the buildings, cars and people are one on top of the other and they're all wondering when this fucking hot spell is going to break. They're wondering how on earth all of this heat still surprises them and reduces them to merciless beggars every damned time it comes around, every damned summer.
Dessa writes about the sticky nights, so sticky and smelling like shirts and pants that have been sweated through twice already today - wet and then crustily dried. She writes about the way that the humidity has descended, how it sits like a coyote staking out a field, waiting for the first thing that moves. She sings as someone who knows what it feels like to be prey and to fall prey, though she's learned how not to be that anymore and she'd like to counsel others through the mine fields of hard nights and few prospects. She writes of having an endless supply of false starts and new beginnings, as if settling for unfavorable terms, conditions or people is inexcusable. She sings about all of this as would a cool and composed old-timer, in a smoky bar, where the glasses clink and the neon signs, advertising beer and cigarettes hum like eavesdroppers, just waiting to see what's coming next.
The songs on her latest album, "Parts of Speech," is another course in the limits of tolerance and intolerance. She spells out many of the lines that she expects no one to ever cross with her, or else. She raps and sings about forgiveness and also about those people who "give a look to freeze gasoline." She's aware that many people are chronic misbehavers and she'll deal with that in her own way, but she fights off this dilemma with a nature that's strong and tough and adaptable. She can hear the music in the babbling water under the bridge, but there's still that bite in her voice that lets us know that everything's a battle that needs waging.
Dessa Official Site
Doomtree Official Site