photo: Bill Phelps

Dessa | Parts of Speech (Doomtree)

Dessa is that Minnesota rapper whose debut album A Badly Broken Code got sizable chart action back in 2010. Dessa's decidedly a rapper, yes, but she's a poetry-slam veteran, a former philosophy student and a published author too, so she’s coming from a somewhat different place given the context in which she now chooses to express herself. As with Code or its 2011 followup Castor, The Twin, her rhymes and themes on Parts of Speech impart a genuinely literary experience, not merely like having just paid somebody to yell at you all day or give you history lessons and all that kinda thing. While Dessa’s raps traverse a lot of the usual word-turf (living, loving, losing, learning) in cuts like “The Man I Knew” and the anthemic “Call Off Your Ghost,” she writes them as character-driven stories and brings them to life with an articulate confidence that, while veering toward bathos, comes off both moving and illuminating thanks to her minute, writerly attention to lyrical detail; that’s a quality found in tracks of remarkably different character, such as “Beekeeper”’s reference to the god Prometheus or “Sound the Bells”’s tip o’ the hat to the mapmaking skills of Mercator. As on Dessa’s previous albums, the beautifully textured backing tracks and supra-slamming beats come courtesy Doomtree collective members Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger, along with live playing by several Minneapolis musicians whose usual domain, interestingly, is in the rock, folk and opera fields –– there’s a friggin’ cello on this rap album! Dessa says she’s all about transcending genre, and with Parts of Speech she succeeds.
–– John Payne

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