Part of the Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree, rapper, singer, poet and songwriter Dessa divides her time between singing and rapping, often landing on a spoken-word splitting of the difference. The week she performed this Tiny Desk Concert, she appeared at an All Songs Considered live listening party, during which she opined articulately before closing the night by singing Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah” in the style popularized by Jeff Buckley. This year, the former philosophy major released both a new album (Parts of Speech) and a chapbook of poetry called A Pound of Steam.
As versatile as she is, Dessa faced down a string of challenges in getting to the Tiny Desk. Near the tail-end of a tour — during which thousands of dollars’ worth of her band’s gear was stolen — her voice started to give out as she battled a bad cold. (Keep an eye out for her expression of relief at the completion of “The Man I Knew” in this set.) And, of course, Dessa and her band had to come up with ways to perform three songs from Parts of Speech in such a way that the drums and guitars wouldn’t drown out the unamplified voices of herself and singer Aby Wolf.
Once we started recording, though, the seams never showed, let alone split: If it weren’t for a bit of between-song tea-sipping, we’d have never known she was under the weather. Instead, what we got was as forceful and whip-smart as everything else Dessa sings, speaks, raps and writes.
- “Fighting Fish”
- “The Man I Knew”
- “The Lamb”
Producers: Denise DeBelius, Stephen Thompson; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Becky Harlan, Meredith Rizzo; photo by Abbey Oldham/NPR