Minneapolis based Dessa transcends fellow hip-hop artists with “Code”

Bernardo Vigil

In a day and age where overproduced, unimaginative, rap-pop seems to dominate the charts, Minneapolis hip-hop seems to have resisted the auto-tune trend. Seemingly becoming a breeding ground for artful producers and potent lyricists, Minneapolis has an underground reputation for being the home to the best.

Doomtree affiliated emcee Dessa’s first full length, “A Badly Broken Code,” not only lives up to her scene’s high standards, but transcends the work of many other locally, and most nationally, successful artists.

“A Badly Broken Code” not only stands as a challenge to anybody who doubts the artistry involved in crafting a hip-hop album, but also proves that the genre is not confined to shouted, self-centered rhymes about sex and booze.

Dessa’s subtle yet potent poetry rarely touches on anything that she can’t convince the listener is important, namely personal relationships and the stories behind them. Her clear writing style seems to perfectly complement her narratives: never becoming too abstract to understand, yet not so simple that it becomes a storybook being read aloud.

Lyricism aside, Dessa proves her worth as a performer through her combination of crisp alto melodies and quick articulate raps. Dessa’s sung vocals evoke the classic sound of soulful, female, jazz singers, born of an age gone by.

Inversely, when melody gives way to rhythm, Dessa raps with a clear brutality that never seems to step over the edge, as well as an intelligence that most mainstream rappers would envy — if they cared about such things. The seamless blending of her two strengths, often in the same verse (see track four, Dixon’s Girl, for a perfect example), is what elevates “A Baldy Broken Code” to such high levels.

Despite the fact that Dessa’s lyricism and delivery undoubtedly make the record the brilliant listen that it is, it would be unfair not to mention the exceedingly good production that serves as a backdrop to Dessa’s unique voice. Served up by fellow Doomtree members, Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak, Cecil Otter, MK Larada, and Big Jess, the beats that make up “A Badly Broken Code” reflect the tone of Dessa’s entire style to a tee.

Roots music with a modern twist seemed to be the idea behind the production with most of the songs containing instruments one would find at a symphony before a rap show: violin, flutes, and hornlines. Oh, and piano — not synths. Never synths. However, to keep the production from falling into some sort of experimental mess, the production does at times devolve back into the guitar-driven and always-drum-heavy beats that fans come to expect from Doomtree releases.

In one of her rare delves into the egotism that hip-hop seems to be known for, Dessa claims that her performance is more powerful than the destruction that a bull would cause in a china shop. She’s right. And, one can only hope that this first full length, along with its supporting tour, is the push she needs to be taken where she belongs: the top.