Hip-hop is a community built off of competition and respect. It is a world in which you reign supreme or you go home and work harder. It is a realm of specificity that grew out of the South Bronx responding to urban hardships. With these definitions of hip-hop in mind, how could a Puerto Rican and Caucasian woman break through in the business? The same way every great MC has done it: through hard work, creativity, and a writing style that stands out.
The concept of women in hip-hop is no new phenomenon. Dessa surely isn’t the first female MC to gain success. But she is the only femcee I have ever heard that combines singing, rapping, philosophy and ethics in such an individualistic manner. Like I said before, hip-hop is about competition. If you listen to a rapper and can’t tell who it is, his/her voice isn’t pushing through enough. Once you’ve listened to Dessa, you will forever be able to pull her voice out of the sea of conformity.
The Minneapolis native has been compared to Mos Def’s social activism and the wit of Dorothy Parker. Her intellect is rooted in her B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota. Her years of studying have paid off as her word structure and content enters dimensions I’ve only experienced in poetry. She crosses boundaries, combining mediums of spoken word, classical music, literature, and history. Dessa got her start in slam poetry where she was discovered by MC Yoni and then introduced to Minneapolis rap collective Doomtree. A now established member of Doomtree, she is able to spread her words across the world and tackle hard topics such as moral responsibility in hip-hop. She has conducted lectures and essays on this idea discussing whether or not artists should take notice to how their music affects listeners and can influence negative actions and ideas that overall contribute to our society. She has also spoken about how a female perspective can penetrate through a male dominated music culture. Her overall goal is to adjust narrow mindsets to create a supporting community that welcomes everybody.
While Dessa tackles modern social issues and dabbles in genre hybridity, she stays true to the drive of an MC. In Veteran, one of her earlier tracks, she finds power in her minority status:
“And to everybody talking about my tits/ I guess that it’s because you can’t find shit to diss about the way I spit/ I’ll blow my lips a kiss/ Another feel you couldn’t cop/ I’ve got shit to do in Pro Tools while you’re fucking around in Photoshop”
She addresses her academic background in The Bullpen from her debut LP A Badly Broken Code:
“It’s been assumed I’m soft or irrelevant/ Cause I refuse to downplay my intelligence/ But in a room of thugs and rap veterans/ Why am I the only one who’s acting like a gentleman
Though Dessa expresses a softer side in her newest album Parts of Speech, her fighting soul bursts through every crevasse of her lyrics:
“I didn’t come looking for love/ I didn’t come to pick a fight/ I come here every night to work/ and you can grab an axe man or you can step aside.” – Fighting Fish
In the end, it's not one's level of education or background of poetry that matters, but how an artist can evoke emotion. Dessa can spit, but she can also make you cry. She can put shame to your vocabulary but she also brings out childhood memories. She not only should be respected for her writing, singing, and rapping style, but also for her overall power as an artist and fellow human being.
Dessa's third full length album, Parts of Speech dropped this summer. Here is the lyric video for the single, Warsaw produced by Paper Tiger.