A Badly Broken Code – Dessa (January 2010)

Last week, I took a good amount of time briefing everyone on one of the most exciting January’s in music ever (I checked it compared to other years, and I don’t see anything that touches it), but I hadn’t yet discovered January’s best release.  If the name Dessa doesn’t mean anything to you, perhaps the name Doomtree might.  If it doesn’t, Doomtree is Minnesota’s version of Wu-Tang Clan, a collective of rappers who alternate between releasing solo works and working with their fellow tribesmen.  While rapper P.O.S. is the Doomtree of Ghostface Killah in that he is the member with the most renowned solo career, Dessa should think about becoming Doomtree’s Raekwon.  Dessa’s first full album, A Badly Broken Code, certainly resembles either of Raekwon’s albums in his Only Built 4 Cuban Linx series in that it evokes feelings of noir and doom, if it is more contemplative and less intense, and while Raekwon had Ghostface Killah backing him up every other track, Dessa needs no help for P.O.S.  While Wu-Tang Clan always moved together, the members of Doomtree seem much more comfortable branching out.

I love P.O.S., and he’s a phenomenal rapper, but Dessa is clearly the superior rapper.  The album opens with “Children’s Work”, in which Dessa confidently but quietly declares “my father was a paper plane/my mother was a wind-swept tree/my little brother’s nearly twice my age/he taught me how to meditate, I taught him how to read”.  My Raekwon comparisons don’t stop there.  Last September, Raekwon sent us through his house of flying daggers while making sure that he kept everything real, and Dessa seems even better at that than he was.

Like any respectable rap artist, Dessa knows how to brag.  In a number where she drops the name of the Chicago Manual of Style, she gloats “I’m the book that beat the speed-reader/I’m the card that the dealers won’t touch/and it’s just not true I’m a man-eater/all the same, we should probably go Dutch/refrain”.  Dessa doesn’t spend a lot of the album assuring us how great she is, but of convincing us how strong she has to be, and that’s why she seems more human, and therefore relatable, than most other rappers, including P.O.S.  You believe every word she says as she brings out her unique rhyme schemes and precise and slow but ever-so-complex flow.  She even breaks a few rules in the process, breaking out into singing every once in a while just to keep us on our toes.  I listen for it every time.  Her voice is as lovely as her persona is honest.

Sometimes we don’t realize the little complexities of life.  Making assumptions makes our lives easier, and that’s fair, but Dessa gives us the casual reminder that other people are going through the same things that we are.  On the chorus to the aforementioned “Children’s Work”, Dessa chants “I’ve learned how to paint my face/how to earn my keep/how to clean my kill/some nights I still can’t sleep/the past rolls back/I can see us still/you’ve learned how to hold your own/how to stack your stones/but the history’s thick/children aren’t as simple/as we’d like to think”.  What may seem to be a lesson in the hardships of maturity is actually a reminder to never underestimate how human your fellow man is.  Dessa doesn’t teach us any lessons about humanity.  She just pops in to simply tell us that everything is complicated.


Published in: on March 4, 2010 at 5:14 AM  Leave a Comment  

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