Musicheads Essential Artist: Dessa

Soundset 2019
Dessa performs at Soundset 2019 (Eamon Coyne | MPR)
Musicheads Essential Artist: Dessa
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Dessa is a truly singular voice in music: an artist who can rap and sing with equal fluency, a performer who's endearingly relatable yet one of the most ambitious visionaries of today's music scene.

Born in 1981 with the first name Margaret, Dessa took her stage moniker from the Greek word for her surname: Wander. She earned a B.A. in philosophy at the University of Minnesota and worked for a time as a medical technical writer, background that would come full circle years later when she delved into her own brain for a fascinating collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Always a penetrating writer, Dessa made a name for herself in the vibrant Twin Cities spoken word scene while becoming part of Doomtree: a collective of hip-hop artists who perform both individually and as a crew. Dessa would be an essential artist for her Doomtree contributions alone, but in 2005 she also launched her distinctive career as a solo recording artist with the EP False Hopes.

A Badly Broken Code, Dessa's debut solo LP released in 2010, was a breakthrough — with the rich, insistent songcraft behind tracks like "Dixon's Girl." She followed that up with Parts of Speech in 2013 and Chime in 2018, while also finding time for continued Doomtree collaborations and projects like the supergroup Gayngs.

In 2018, Dessa published My Own Devices, a fascinating and at times heartbreaking memoir that examines her family history and her musical relationships, in both their professional and personal dimensions.

In one memorable passage of that book, she described the making of the underwater video for her song "Sound the Bells." She realized, she wrote, that "I'd been practicing exactly the wrong thing. I'd been filling myself with as much air as I could and holding as long as I could stand to. But really, the trick was to un-hold one's breath."

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