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Profile: Singer / Poet / Rapper Dessa of Doomtree

Dessa | Musician/Poet | Stated Magazine Profile



You won’t find the stereotypical rap artist hubris with Dessa. The 30-year old poet/singer/ rapper, who has been described as “Enchanting” by the Chicago Tribune and “A one-woman powerhouse” by Utne Reader, is on her way from Atlanta to Philly, then to visit us in New York as she tours with the seven-member Minneapolis hip-hop/rock collective, Doomtree.

In a recent facetious Tweet seeking the endorsement of a fast-food chain, Dessa profiled her fans for us; “If you’re trying to capture that tough librarian demographic, get at me.”

More spoken word artist than rapper, Dessa shared with us that her interest in language began when she was 4 years old. She began performing in poetry slams 10 years ago, and during that time she has held many jobs, including work as a technical writer; “I’ve written manuals on pacemakers, bio-diesel, and penile implants.”

While juggling a variety of gigs, she has managed to produce three critically praised full-length albums, a book of prose, and is now Artist in Residency at McNally Smith College of Music in Minneapolis, where she used to teach a class on the poetics of hip-hop lyrics.


…an exercise of imagination, frustration, ferocity, self-discipline, and patience. 


Drafting to-do lists to prepare for an upcoming tour. Oh, and interviews. (Meta, but true.)


(with the rest of the Doomtree Collective)


I’m not sure where the fundamental desire to write or sing comes from—just sort of always been there. But I’m often most productive when I’m in a blue mood, maybe because I’m primed to be a little more reflective. A scrap of overheard conversation sometimes becomes the seed of a song or an essay. Or I’ll get the spark of an idea while reading, listening to music, or watching a movie—essentially while being moved by other people’s art.



My book, Spiral Bound, is primarily a collection creative non-fiction of essays. My interest in prose predated my interest in hip-hop, and the literary essay is probably my favorite form. The pieces are short, between 2 and 10 pages; most are dark, wry wit true stories. 


I’d love to find a way to turn a stage performance into an essay—to insert the same nuances of subtext, character development, and narrative revelations. (I guess that’s technically called an opera, huh? I may have just realized that I want to write an opera…but, man that sounds exhausting just to write down.) 




Generally, I’m a sucker for a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and a soft heart. I dig David Foster Wallace, Annie Dillard, and the lyricism of Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon. 


Barcelona. It’s been years since I visited, and I’m told it’s changed considerably—but art seemed to be everywhere in Barcelona. The votive lights in the cathedral, the scarved palm-readers, the Gaudi buildings that looked like pulled taffy, the living statues, the open markets, the sexy fashions…I loved all of it.



At 13, I landed a job at Dairy Queen at the Mall of America.


Occasionally a bit of choral or orchestral music will sweep through my head at night, and I’ll hold very still, hoping it will continue. More often, I’ll toss and turn for a while, trying to set aside my mental list of things I haven’t done. 




Visit Dessa & Doomtree…

Dessa | Doomtree


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