Dessa is a force on stage, on the page, and on record. Working as a singer, rapper, and writer, she's made a career of bucking genres and defying expectations. The LA Times says simply she “sounds like no one else.” NPR’s All Songs Considered deems her “a national treasure.”
"Language was my first love," says Dessa. And her style turns on her wordcraft; in her lyrics you can hear the deftness of an emcee and the observational acumen of a fiction writer. Her albums have a wide wingspan sonically, including rap bangers; a cappella arrangements; and big, catchy pop hooks. On the invitation of Lin-Manuel Miranda, she contributed a track to gold record The Hamilton Mixtape; she covered a Mountain Goats song released by Merge Records, and through her home label, Doomtree, she released a live album with the GRAMMY-winning Minnesota Orchestra.
Dessa grew up in the 80s in South Minneapolis as a strong-willed, brainy, sometimes troubled kid. Both parents were musical—her father played classical guitar and medieval stringed instruments and her mom came up in the Bronx, in an apartment where someone was always singing. After earning a philosophy degree, Dessa began competing on the slam poetry circuit. There she met members of the Minneapolis rap scene and was soon invited to join Doomtree, the hip-hop collective known for bold production, charismatic lyricists, and explosive live shows. Dessa’s songs are the product of her unusual trajectory: she remains part academic and part hip hop artist, a lute player’s daughter who spent her formative professional years touring the world in a grimy van and learning how to run a business from her backpack. Wearing said backback, she's now performed at gritty underground rock clubs in Central Europe; velvet-lined theaters in Australia and China; standing atop a chair in South Africa, and at top-tier festivals like Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest.
Dessa published a memoir, My Own Devices [penguinrandomhouse.com] (Dutton Books, Penguin Random House), that tells the story of her life, career, and an ambitious plan to fall out of love. She’s also released three short literary collections, most recently Tits on the Moon, a collection of stage poems. Her short fiction has been published in The Iowa Review and her first audio play was produced by 45North in London.
Dessa's written work has been published in the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, and in literary journals around the country. Her TED talk titled “Can We Choose to Fall out Love [ted.com]?” has notched more than 4 million views. Dessa also takes special pleasure in designing themed events for intimate rooms, such as her sold-out residency series at WYNC’s The Greene Space, in which she paired lyricists with scientific researchers to investigate free will, romantic attachment, and intoxication. Across formats, Dessa’s work embodies ferocity, wit, tenderness, and candor.