Underground Rapper of the Week: Dessa

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

“The list of things I used to be / Is longer than the list  of things I am / Ex-lover, ex-friend / Excommunicated atheist / Ex-patriot living in the heartland / Living on the small chance luck would save the last dance / For an underrated writer, overrated rapper / Undecided major on an unrelated matter.” This is how Minneapolis emcee, poet, writer, teacher – let’s just simplify things and say “artist” – Dessa describes herself on “Mineshaft,” the first track of her debut solo EP, False Hopes. I agree with everything but the “overrated rapper” part. She goes on to say, “Prose is close as I’ve ever been to feeling like I found it / I’m not a writer, I just drink a lot about it.” This is also somewhat disingenuous of her, as Dessa is one of the very best writers in Hip-Hop today.

After earning her B.A. in Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Dessa began writing and performing spoken word poetry, performing in slams and at open mics before forming the group Medida with fellow emcees Yoni and Omaur Bliss, and producer Ronin. Soon after this short-lived but always compelling group disbanded, she joined another Minneapolis-based collective, Doomtree, and the rest is history. Dessa’s intelligent, often quick-tongued flow, gorgeous singing voice and commanding stage presence adds something unique to the otherwise all male group, his other best known member is probably P.O.S. Though she is capable of spitting raps with the best emcees in Minnesota and beyond, she is also not afraid to just sing a beautiful song without rapping, as she does a on both False Hopes and her full-length debut, A Badly Broken Code.

The Chaconne” and “Into the Spin” are two great examples of Dessa’s singing prowess from Code, and she has expanded upon this aspect of her artistry with her vocal trio, the Boy Sopranos. However, it is when Dessa elegantly incorporates her singing voice into her rap songs that she is at her best, whether she is telling poignant stories of family relationships on songs like “Alibi” or tackling the male-dominated music industry on songs like “The Bullpen,” where she spits: “It’s been assumed I’m soft or irrelevant / ‘Cause I refuse to downplay my intelligence / But in a room with thugs and rap veterans / Why am I the only one who’s acting like a gentleman?” With the release of a non-fiction book, Spiral Bound, in 2008, and her current stint as a teacher at the McNally Smith College of Music, Dessa continues to show her formidable intelligence and skill as an underrated writer, rapper, teacher and artist.

Underground Rapper of the Week: Guante

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Photo credit: Jon Behm

Sitting down to write a few hundred words about one of Minneapolis’s best and most important rappers, I was unexpectedly led down an hour-long rabbit hole of procrastination, or “research.” That is because Guante (aka Kyle Tran Myhre), in addition to being a stellar emcee and spoken-word poet, is also a prolific and essential writer on the state of Hip-Hop and many other aspects of pop culture, and I was overdue for a perusal of his latest blog posts. Just to give you a good starting point on those, and some good talking points with which to pick apart this very article you’re reading now, check out his satirical, insightful and very funny looks at “How to Write About Hip-Hop,” “How to Read About Hip-Hop” and the exceptionally hilarious “Hip-Hop: A Panel Discussion.”

Done? Good. Let’s get on to the man and his music. Guante originally hailed from Madison, Wisconsin, where he was a formidable figure in their poetry and Hip-Hop scene, spitting fierce, politically charged poems and raps with uncommon artistry and humor. It was upon moving to the Twin Cities of Minnesota in 2007, however, that he really started to make his presence known. After signing to Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records, he dropped his debut album, El Guante’s Haunted Studio Apartment, a massive, 27-track manifesto that showcased his talents both over beats and a capella, including the wildly original love poem, “Love in the Time of Zombies” (in my opinion, he actually topped this one for creative brilliance with “The Last Words of a Roach, Underfoot”). That same year, he helped lead the St. Paul National Poetry Slam Team to 13th place, out of approximately 75 teams; teams from St. Paul, both also including Guante, then proceeded to take the #1 slot the next two years in a row.

Lest you think Guante some kind of coffeehouse, hipster, “conscious” rapper, though, witness the ferocity of his free mixtape, Conscious Is Not Enough 2011. On this record, which served as my introduction to his music, Guante takes aim at “music writers [who] love political emcees, conspiracy theories, pandering and rhetoric that’s empty,” while retaining the dry, satirical humor of tracks like “Your Boyfriend’s a Republican,” which first appeared in a different form on Studio Apartment, but appears here over the wonderfully buoyant instrumental from Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” Even on self-professed “super-serious” work like 2010′s collaboration with producer Big Cats!, An Unwelcome Guest, Guante’s deadpan humor can be found, especially in his frequent employment of superhero imagery and references to the cult sci-fi series Firefly. Some of this might not be caught on a single listen, but that’s fine because Guest, a dense and complex concept album about no less ambitious a topic than the end of the world, demands repeat listens. A free companion mixtape to that album, Don’t Be Nice, is also highly recommended. Until next time, I’ll leave you with this, a live performance of “Dragons,” which is quite possibly my favorite love song ever written.

Related Posts