Underground Rapper of the Week: Desdamona

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

With the exception of my full-group profile of Solillaquists of Sound a few weeks ago, women have been noticeably absent from this column, which points to a larger problem in Hip-Hop culture and society at large. No female emcee is more important to the community than the Minneapolis-based poet and emcee Desdamona, who has worked tirelessly to make Hip-Hop a better place for women. Her 365 Days of Female MCs blog helps to shed light on many unheralded contributors to the art form of rap, and her annual multimedia festival, B-Girl Be, brings together women from around the world who practice all four original elements of Hip-Hop: graffiti, breakdancing, deejaying and emceeing. She also hosts the long-running Poet’s Groove open mic, one of the very most respected and enduring shows in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

In addition to such community work and activism, Desdamona is herself a powerful emcee and spoken word artist, having won five Minnesota Music Awards for Best Spoken Word Artist in 2000, and then consecutively in 2003-2006, inclusive. She has also toured extensively, bringing her sound to audiences all over the U.S., as well as Germany and France, where she has built a very respectable following with beatboxing partner Carnage in their group Ill Chemistry. Desdamona has opened for legendary artists such as KRS-One; the late, great Guru; Saul Williams; and Wyclef Jean, among others, and is a frequent collaborator with the equally legendary Sly & Robbie, who produced her 2005 debut album, The Ledge. In addition to her strong, poetic abilities as a rapper, Desdamona is also a skilled singer, and has joined Ursus Minor in both capacities on their third album, I Will Not Take “But” for an Answer, and joining them on their subsequent tour along with The Coup‘s Boots Riley.

Desdamona’s lyrics are thoughtful, personal and resonant with themes of identity, equality and body image, and for this reason it is often best to hear her words over sparse beats or no beat at all. For an example of her emotionally moving poetry, look no further than “Too Big for My Skin,” a poem that has since expanded into a campaign aimed at rethinking societal beauty standards and giving a voice to repressed women all over the world. However, this is not to say she can’t murder beats with the best of them, and her live performances – whether solo or with Carnage as Ill Chemistry – are electrifying, and she wisely used live instrumentation to create her 2007 album, The Source, which features Carnage, as well as remixed tracks by Sly & Robbie. Male or female, Desdamona is one of the Midwest’s most vital talents, and her continued work with Ursus Minor and Ill Chemistry, who just released their first full-length album in France, definitely deserves your attention.

  

Quincy Jones: Q – Soul Bossa Nostra


RIYL: unexpected collaborations, the R&B Top 40, hitting “shuffle”

He’s more of an elder statesman than a hitmaker these days – his last album came out 15 years ago, and his influence has been on the wane since the ’80s – but the term “living legend” may as well have been coined to describe Quincy Jones, and he proves it all over again with the ridiculous number of superstar guests assembled for Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.

Like anyone who’s ever been successful in the music business, Jones isn’t shy about his own accomplishments, and Bossa Nostra functions essentially as an album-length tribute to himself, with modern hip-hop and R&B artists making cameo appearances on a rundown of Q-affiliated classics like “Strawberry Letter 23” (featuring Akon), “You Put a Move on My Heart” (a show-stopping Jennifer Hudson), the “Sanford and Son” theme (walking acronym factory T.I. and B.O.B.), and the title track (Ludacris). Generally speaking, it’s all a lot better than it has any right to be; for one thing, Jones has to have a marvelous sense of humor to invite, say, Talib Kweli to turn “Ironside” into a hip-hop showcase, or ask Snoop Dogg to add his verses to “Get the Funk Out of My Face.” More importantly, most of the artists sound like they have genuine affection for the material, and they produce some genuine highlights, including John Legend’s lovely “Tomorrow,” Mary J. Blige and Q-Tip’s “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me,” and the Wyclef-led “Many Rains Ago (Oluwa).”

Like most compilations, Bossa Nostra has the occasional bald spot; for instance, it’s easy to assume that Jones tucked Amy Winehouse’s disastrous take on “It’s My Party” late in the album because he listened to the tapes long enough to wonder why it sounds like Winehouse lost her teeth on the way to the studio, and not a few listeners will blanch at the notion of T-Pain lending his Auto-Tune croon to a new version of “P.Y.T.” But these are minor complaints, given the overall strength of the rest of the record – and how much quibbling is really necessary when you’re talking about an album that concludes with a rap-a-riffic version of the “Sanford and Son” theme song? It won’t light up the charts the way Quincy did with The Dude in 1981 – or even 1989’s Back on the Block – but it’s a helluva lot of fun, and proof that the living legend hasn’t lost his touch. (Interscope/Qwest 2010)

Quincy Jones MySpace page

  

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