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Dessa: “The Man I Knew”

Photo by Bill Phelps Diamond

For all the philosophy majors in the world, there’s a common refrain: what do you do after graduation? Minneapolis’ Dessa was unsure, like so many others, but she did know that the language and the philosophical knowledge that she received from the University of Minnesota would pay off in the long run. She worked a number of odd jobs–waiting tables, writing medical reference manuals–all while maintaining her love of music. Dessa soon gravitated towards Doomtree, an indie hip-hop collective based in Minneapolis, and it was the perfect match. Doomtree prides itself on its adventurous spirit and frequent collaboration and encouragement turned Dessa from a local act into an overnight sensation.

With Doomtree’s help, Dessa made a sizable splash with her 2005 debut EP, False Hopes. The title seemed to be a bit of a misnomer: with incisive lyrics and a particularly impassioned vocal style, it was hard to imagine Dessa toiling for long out of the spotlight. Everyone from fellow MCs to Robert Christgau and the New York Times have sung her praises over the years, and it’s easy to hear why. Her music is both catchy and thought-provoking, and she’s become such an expert in the field that she’s taught a few college-level courses on hip-hop.

So with all this success and glowing admiration, can the young MC stay hungry? With her new album, Parts Of Speech, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Dessa has a knack for storytelling, and the record kicks off with a bang. “The Man I Knew” is a sobering portrait of an artist struggling with newfound fame and a relationship gone sour. As she tells off her drug-addicted man, Dessa twists the knife: “You cut the kite strings / I’ve read my name in lights / I’ve seen my face in papers / But my civilian life I spent 10 good years / Waiting for you.”

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