Dessa Darling, one of several rising stars in the Minneapolis-based hip-hop crew Doomtree Collective, isn't just a rad rapper, a soulful vocalist and a sharp-tongued spoken-word artist. She's also an accomplished writer.
Soon after landing a gig as an adjunct professor of composition at McNally Smith College of Music and right before releasing her solo album A Badly Broken Code in January, Dessa published Spiral Bound, a well-received collection of creative nonfiction. She plans to start another one as soon as possible.
I recently spoke with her about her double life as a slam poet and a globetrotting essayist.
What surprised you the most when making A Badly Broken Code?
Trying to figure out what songs should go on a recording is a real challenge. Despite all of the debate with friends and managers, we usually end up being wrong about which songs will be the most popular. This time the approach was more along the lines of, "Let's just put out the music and let the fans decide what they like." I think there will be even less cutting in the future.
How did you make the transition from singer to rapper?
I think it was less of a transition from singer to rapper than from writer to stage performer. I always wanted to eke out a living making creative nonfiction, but I was intimidated by the idea of making a name for myself in such a competitive field. Slam poetry and spoken word, those were things I listened to on the school bus growing up but hadn't considered a vocational opportunity until I became part of that community.
What do you like best about performing in Madison?
Doomtree's always had a really warm welcome there. The energy feels more like it does when we're at home, and I sort of know my way around town, which is really nice after getting lost at least a few times on tour.
What's next for you?
I'm working on a new collection of literary essays. It's just a matter of getting myself to focus, which can be really hard while touring. I just want to stare out the window and take everything in.