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Dessa wrings words into poetry, song

Rapper, poet and columnist Dessa will perform a multi-genre show at 9:30 p.m. Friday at The Rex, 600 E. Superior St.

Dessa is a rapper, a poet and a magazine columnist.

She goes from a melodic R&B to in-your-face rhymes. Then she’s introspective and whispery for a Springsteen cover.

She published “Pound of Steam” this past October — “The first (poetry) collection published by a proper entity with a professional editor critiquing and finessing my work,” she said.

Later this month she will premiere her first collaborative classical composition. “Controlled Burn,” created with Jocelyn Hagen. It is a piece for hundreds of singers and orchestral students from Minneapolis Public Schools and plays at 7 p.m. April 28-29 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

“The Minneapolis Public School system hit me up and I said, ‘Sure,’” she said. “I thought it sounded cool and exciting. And it sounded hard. I was excited for that challenge.”

Dessa returns to Duluth for a multi-genre show at 9:30 p.m. Friday at The Rex. The musician, part of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Doomtree, is touring in support of her 2013 album “Parts of Speech.”

Dessa recently talked to the News Tribune about her new album, the author she’s really into right now and the notebook she carries with her all the time.

DNT: How did “Parts of Speech” come together? Can you talk about the process of creating it?

D: I think I worry about each song and then worry about a cohesive album. I knew that I wanted the songs on this album to have strong, compelling melodies, but to remain writer-ly. I’m primarily a lyricist. Love, death, loss and communion are the themes I’m fascinated with.

Aggressive rap songs and there are also some almost kind of chamber pop compositions — live cellists and vibraphones and big layered orchestral sounds.

Almost all of the material I write, I tend to work in nonfiction more than fiction. Usually, during the course of my real life, a few times a year, there will be an episode that feels like it could be successfully relayed.

DNT: When you write in a confessional way, does that make it hard to go back and listen to songs four years later? Is it cringe-worthy, like reading an old diary?

D: It’s harder to read an old diary than to listen to old songs. “You broke up with me, I hate you,” that’s a lousy song. The feelings go through a lot of reworking until they’re presentable as a piece of art. I don’t cringe quite as badly. Even when I’m making it, I’m aware that I’ll have to listen to it in four years.

Music has never been therapy.

DNT: Do you have certain lines that you’ve written that still stand out to you?

D: I’m so proud of an extended metaphor (from the song “Seamstress.”) The general shtick is that there is a girl who finds a little angel that has crashed and broken its jaw. She keeps it in a box beneath her bed. Her house cat gets it.

There’s kind of a macabre, dark, arc to the story that I end up comparing to a romance. When you meet a broken person and you try to fix them. I ended up thinking: “How would Edgar Allan Poe write about my breakup?”

There are some songs that I roll my eyes at when I hear them, but I’m proud of the vast majority of my catalogue.  

DNT: Do you have to say, “Now I’m writing a poem” versus “Now I’m writing lyrics?”

D: What I’ll often do is carry a notebook with me. Whenever a word or image or turn of phrase (seems like) art fodder, I’ll record it. I’ll go through that pile of snippets and turn them into finished pieces. Every once in a while there will be a snippet and I won’t be sure if it’s going to land in a poem or a (song).

DNT: How often do these things come to you? Daily? Weekly?

D: I definitely like it to happen more. Between one and two times a day. One of four will land somewhere.

DNT: I’ve seen the Doomtree documentary. Is it possible to write on the road?

D: I would say the little fragments come on the road, but it’s almost impossible for me to write a verse on the road. I’ve tried every tour. I’ve only been successful once.

DNT: Who were the musicians you were listening to — or writers you were reading — as a kid who made you think, “I want to do that”?

D: I didn’t think I’d be a musician when I was a kid. I listened to my parents’ records. Some of them were Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart. Some as a teenager: Madonna, Mazzy Star, then some like poppy punk stuff like Offspring and Everclear.

DNT: What’s the difference between a Doomtree show and a solo show?

D: More vocal harmonies. (With a) Doomtree set there is usually more body checking. Both shows have moments of beauty and moments of total aggressive but the ratios are probably different.

Go see it What: Dessa

When: Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Rex, 600 E. Superior St.

Tickets: $12 in advance at; $15 at the door

Learn more: Go to to see a few Dessa videos