“Forget the bull in the china shop, there’s a china doll in the bullpen.”
This is where Dessa, singer/songwriter/emcee, finds herself as she releases her debut full length album A Badly Broken Code. It’s fitting as the independent artist’s lyrics that are as vulnerable as a porcelain doll with rhymes that are fresh enough to bring relief to the game. It seems fans have been awaiting this project since she was introduced as one part of the Doomtree collective out of Minnesota some years ago. Fans can exhale now because Code does not disappoint.
Dessa stands alone in her brand of music, mixing poetic rhyme styles and musicality in a balanced effort to sing and rap with the equal potency. Upon the first lines of the album, it’s clear that this one will be heavy on symbolism and metaphor. Adding layers of depth to every track, she drops gems like “Children aren’t simple as we’d like to think.” She follows the opener with an a cappella version of “Poor Atlas,” showing her vocal range. Flexing dexterity in both gifts, she shines even more when rapping and singing with shared confidence and success. “The Crow,” “Mineshaft II” and “Matches to Paper Dolls” are perfect examples of this balance. When she only wants to harmonize, she drops “Go Home,” a haunting tale of deception and guilt, “Momento Mori,” “Into the Spin,” and the Mathew Santos-assisted “The Chaccone,” a refreshing, yet somber highlight on Code. Rap fans also get their fix with “Dutch,” “The Bullpen,” the infectious “Alibi” and “Crew,” a unique dedication to her posse.
But it’s not just her range in approach that makes this an intriguing album; it’s also the content of her lyrics. Dessa brilliantly glides through familiar and relatable topics like family, love, lust and friendship in a way that is uplifting, introspective and fresh. She’s prone to dropping literary references and multisyllabic rhyme schemes, all with an honest prose. (“Built like a moth, you see/and I still get chills when you talk to me/ But the years pass by now in two’s and three’s/ These thrills ain’t as cheap as they used to be,” she rhymes on “Matches.”) Her direct no-bull approach also brings sincerity to the project and her poetic style is complex enough to get a few extra spins, which is more than can be said for various emcees today. In addition, Paper Tiger, MK Larada, Lazerbeak, Big Jess and Cecil Otter all contribute a diverse yet cohesive group of tracks to the project, crafting the perfect instrumentals to compliment Dessa’s style.
Perhaps it is time to recognize that this china doll is in the bull pen. It probably helps that she’s better than most of the artist’s she’s going against. A Badly Broken Code makes it easy to understand why she says, “Coach, put me in.” The fact is, she’s waiting patiently for her time to get in the game and this album is proof that she deserves a shot at the big leagues.