“Welcome to hipsterville” my friend said as we took our seats on the upper balcony of the O’Shaugnessy. I looked around and saw a fair amount of flannel-wearing 20 somethings out in the crowd, but beyond that I was surprised to see a medley of people from seemingly all walks of life. There were both men and women, some older, some looking as young as 13. After Monakrs performance the lights dimmed down and Dessa poked her head out from behind the curtain. She greeted the audience like one might greet a friend, and proceeded to launch into a story about her deciding to write a letter to her insurance company asking about what assets she might insure for the sake of her career. Though the story itself may not appear gripping on paper, the way she told it had everyone leaning forward in their seats. It made me wonder who this artist/rapper/poet/self-proclaimed connoisseur of heartbreak was, and why she was so able to reach into the hearts of so many people and make them feel something. I began by asking the one who brought me, who has been a huge fan of hers for more than five years: Roxanna Lozoya.
“I heard her speak once at the U of M, and one thing I liked is that she said ‘I don’t want to be anyone’s hero.’ She wants to be a better person, make the world a little better. She’d rather inspire [people] to get out there and do better things; inspire them to be better people.” Indeed, it doesn’t take much digging to find instances of the artist speaking out on social issues. In a video interview posted by last.fm from 2013 she says “I am one of a whole host of artists, female, male, black and white, who have some serious qaulms with the way gay people and women are portrayed in hip hop music.” In another interview, this one conducted by MSR in 2013, she goes on to say “I think the hardest part for being a practitioner of hip hop [is] the fact that sexist, racist, homophobic people can still make good music. It could be real easy not to listen to all that morally offensive stuff if it didn’t sound good. But unfortunately artistic talent and moral integrity are not always twins.” She combats this tendency towards questionable morals within the music scene in the most sincere way she can; by creating and spreading content that is morally sound.
As I watched videos of various interviews and performances it struck me (as it did during the live performance) how down to Earth and self confident she came across as being. In the midst of her apparent fame she carries herself with a certain grace and comfortable air that draws people in from the get-go; from there one is struck by the eloquence and clarity she employs not only in her music, but in her speaking. As Roxanna beautifully summarized, “I think she’s just like any other person, trying to make a difference with the influence she has.”
Dessa [Personal interview]. (2016, September 30).
Hallman, C. (2015, January 7). Dessa: Acclaimed local musician speaks on hip hop, sexism and ‘moral responsibility’. Retrieved from http://spokesman-recorder.com/2015/01/07/dessa-acclaimed-local-musician-speaks-hip-hop-sexism-moral-responsibility/
[Video file]. (2013, September 23). In Dessa – Interview (last.fm Sessions). Retrieved from http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x151evf_dessa-interview-last-fm-sessions_music
Captured May 30, 2013