The fact that Dessa name-checks the Minneapolis edition of the Chicago Manual Of Style on the track “Dutch” speaks to two important facets of her debut album, A Badly Broken Code: 1) It slots in nicely with the flourishing Twin Cities mode of hip-hop characterized by the Rhymesayers and Doomtree collectives. (Dessa is the sole female on the latter’s roster.) 2) More significantly, it indicates the weight she places on her lyrics. Dessa, a former spoken-word artist who recently released a collection of short stories and poetry, clearly considers writing a craft worthy of study and precision, and Code reflects that in its intricate, sometimes confounding, but always intriguing wordsmithery.
Unpacking Code’s winding allegories, allusions, and metaphors takes multiple listens; luckily, there’s plenty amid the esoteric literary fireworks to latch onto. Dessa’s flow is clearly influenced more by her spoken-word background than hip-hop convention, which will require listeners to adjust, but they’ll soon be enveloped in its smooth expressiveness. Dessa is also an impressive vocalist, easily transitioning between rapping and a soulful singing voice, most impressively on the standout “Matches To Paper Dolls,” “Dixon’s Girl,” and the gorgeous, rap-free a cappella number “Poor Atlas.” Code challenges fans without alienating them by catching them up in a tangled but beautiful web.