Rapper, poet, entrepreneur, author and so much more, Dessa, continues to conquer everything in her path. Recently, Dessa performed on “The Hamilton Mixtape,” alongside some of the biggest names in music. Now, she’s taken her “neuroscience-inspired” album, Chime to the stage alongside the Minnesota Orchestra to share her confidence and passion for music in front of a live audience.
Prior to her performance at Chicago’s Thalia Hall, we spoke with Dessa on her latest collaborations, where her music is going next and more. Read on to learn more about the singer that continues to defy her own ideas.
Describe your music to someone who may not have heard it before.
If somebody hasn’t heard the music before, it’s a blend of hip hop and R&B and pop sounds, but with a lot of attention paid towards the lyrics. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid and I hope you can hear that in the music.
Some of our readers may know you from your contribution to the Hamilton Mixtape, what was that experience like?
It was awesome. Getting a call from Lin Manuel obviously is a day-making sort of event so when he called and asked if I wanted to record it, I jumped at the chance. I’m part of a crew called Doomtree which is based in Minneapolis and I worked with my Doomtree cohort Lazerbeak and a musician named Andy Thompson to sing that one and submit it to the mixtape.
Who are you inspired by musically?
I don’t know if I’m inspired by, in that, you try to be careful not to bite other artists so if I really like an artist, I would say that I’m careful to try not to gravitate to their sound because I don’t want to inadvertently plagiarize anything. I think Billie Eilish has some cool stuff, I think Banks has some cool stuff. My bandmate Matthew was playing some of it in the car yesterday, it was awesome.
You’re about to release your new album Sound the Bells, which features the Minnesota Orchestra, what can you tell us about it?
So, that was one of my career highlights – I’ve been doing this a long time so to receive an email from the Minnesota Orchestra with the invitation to collaborate on a record was really exciting. It’s essentially like you’re taking stage with like 75 other musicians to work together to make a collaborative project. It’s exciting working with the orchestra, not just because of the talent, but because the dynamic is so good. You can be as small and delicate as a single harp or violin and as enormous as dozens of people playing at full volume together with all of these overlapping parts – I like that.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I tend to sort of capture little fragments of ideas all day and then when it’s time to eventually put together a song I’ll drag out those notebook pages of scrap material to try to assemble it.
You also are a New York Times published author, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
I started writing when I was like a teenager and it’s a hard industry to figure out how to break into, at least it was for me. I first had the opportunity to write for the New York Times Magazine—a piece about travel. I was nervous, I was excited, I called my parents saying, “I can’t believe I got this opportunity!” and when that went well, I later had the opportunity to also write a travel piece for the New York Times.
Read the rest of our feature with Dessa here.
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