The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Minneapolis-based Dessa of Doomtree Collective to perform at Eau Claire House of Rock


DOOMSDAY: Dessa Darling is a writer, slam poet, hip-hop artist and general word-smith of the Doomtree Collective hailing from the Minneapolis hip-hop scene. © Bill Phelps

Story by Katy Macek, Copy Editor

Minneapolis native Dessa Darling was performing some of her slam poetry when a friend asked her to spit of her rhyming poems over a hip-hop beat. She told him, “Oh, I don’t think I’d be very good at that.”

Three solo albums and a handful of contributions among the Doomtree rap collective prove her fans disagree.

Despite her initial reaction, Dessa said she went over to that friend’s house and began working her way into the world of hip-hop music.

“I’m not an Adele caliber singer by anyone’s stretch of the imagination,” she said. “I can’t rap as fast as Ludacris, but I think there’s an X factor that people can perceive when they know that someone is telling the truth, and I am.”

For Dessa, writing came first. Her first book, “Spiral Bound,” was published in 2009 and contained a mix of essays and poems.

A friend encouraged her to try slam poetry and she won first place in her first competition. That’s how she was introduced to  Doomtree, whom she now raps with.

It was a gradual progression from essayist to slam poetry, she said, and hip hop interested her because, unlike other forms of music, it gave her the opportunity to say everything she wanted.

“You get so many words in a rap song, so for me it’s an opportunity to stay in the language arts,” she said.

Her third solo album, “Parts of Speech,” came out last June, and she said it’s different from her others because she performed with a live band and also wrote a handful of the songs herself on the piano.

She said she’s most proud of “Call Off Your Ghost,” featured on Speech, because it showcases her talents as a musician and a writer.

It is also one of her favorite songs to perform at shows, she said, because “it’s catchy and people sing along.”

Performing is something Dessa said she looks at differently than some artists in the music industry.

“I try to focus less on what I hope people will take away and focus more on what I’m bringing,” she said. “If you go on a date and you’re worried about the impression you’re making all the time, you might not be your most genuine self because you’re too busy monitoring the reaction of the person you’re with.”

In her music, Dessa said she tries to present her audience with an honest, heartfelt performance and a mastery of her craft as a rapper.

Instead of standing apart from the audience, she said she prefers to act as a conductor, moving through the emotions of the night with them.

“Maybe different parts will resonate with different people, and maybe their impressions will be different, but I think I worry more about what I offer than what people choose to take,” she said.

In one way or another, she has left impressions on at least two students at the McNally College of Music in Minnesota, where Dessa and other Minnesota-based artists have been special guests.

Lydia Liza, a 19-year-old who studied at McNally before taking a year off to pursue her musical career, said she will be opening with Toki Wright, another rapper who taught a class at McNally, and DJ Big Cats for Dessa’s performance 9 p.m. Thursday at the House of Rock in Eau Claire.

Liza said she met Wright after he was a special guest for her band Bomba de Luz, at their studio release show. Since then she said he has become a mentor of hers, and he asked her to go on tour with them as a vocalist and guitarist.

They also opened for Dessa April 3 in Iowa City, and she said watching Dessa perform is both inspiring and intimidating.

“She is a super arresting person to watch perform,” she said. “She’s just incredibly other-worldly to me, just the way she writes and presents herself is really professional and incredible.”

While Liza herself has been performing professionally for three years, she said there’s something different about performing with her band, which is more folk music, and performing with hip hop artists like Toki Wright.

“It’s gotten less and less hard, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t get the butterflies, if I didn’t get nervous,” she said. “It’s that rush.”

Eric Wells, a student at the University of Minnesota and Eau Claire native, used to attend McNally.

Wells said he grew up listening to Dessa and Doomtree, and it’s because of their influence that he began to pursue his musical career, under the stage name Sayth.

He also promotes shows, he said, and for this performance Wright and Doomtree gave him fliers to hand out and put up around Eau Claire.

“(Dessa) is a fantastic slam poet, so I think that really shows in her music,” he said. “She’s also a phenomenal singer and she can rap, so her style is very unique.”

An up-and-coming musician himself, Wells said meeting inspirational people like Wright and Dessa has been influential for him.

He said he hopes people realize both performances are a big step for the community.

“It’s really important for our scene that we keep bringing bigger names like Dessa and Toki Wright to Eau Claire,” he said, “And making sure that their shows are well attended so that we have more shows like this in the future.”