My top ten records of the year are not ranked - these are just my favorites from the past year, ordered alphabetically by first letter of the artists’ name.
Dessa - A Badly Broken Code
2010 turned out to be a big hip hop year for me - i was not expecting this. Not that i like less rap music than i used to, or that i’ve been moving my tastes towards the esoteric. I think if anything, i am in a place where i more open to hip hop than i have been at any other point in my life, while also being more aware of my inherent biases towards so much of the lyrical content. But that being said, a lot of the hip hop i heard this year surprised me in how much it moved me. This record, in particular, really spoke to me.
Dessa is a female rapper from the Mid-West collective known as Doomtree - she is my first and, so far, only exposure to the collective. She, in addition to rapping, also sings quite a bit on the record, which gives her the ability to sing the hooks and rap the verses, which works really well for her. Sometimes, like on “Poor Atlas,” she lets her singing voice take the spotlight, but i prefer when she lets both exist on the same track. Her lyrics remind me of my friend Steve Miller, better known as Unsung, a Pittsburgh based rapper and visual artist. Saying she reminds me of Unsung is one of the highest complements i can pay her, because Steve’s lyrics are consistently brilliant while challenging the typical expectations of what hip hop can be. Dessa’s lyrics are just as impressive and varied - her lyrics talk about everything from being a female in a male dominated field (“The Bullpen”) to her little brother (“Children’s Work”), and her smooth delivery make lines that might seem too wordy flow easily.
I love this record because it overachieves in a genre that is all about overachieving, but it does it by being so personal and insular that it becomes easy to relate to, instead of shooting for the lowest common denomentor. There is still talk about relationships, but it isn’t framed by sex; there is still talk about herself as a rapper, but it isn’t in the context of bravado; there are still samples here to create the backbeats, but they don’t come from the same funk and soul sources that have been mined to death. This record is a breath of fresh air, and it will certainly lead to me checking out more of the Doomtree crew.
Tracks to seek out: "Dixon's Girl," "Children's Work"