Metaphors and Exploration: A Q&A with Dessa

Singer, rapper, and writer Dessa is an enigma. Catch her on stage and you see the towering silhouette of a fierce rapper who seems untouchable. Get in a room with her and you might have a casual conversation about philosophy or literature. Both personas are authentically Dessa, and both contribute to her brilliance as an artist.

Her music career has embodied similar polarities. A member of the Twin Cities indie rap and hip hop collective (now also a record label with international distribution) Doomtree, Dessa’s got the cool underground rapper vibe. And yet, come the end of March, she’ll be performing with the Minnesota Orchestra for two live recordings. This isn’t the first time she’s worked with the Grammy-winning orchestra, either, having played with them in 2017 and hitting what The Current called a “career milestone.”

In the past decade she has released three full-length solo albums, the latest called Chime, which NPR Music praised as one of their favorite albums of 2018. Our guess is her album dropping antics will continue for years, surprising us stylistically with each one.

In between what we envision to be nights traveling from city to beautiful city, performing in sold-out venues, and meeting the interesting cast of characters that make up the story of a burgeoning artist’s life, Dessa writes. And she writes well. Her work has been published in the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, and MPR, and she recently published her first hardcover collection of essays, My Own Devices. Her sophistication is the rapper archetype paradox we didn’t know we wanted.

Dessa is a part of our upcoming panel discussion taking place at Mia’s Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E event on January 17, 2019. In conversation with Dessa will be CEO of CaringBridge, Liwanag Ojala; Chief Creative Officer of Target, Todd Waterbury; and polar explorer Tyler Fish. Together, they will engage in a dialogue about a practice we believe is required in order to navigate the murky waters of today’s constant change: exploration.

Exploration is necessary for everyone — even (or especially) — those comfortable in their cubicles. It’s about getting out and learning in order to make progress, instead of relying on what you believe to be true because history and data support it. Exploration is the way you will remain relevant, and it looks different for everyone.

We had the opportunity to ask Dessa about public self-expression, inspiration, and why she explores:

Interview with rap artist Dessa

Which fuels more of your work: your head or your heart?

Hmmm, I don’t think they’re distinct, really.

Why do you explore?

To learn how people love and think.

What role does metaphor play in your art?

Best actress.

What challenge do you face for choosing to express yourself publicly?

Living candidly provides critics with a lot of ammunition.

Who is your hero?

I don’t really traffic in heroes — though I admire a lot of people. Bourdain comes to mind.

Water is to survival as exploration is to:


What are you reading?

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld.

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?

Write emails.

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Come hear Dessa engage in a dialogue about exploration with Tyler Fish, Liwanag Ojala, and Todd Waterbury on Thursday, January 17, 2019. Mia’s Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E is free and open to all.

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