photo by Aaron Wojak | aaronwojak.com
Most monocle wearing, high brow music scholars would tell you that rap and hip hop are nothing more than a senseless spat of Thom Foolery. But in Minneapolis, a group of musicians have brought the modern music of the streets to the world of academia, and rightly so. Over the past two decades, no form of music has grown in popularity and influence more than Hip Hop. I also understand that McNally Smith now has the only Hip Hop Diploma Program in the country!
No place but Minneapolis has such a diverse and groundbreaking group of rappers. Not only groundbreaking in their music, but in their actions within the community as well. This is an interview with Dessa Darling, a prominent member or the Doomtree Crew and an instructor at McNally Smith. Dessa has just released her first full length album entitled A Badly Broken Code and is currently on tour with another Minneapolis born rap powerhouse P.O.S. You can check out www.doomtree.net for more dates and info!
MAXIMUM INK: What is your least favorite interview question?
DESSA DARLING: I like talking about rap. And I don’t mind talking about being a woman. But the question “What’s it like being a woman in hip hop?” is too broad to evoke an interesting answer. It’s like being asked, “What’s it like to be a person on Earth?” I just haven’t been anything else long enough to speak intelligently on how it might compare.
MI: Tell me about this new album. It sounds great. How would you say it differs from your previous work in terms of writing, composition, and production?
DD: A Badly Broken Code is my first real, full-length album. For this disc, I had the opportunity to record exactly what I heard in my head—I had the time to write the best songs that I knew how to produce. I think I’m more comfortable in my skin on this record and I tackled some lyrical content that I haven’t on past projects. I’ve got a few songs on the disc that tell involved narratives, which take me a long time to write, but they’re the most satisfying.
MI: I heard that you are teaching classes at McNally Smith and that there is now a Hip Hop Major. Could you tell me about how this came about? How are the kids responding to it?
DD: So far the Hip Hop Diploma program has been an exciting challenge. I’ve had to brush up on my history, and to reconsider my views on hip hop culture.
The program is compelling because its run by hip hop artists—successful djs and rappers. It feels good to be around so many people who take rap seriously and who are willing to discuss it critically as well.
MI: Hip Hop could be described as a modern form of poetry. What classic poet do you think would have made the best rapper?
DD: Lewis Carroll would probably be hard to eff with.
MI: You’re on Tour right now, how’s that going? Do you have a favorite venue to play outside of the Midwest?
DD: This evening, the tour is playing in Vancouver. It’s my first show outside of the States and I’m feeling a) uncomfortably full of first-rate sushi and b) a bit cosmopolitan to be performing in another country.
MI: Minneapolis’ music scene seems to be thriving still during these harsh economic times. How has the Doomtree Crew felt the effects of the economy and how have you risen above it?
DD: It’s difficult to really evaluate how the economy affects us. The economy is different this year. But then, our musical careers were different last year too. There are too many variables at play to get a definite diagnosis—we probably would have done better last year if the economy were sunnier. But as is, we’re on a slow and steady climb thanks to a base of dedicated listeners who value music. Overall, not one complaint. We knew music would be hard. And it’s worth it. Period.
MI: Do you have any plans to release another book anytime soon?
DD: I published a book called Spiral Bound in 2009, and was encouraged by how many rap fans were willing to pick it up. I’ve started working on a new collection of true essays for publication—no release date yet though.
MI: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the music industry over the years?
DD: Success in music is the product of a series of small wins. To me it’s felt more like trapping than hunting—you cast a lot of lines in the water and a few years later you watch your lines start to twitch. But it’s been important not to hang your hopes on any one opportunity—that’s an easy way to get disappointed.
MI: Do you have any final thoughts comments or plugs?
DD: Paper Tiger produced most of my recent album. He’s got his own full-length in the works—keep an eye out for it. Also, many thanks to Jessy Greene and Matthew Santos. If they’re not familiar names, they’re well worth looking up.
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CD: Badly Broken Code Record Label: Doomtree Records
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