An essayist as well as a rapper, Dessa’s lyricism has always been a pool fed by both hip-hop and those forms of storytelling and poetry meant for the page. In her rhymes, she does what any great writer does, peering below the surface of her life and the lives of others to see and say something more than has already been said and seen. She does it with enough firepower to take out an army of MCs, fiction writers, and assorted scribes.
The Doomtree affiliated, Minneapolis MC is especially sharp-eyed and verbally keen on her latest single “Fire Drills,” off the soon-to-be-released album Chime. Built around a sample from an iPhone field recording she made in Turkey, the catchy yet spare track makes the most adamant feminist statement of Dessa’s career. She turns her scalpel-like command of language to the onerous expectations placed on women by patriarchal society, expectations women strive to conform to in order to avoid violence, harassment, or any other sort of danger for which we could become targets, or, at least, to avoid being blamed for it when we do. “You shouldn't try to stay too late or talk to strangers/look too long, go too far out of range,” she lists, “stay close, hems low, safe inside.” We all know the drill, or, as she puts it, the “fire drills.”
Using her own experiences as a woman in the music business as a lens, she diagrams the mechanics of how these expectations circumscribe women’s lives. Summing up the standard prescription for surviving while female, she observes, “We don’t say, go out and be brave/Nah, we say be careful, stay safe” and pinpoints the great cost of this strategy: “That formula works if you can live it/But it works by putting half the world off-limits.” Her point is clear: We all deserve better than mere survival and “fire drills.”
“Fire Drills” follows the album single “Good Grief,” which cuts pretty deep in its own way, and which you can watch the video for below. This is not a drill: Chime is going to be fire. It drops Friday, February 23, when Dessa will set off on a US and European tour. Seattleites can catch her with MONAKR on Friday, April 27 at the Neptune Theatre.
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