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Music / Dessa

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"But I've learned how to paint my face,
How to earn my keep, how to clean my kill.
Some nights I still can't sleep,
The past rolls back, I can see us still.
You've learned how to hold your own, how to stack your stones,
But the history's thick.
Children aren't as simple as we'd like to think."
— "Children's Work"

Dessa (born Margret Wander) is an underground singer and hip-hop artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her lyrics vary from sharp and cutting to poetic and narrative. She is known for the feminist themes in several of her songs and has been described as a mix of Mos Def and Ani DiFranco.

In 2016, she contributed the song "Congratulations" to The Hamilton Mixtape.


  • 2005 - False Hopes
  • 2010 - A Badly Broken Code
  • 2011 - Castor, The Twin
  • 2013 - Parts of Speech
  • 2018 - Chime

She is also a member of Doomtree, a hip-hop collective consisting of her and fellow artists P.O.S, Cecil Otter, Sims, Mike Mictlan, Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger.


Her work provides examples of:

  • Age-Progression Song: "Children's Work" and "The Chaconne".
  • Album Closure: Chime ends with "I Hope I'm Wrong," a sad song about her grandmother's death.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed in "Alibi", where the narrator is soothing a woman whose husband broke the law.
  • All Take and No Give: A version with the giver as the controller in the relationship is the theme of "Seamstress"; it's implied to be stemming from a combination of a need to be needed and a fear of abandonment.
    Fixing up boys is different that way;
    You fix a bird, you buy a cage
  • Badass Boast: The entirety of "Dutch", "The Bullpen", "Skeleton Key" and "Fighting Fish" is one.
    • "Crew" has one about her music skills partway through, "If the hinges creak, then break the door down / All I need is a beat, I break a four-count".
  • Badass Creed: "Seamstress". The creed of the seamstress is "you're pretty in pieces".
  • Bait-and-Switch: “Shrimp” ends with Dessa lamenting that she’s “always a bridesmaid, never an...ASTRONAUT!”
    • Overlaps with Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion earlier in the same song.
    6’2” in my highest kicks
    Dolled up, I’m the baddest person.
  • The Caretaker: "Seamstress" is a dark take on this.
    Plus, I never did need for a pattern
    Just some good restraints and my bedside manner.
  • The Charmer: The narrator of "Dear Marie"; "that charm of mine was easy to abuse".
  • Cool Big Sis: "Children's Work" was written for her younger brother Max.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: "Children's Work": "The little mystic, and his handler."
    • "Annabelle" has her pleading the song's title character to 'come back down'
    • "The Man I Knew" is a song about a decade-long relationship with a drug addict.
  • Domestic Abuse: What the narrator finds out is going on in "Dixon's Girl"- "You gotta be big to treat pretty girls bad".
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Said by name in "Seamstress" and a theme touched on in multiple songs (including "Mineshaft 2" and "The Man I Knew"), coming from Dessa's own struggles with alcoholism.
  • Easily Forgiven: Averted hugely in "Mineshaft 2" and "The Lamb".
  • Framing Device: "Dear Marie" is a letter the narrator is writing to Marie.
  • Friendless Background: Implied in "Children's Work": "Before you came along, I was a lone cub."
  • Functional Addict: “The Man I Knew” is about a friend of Dessa’s who managed to keep his life together despite being addicted to cocaine.
  • Heel Realization: "Dear Marie" is about a woman who realizes for the first time how much she's hurt her loyal friend Marie, and writes a letter apologizing.
  • Hourglass Plot: In “The Lamb,” the narrator finds herself in a position of power over a sick relative who abused her in childhood, and has to restrain herself from using the opportunity to hurt him.
    Now our roles reverse, your tables turning now...
  • Ironic Echo: In "Dear Marie", the narrator says that Marie warns her "that charm of mine was easy to abuse"; later, after the narrator has her Heel Realization about how badly she's treated Marie, Marie says "that charm of mine was to refuse".
  • The Masochism Tango: "Matches to Paper Dolls", which is about a couple who are too attached/attracted to each other to leave even though the relationship hurts both of them.
  • Master of Unlocking: The protagonist of "Skeleton Key", who builds a career out of opening any lock that people are willing to pay to have opened.
  • Motor Mouth: When Dessa really gets into rap-mode, she's scarily quick with her rhymes. For example, "Matches to Paper Dolls", "Mineshaft", and "Press On".
    Talk real fast when I get nervous
    Rap real fast, but that’s on purpose.
  • My Future Self and Me: The narrator visits her past self to ask for a favor in "Mineshaft 2".
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Mentioned in "Dixon's Girl". Currently the page quote.
  • Relationship Revolving Door: “Matches to Paper Dolls” is about this type of love affair and the toll it takes on the narrator over many years.
    We’ve been lovers and strangers and friends who get angry.
  • Sanity Slippage: "If & When" has the narrator burning more and more things to keep the candle alight as she waits for her husband to come home.
  • Second-Person Narration: "Mineshalf 2", although it switches to first person in the last verse
  • Sequel Song: "Mineshaft" released on Castor, the Twin deals with a painful break-up. "Mineshaft 2" dealt with the ex calling her up years later and asking for forgiveness.
  • Shoutout: The chorus of "Everything Floats" (which the title is derived from) is a line from It.
  • The Smurfette Principle: "The Bullpen", with the narrator channeling Dessa's experiences in the hip-hop scene.
  • Take Me Instead: From "Children's Work": "When the wagon tipped, I prayed over your body. I asked God to take the damage out on me."
  • True Companions: "Crew", which is about her group Doomtree, along with most of her collaborative works with other Doomtree members.
    • From "Alibi": "If you ever need a place to sleep tonight, that's what family's for."
  • UST: "Go Home" is about the narrator and a close friend struggling with the feelings that have grown between them.
  • We Are as Mayflies: The central theme of "Momento Mori".
  • Widow Woman: "If & When".
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: The entirety of "Children's Work", with both the narrator and her little brother being wise in differnt ways: "Children aren't as simple as we'd like to think."