Album: Parts of Speech
Record Label: Doomtree Records
Author/ poet/ rapper/ singer- songwriter Dessa deals a hefty dose of beautiful heartache on "Parts of Speech"
Although relatively little- known outside the circles of underground Hip Hop fans, the Doomtree collective is the home and hubbub of some of America's finest writing talent. Artists like P.O.S., Sims and general producer Lazerbeak all have their fingers deeply steeped in secretive critical acclaim (a sense of respect that is shared in the reverence of all members of the group). It's the group's stand- up female stalwart Dessa, though, whose pen and ink musings span the farthest diameter and reach the widest emotional appeal. She's published books under the Doomtree name, as well as dealing in beautifully fractious poetry, rapping and general song- writing. "Parts of Speech", her third solo project, is a record that brings all these kaleidoscopic talents to the fore, and therefore stands as perhaps her most representative work to date.
Like all personal Hip- Hop records "Parts of Speech" is a voyage of self- analysis, but the way that Dessa writes about the prevalent themes of heartache, self- degradation and honesty that makes her such an enigmatic, captivating artist; she's in full control of the reigns here. She's not trying to ram emotional responses down your throat, but she's laying herself bare in a perpetually heart- string- tugging way.
Proceedings begin with "The Man I Knew." It's a heavy- handed way to kick affairs off, lyrically concerning the loss of loved one to drugs and debauchery. But straight away it oozes with her metaphorical, well- flowing prose. "You said your conscience was clean, about as white as a line of Cocaine", and then in the chorus "The man I knew, I don't think that he can hear me now." "Call Off Your Ghost" is a much darker piece of work. It revolves around a cavernous, intoxicating electronic beat with glacial, resounding piano chords and a mournfully gorgeous chorus; "We've lived too long, too close... so call off your ghost."
"Skeleton Key" has the makings of a great pop song with it's catchy, upbeat and melodically dense trajectory. Lyrically it finds Dessa luring herself into a sense of fickle security as she sings "I'll come and go as I please, I've got my skeleton key." "Fighting Fish", one of the more out- and- out Hip Hop moments here, sees Dessa's fast, snappy but also soulful flow ride well over a meticulously crafted live Boom- Bap beat. it's both cynical and motivational, a concoction that finds Dessa asserting evidental truths like "To aim high is to make waves, to split scenes, but that's not what it seems like to me..." and "if you don't aim for the centre it's a waste of the art."
"Annabelle" is the most vivid, heartbreaking moment present here. A beautiful, teary- eyed guitar melody leads the foray as presence- filled strings swarm the chorus. "Annabelle, come back to me, I' calling you from home", cries the chorus, before things get more bleak in the second verse; "Even though I'm here right beside I barely recognise you, you're like a photo that I'm watching fade away", and then "You're in the bathroom with a flashlight, trying to weigh your shadow, you say it's gotten far too heavy, hard to drag across the floor."
It ends on "Sound the Bells", a beautiful, rousing, almost hymnal anthem which gradually gets more epic and moving as it continues. It's a near perfect way to round "Parts of Speech" off; the light at the end of an emotional hurricane- filled tunnel. Cavernous, beautiful, well- formed and expertly written, "Parts of Speech" is not only one of Hip- Hop's finest moments in 2013, but also perhaps one of the most intriguing literary experiences of the year too.
Key Tracks: Annabelle, Call off Your Ghost, Fighting Fish
For fans of: Doomtree, Leonard Cohen