Minnesota rapper Dessa shows off her softer side

Alex Hagen

Dessa, a musical artist based in Minneapolis, seems to defy all categorization. A rapper and singer who got her start in spoken-word poetry, Dessa’s music seamlessly blends elements of several different genres together into one cohesive sound. Her background in poetry and philosophy is reflected in her wise, playful lyrics, which name-drop everything from “Anna Karenina” to Minnesotan landmarks and references. Dessa’s previous work, like her debut album,  A Badly Broken Code, paired lyrics with appealing beats to great effect. With her newest album, Castor, the Twin, Dessa distills her music down to its essentials, revealing new dimensions and details.

Castor, the Twin is a collection of new arrangements of 11 previously released songs (with a new single at the end). Gathering an intimate ensemble of musicians: including a back-up singer, a pianist and an upright-bass player: Dessa’s powerful, witty words are seen in a new light. Stripped bare of the layers of sound present on many of her previous tracks, the result is a stunning and often brilliant album.

Even for Dessa’s current fans, the music of Castor may seem entirely new. “Mineshaft,” arranged from a song on her first EP, fuses the  acoustic  instruments and Dessa’s intricate lyrics with her staccato, rapid-fire delivery, making a thrilling new composition. New versions of songs like “The Crow” and “Alibi” are familiar, yet also take her sound in an exciting new direction. “The Beekeeper,” a first look at her next all-new album, pairs Dessa’s gorgeous voice with a haunting melody.

Throughout the album, Dessa demonstrates her gift for each of her talents, frequently within the span of a single song. Castor, the Twin is a fine starting point for new listeners, but when paired with Dessa’s earlier work, it becomes something even better: a rich and rewarding companion piece.