After an ear catching EP and a song stealing cameo in P.O.S.'s Low Light Low Life, expectations had been set fairly high for Dessa, the latest addition to the hip-hop collective Doomtree, and her first full length album. A lot of folks in the underground hip-hop community have been waiting for her debut, and it is not only well worth the wait but it more than stands up to the accrued hype as well. Having started out as a poet, Dessa's tremendous skill as a lyricist does not come as much of a surprise, but the sophistication in her rhymes and the stories they weave is startling all the same, particularly to be found on an underground debut album.
Dessa is an incredibly adept storyteller, which is abundantly clear right away. A lot of it is how spectacular her flow is, and how good she is with words (as is probably mentioned in every review of this album, she had a degree in philosophy by the time she was twenty), but a big part also is because A Badly Broken Code is a highly personal debut. The perspectives she takes when dealing with her family life (Children's Work), toxic relationships (Matches to Paper Dolls), or even the difficulties with being in a genre dominated by men (The Bullpen) are incredibly clever, but very relatable as well. From wordplay like "You've got to strike while the irony's hot" to cutting lines like "Something harder, look, like a moth you see, and I still get chills when you talk to me, but the years pass by now in twos and threes, these thrills ain't as cheap as they used to be," her writing's got something to impress just about anybody.
The diverse beats are provided for the most part by Doomtree DJs. MK Larada, Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger handle the bulk of the production duties, and offer a broad variety of beats. From moody alternative to brooding underground hip-hop, even big band to gentle, piano-led soft rock, there is quite a lot represented here. And even more impressive is that the able emcee augments her delivery accordingly with whatever style is backing her. Dessa has an enviable flow and impressive way with words to be sure, but on songs like Dixon's Girl, the gorgeous The Chaconne, and the trip-hop sounding Go Home, she proves that she has quite a beautiful singing voice as well. Plus with her past as a spoken word poet, amelodic speaking parts are old hat to her as well, and sometimes she even combines all three approaches (like on Dutch, Momento Mori, or Alibi).
Definitely an exciting new hip-hop artist to watch, Dessa has shown tremendous talent on A Badly Broken Code, not just in her rhymes, but her writing and versatile delivery abilities as well. The Doomtree collective has struck pure gold with her, as the idea of Dessa becoming big in the scene is not only plausible, but frankly the way it should be! As she says in The Bullpen, "Forget the bull in the china shop, there's a China doll in the bullpen."