Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Dessa: A Badly Broken Code [Doomtree, 2010]
Boy, will the keep-it-real claque do their best to ignore this dame, who got her B.A. in philosophy from Minnesota at 20 and now, at 28, has the effrontery to teach Language of Rap and Spoken Word in a degree-level hip-hop program at a local music college. Not only does she refer glancingly to Dorothy Parker and Gabriel García Márquez, her idea of a boast is "Chicago Manual of Style/Keeps the prose right crisp." But that's how it be. Nobody owns hip-hop, and if some relationship-parsing white female hooks up with a beat-making crew where 40 years ago she would have taken guitar lessons, there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Dessa is so good at psychology--so clear and penetrating, so sharp-tongued and tender-hearted--she might have turned off the psych-spewing freak-folkers and nostalgic romantics of the former coffee-house circuit anyway. Love, friendship, anxiety, ambition--she addresses these things as if Nashville wasn't the last bastion of realism in the musical universe. Imagery--she's got it, right crisp sometimes, though she's partial to flying and sky. She can even sing her own hooks. Sans Auto-Tune. A-