Women rappers Dessa and Psalm One get a chance to represent
By ALLISON HORTON July 28, 2013 8:24PM
» 6:30 p.m. Monday
» Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph
» (312) 742-1168
Updated: August 30, 2013 6:35AM
Female rappers have long been underrepresented in hip hop, but two artists who’ve blazed their own trails — Chicago rapper Psalm One and Minneapolis artist Dessa — will bring female rap to the forefront Monday at Downtown Sound, Millennium Park’s free summer music series.
The two have shared the stage before, including a sold-out show at Schuba’s in January, but to hit the stage at the outdoor series, presented by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, raises the stakes.
“It is a pretty big deal,” said Psalm One. “Female rappers historically haven’t been the most celebrated entity in hip hop, so having two female rappers on the stage is a great honor.”
Dessa is touring to promote her second independent solo album, “Parts of Speech.” She describes her music as “smooth rap with a dry wit” that ranges from “melancholy rap to uptempo horn bass music.”
This year, Psalm One released her latest album, “Free Hugs,” through Minneapolis-based record label Rhymesayers Entertainment. She describes her music as “quirky and spunky.”
Reared in the South Side Englewood neighborhood, she attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and received a chemistry degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “I used to be a chemist so I bring the right brain style to rap,” she said.
Dessa, who has a philosophy degree from the University of Minnesota, will be releasing her second book of poems on Oct. 3. Her first book, “Spiral Bound,” consisted of non-fiction essays and poetry.
She also co-founded a female a cappella group called the Boy Sopranos more than six years ago. The group sings choral music consisting of sacred sounds with secular lyrics.
Feeling a responsibility to give back to the community, Psalm One began a mentoring program. In 2011, she partnered with ASCAP and the American SCORES afterschool program to write and record songs with elementary school children for album titled "The Child Support.”
“We were able to give kids in underserved areas an opportunity to make a song with a professional musician,” she said. The songs were compiled on “The Child Support” album, with the proceeds going toward afterschool programs.
For more than two years, Psalm One has partnered with Chicago-based after-school program, Intonation Music Workshop, to run her own program, Rhyme School, to work with schools without music curriculum. Her program teaches the history of hip hop and helps elementary and high school students create and perform songs as well as create videos. “We get the kids to express themselves and what is unique to their own story,” Psalm One said.
Psalm One is concerned about the violence affecting children in Chicago and how hip hop loosely ties into it.
“Hip hop is not to blame but it is an influence,” she said. “I have an obligation to provide a balance to some of the bad stuff that is happening as a rapper, a woman and someone who grew up in Englewood.”
She will be performing with some of the children she mentors at the North Coast Music Festival on Sept. 1 in Union Park. She is also working on the album, “Running from the Trap,” with Evanston rapper ProbCause, due out this fall.