A rapper shows that her facility with language and revelation extends beyond music.
Though the memoir proceeds pretty much chronologically, it is more like a series of pieces, each with its own focus, than a cohesive narrative. A Minneapolis transplant to New York, raised by a Puerto Rican mother and a Caucasian father, with a degree in philosophy and a background in medical writing, Dessa (Spiral Bound, 2009, etc.) has consistently transcended conventional stereotyping, and her writing should command interest even from readers who know nothing of her work with the Doomtree collective and her solo releases. By her own admission, she came to music late—“in my midtwenties I was old enough to be a retired rapper—inexperienced and without good odds on making it a sustainable career. She succeeded through what she calls “the Tinker Bell model. She’s only real because she is clapped into existence….The Tinker Bell model is the nuclear option. It taps every reserve. It permits no Plan Bs.” Beyond artistic drive, the obsessive undercurrent of this memoir is her on-again, off-again romance with a crewmate (and soul mate?) identified only as X; the relationship was incredibly passionate but so combustible it couldn’t sustain itself. Dessa’s mother and father were equally driven in unorthodox directions, as the former started raising cattle and the latter devoted years to building his own one-man airplane. Some of the narrative is a standard tour diary, what it’s like to be on the road, where, she quotes a Doomtree rapper, you’re “a traveling T-shirt salesman.” She writes of an assignment from the New York Times Magazine in which she was to visit New Orleans like a tourist (so different from visiting as a touring musician), and she writes of her sidelights delivering lectures and performance pieces and of her invitation to contribute to “The Hamilton Mixtape.” It has been a singular career, and it is by no means over.
An above-average memoir that itself serves as the musician’s next career chapter.