Review Summary: Not always does the element of surprise make for a bad album.
There is just something about Ms. Dessa Darling that is so captivating. It might be her involvement in the 90% male hip hop group Doomtree or maybe just her stage presence. Either way when it comes down to her music; you either love it or hate it. Since female rappers are so far and few between, the prospect of Dessa being one of the most prominent rappers in the Midwest was downright exciting. Her early works of her False Hopes album and various works with Doomtree showed much promise to her budding hip hop career but with the release of her newest, full length album that promise has been demolished. While A Badly Broken Code is fantastic in itself, it’s just not what we were looking for in her first full length release.
A Badly Broken Code was built on two things: extreme hype and Dessa’s ability to deliver. When the album was released and there was minimal rapping and excessive instrumental parts of the songs, the whole vision changed. Where normal beats would have been, Dessa replaced then with snare hits, guitar lines and cymbal crashes. If you can bear to take this album for what it is you will enjoy it. If you take it for the lack of hip hop you were wishing for you will most likely hate it. The thing you have to remember about Dessa is that she is talented and she is going to bring forth what she views as her strongest abilities. This album is filled with pop, soul and R&B but that doesn’t make it a bad thing, just not what we had all hoped for. One of the most promising parts about this album is the instrumental parts. Dessa manages to throw in some maracas, violin, piano and contrabass; instead of the normal guitar and drums.
One thing that you are going to notice about this album is that you can group each of the songs into two
categories: either delicate or upbeat. The album starts off strong with “Children’s Work”, a song dedicated to her brother Max. It makes for one of the better songs on the album consider the lyrical flow of the song is top shelf. Dessa’s lyricism is easily one of the more prominent features about her. A good point to make at this time might be if you do not find Dessa’s voice appealing then just forget about listening to any of her material, because it does not differ much. “The Crow” is one of the rare instances on the album that actually borders on hip hop. Her vocal delivery on this song switches from singing to borderline rapping. Dessa does succeed in not tripping over herself during delivery which makes the album thoroughly enjoyable. The first single off the album that was released was “Dixon’s Girl” which sports a video with absolutely no explanation what so ever. The texture and content of the song is rather bland except for her spitfire delivery at points.
Dessa does manage to track a sequel to “Mineshaft” from her original False Hopes called and you guessed it “Mineshaft II.” She loves going back to that storytelling concept that is so forthcoming in hip hop. Another point to stress is that while you listen to this album there is a backup female singer named Aby Wolf that is featured quite often and her voice can be a con to the album if you don’t enjoy it. Not to say she isn’t a good singer it’s just that at certain times I wish it were just Dessa’s voice. “The Chaconne” is easily one of the best songs off the album. It features Matthew Santos of Minnesota folk/singer-songwriter fame. It’s pure beauty and does nothing less to showcase Dessa’s vocal quality. Also featured is a great violin streak in the background with a short piano solo at the end. Just about halfway through the album you will hit my favorite song “Matches To Paper Dolls.” While there is nothing special about this song it’s just highly enjoyable. The bridge features a sample that makes the song really hard to ignore. It’s a very weird, high pitched and sporadic mumbling; mostly inaudible but highly interesting and very catchy.
“Go Home” is a ballad if you’ve ever heard one, and a love one at that. This is the part of the album that normal fans of Doomtree might not be able to relate to. Another fan favorite off the album is “Seamstress” which is undoubtedly the most hip hop song on the album. Starting off with a tiny guitar strum falls into Dessa’s voice doing something that isn’t exactly singing. One thing you must understand is that Dessa started off as a slam poet and that influence is very important on this album. The guitar line plays throughout the song, with Dessa’s fierce voice following it ever so closely. The last half of the album is made up of some pop songs in “Dutch”, “Crew”, and “Alibi.”
While not the most diverse set of songs you’ll ever hear, A Badly Broken Code is a great album on its own accord. Dessa decided for this instance to trade in her rapping style for a more soul influence brand of baroque pop that went in her favor anyways. Listen to this album with a grain of salt because even though it might grow on you fast and grow off you just as fast it’s still worthy of the hype it has been receiving. We all miss the hip hop side of her and maybe this is her way of saying that she doesn’t want to pursue that or it could just be a way to get non-hip hop listeners into the realm of Doomtree and Rhymesayers. Either way you look at it this is better than half of the bull*** “hip hop” that hits the airwaves now a days.