Desdamona: I just needed to get some music out there

Desdamona: I just needed to get some music out there
Photo courtesy of the artist

Desdamona is a busy woman. In the years since her sophomore album The Ledge, released in 2006, she has grown her reputation as a teacher and collaborator across musical platforms. Since 2004, the rapper has been performing with Carnage, a close friend and longtime music partner, as part of the hip hop group Ill Chemistry. In 2010, she also joined forces with the French group Ursus Minor on their third album and toured with them in support of that.

Finally, Desdamona's fans will have some new sounds to dive into. Tonight at the Triple Rock Social Club, she releases a brand new EP, DigiPhenom, a four-track assembly produced by Big Jess of Unknown Prophets. The EP will be available as a free download for everyone who attends the show.

Gimme Noise caught up with Desdamona ahead of the gig to talk about the EP, what she's been working on, and pick her brain on the Minneapolis hip hop scene.

Gimme Noise: Why don't you tell me about the EP, how it came about, that kind of thing.

Desdamona: The EP came out of actually working on a bigger project that's gonna be a full length that will be coming later. We started to record and at first I had this real focus on the EP, and then Jess [Big Jess from Unknown Prophets] started giving me these other beats and I realized that they didn't quite match what I wanted to do for this other, larger project. So I was like, "Why don't we take this little grouping of songs and put them out as an EP?" I've never really given away free music before, so I was like, "Let's just try it and see." It's been a while since I put something out. Carnage and I as Ill Chemistry have put things out, but the last solo project I put out was in 2009 and that was all poetry. I felt like I just needed to get some music out there. Even from the beginning, I know that it was just going to be a digital release, we're not making physical copies, and it's going to be free.

How is the sound on this EP different for you?

It has a little bit of a more radio sound than some of my previous stuff does. The beats are maybe more mainstream sounding, I guess. The song ["Mr. Pretender"] strikes a chord with people because it's funny, and it's also real. It either makes people mad or it makes them laugh. The song itself is actually kind of old. I'd never really put it out on a real recording. A lot of women asked me for that song, like, "When are you putting that out?" So I was like, "Okay, I need to do this."

There are four tracks on the EP. I didn't want to just throw stuff on it to fill it up. I wanted to be more intentional about it and see what happens with it.

The larger project that you're referring to -- is that an album?

The larger project has about three or four songs that are complete or near complete. It's gonna be more than just a CD. I don't want to say too much about it yet. It's a conceptual album and there are some other things than I want to tie into it. There's other people involved. I'm going to be using a lot of samples on the album, and I want to be able to talk about them, so I want to get clearance to do that... I don't want to say too much just yet.

Do you view this EP as a preview to the full-length album or is it more separate?

It's not a preview because the full-length is going to have a very different sound to it than these songs do, but they're not b-sides, either. I just want to get these songs to as many people as possible. I've been focusing on sending the songs to DJs so that they have them in advance before anything else. I may just release everything on the EP as a single and send them to radio stations like that.

You have waited a few years between releases. What's been going on?

I've been on some other releases in France. I was on a collaboration with Ursus Minor and then Ill Chemistry [with Carnage] put out stuff together. I've been doing a lot of work in schools, which I've always done but in the last couple years it's been more. I've been in France a lot more, too, probably like 15 or 16 times in the last year, so I've had a lot of material but just not had the time to get it together. And then this full-length that I'm not naming -- it has a name, but I'm being so mysterious about it -- it means a lot to me, and I've been thinking about it for more than a few years.

You've been a staple in the Minneapolis hip-hop scene. You're one of the most heavyweight names here. How have you seen the music industry in Minneapolis change since you've been a part of it?

I think in the realm of hip hop... I moved here in 1996, so there were clearly people here before me doing stuff, moving up at the same time as other people that are still around. I think what I've noticed about hip hop is that it was really difficult in the late '90s and probably before that, before I was here, to get a hip hop show at a venue. It was a lot of coffee shop shows. 7th Street Entry was one of the first places that would host a hip hop show, but other places just wouldn't. And it was always this, "Well, are there gonna be fights?" mentality. I think there was this stigma attached to hip hop and it came from more of a mainstream perspective than it did with what was really going on in our scene, and over the years I've seen more respect come for hip hop. We have artists that are doing big things, and now almost every venue will host a hip hop show, which is great, and that wasn't really the case before. Now, local artists sell out First Avenue. That's changed a lot.

I remember it being difficult to gain acceptance and get respect. Once you did, it was good, but it wasn't just granted to you. It doesn't seem like it's nearly as difficult to gain that acceptance or establish a fan base, and maybe that's because of what's already been established, where you don't necessarily have to know somebody else to get a show.

Do you think that there's more talent in the Minneapolis hip hop scene now or do you think that people are just more accepting of it?

I think maybe it's both. Once it gets opened up to more people... the complaints about hip hop always come from what is heard on the radio. Those people that are listening only to the radio don't realize that there's a way broader hip hop artist than what they hear. I think more people are curious and are more open to checking it out. I definitely think there's a ton of young artists coming up right now in the cities that are really good. We live in a city, in a scene where artists have had some success, so people have the example. It helps the creative push for people.

Desdamona will be performing tonight at the Triple Rock Social Club with Carnage as part of "Double Dysfunction," a dual EP release party. Doors at 9 p.m. $10. 21+. Ticket info here.

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