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Dessa at First Avenue in Minneapolis - doomtree (39481261600).jpg
Background information
Birth nameMargret Wander[1]
Also known asDessa Darling
Born (1981-05-23) May 23, 1981 (age 37)[2]
OriginMinneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Years active2005–present
LabelsDoomtree Records
Associated acts

Dessa Wander (born Margret Wander, May 23, 1981), better known by her stage name Dessa, is an American rapper, singer, spoken word artist, writer, and former record executive. She is a member of the indie hip hop collective Doomtree.

Early life[edit]

Dessa was born to Robert Wander Jr. and Sylvia Burgos Toftness,[3] and has a younger brother, Max.[4] Her father is white and her mother Puerto Rican.[5][6] Dessa went to Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, graduating from the IB Diploma Programme in 1999. She attended the University of Minnesota, where she earned a B.A. in philosophy.[7] Before becoming an artist full-time, she worked as a technical writer for a medical manufacturer.[8]



Initially drawn to their raw aesthetics and unique sound, Dessa forged a friendship with Doomtree. Soon after, she was asked to join the crew and did so. Since 2005, Dessa has toured with and appeared on all Doomtree albums, as well as on the other members' solo albums. She was the CEO of Doomtree,[9] however, she relinquished that post to her label mate, Lazerbeak, to focus on her own career.[10]

Solo career[edit]

Dessa's debut solo EP, False Hopes, was released in 2005. Despite being only fifteen minutes long, it was listed as one of the top local albums of the year by Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Dessa's first solo album, A Badly Broken Code, was released on January 19, 2010. The singles from this album were "Dixon's Girl" and "The Chaconne". The album features production from Paper Tiger, MK Larada, Lazerbeak, Cecil Otter and Big Jess. MK Larada also designed the album art.[11]

In 2011, Dessa released Castor, the Twin, a remix album featuring new arrangements of songs released on previous projects, primarily A Badly Broken Code. The original production in the remixed tracks was replaced with live instrumentation.[12]

In 2013, Dessa released her second full-length album Parts of Speech that made its debut in Billboard's Top 200.[13] The singles from this album are "Warsaw" and "Call Off Your Ghost."

On February 23, 2018, Dessa released her third full-length album Chime, that made its debut in Billboard's Top 200, and at #3 on Billboard's Independent Charts.[14] Chime was listed as one of "NPR" Music's 40 Favorite Albums of 2018 (so far).[15]

Writing works[edit]

At the fourth annual Doomtree Blowout in 2008, and via Doomtree Press, Dessa released Spiral Bound a seventy-page collection of fiction and poetry.[16][17] Following that, in 2013, she released a book of poems called A Pound Of Steam, in partnership with Rain Taxi.[18]

After having been scouted by the Francis Golden Literary Agency,[19], in 2018 Dessa signed a book-publishing deal with Dutton Penguin, which released her collection of creative non-fiction essays entitled My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love on September 18, 2018.[20][21] The book is an uncompromising and candid account of her life in motion, in music, and in love.[22]

Dessa's work has also been published in periodicals, including a 2009 poem in Ars Medica[23] and a 2017 article about visiting New Orleans as a tourist in The New York Times Magazine.[24]

In 2017, she co-wrote an episode of the popular fiction podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and voiced the character Sabina. Her songs "Call of Your Ghost" and "Fire Drills" had been used in the show's "Weather" segments in the past.[citation needed]

Side projects and non-Doomtree collaborations[edit]

Dessa is a founding member of The Boy Sopranos, an almost all-female a cappella group, with frequent collaborators Jessy Greene, Aby Wolf and others.[citation needed] She also taught at the Institute of Production and Recording and the McNally Smith College of Music.[25] She was also a member of the indie super-group Gayngs founded by Ryan Olson (of Poliça fame), in 2010, along with 22 other musicians including Justin Vernon.[26][27]

On March 2, 2012, Dessa presented "Mic Lines: Art, Ethics, and their Contested Connections" at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as part of the three-day Nobel Peace Prize Forum .[28][29]

Dessa was the host of Twin Cities Public Television's The Lowertown Line, a live music series, from 2012 to 2014.[30]

In 2012, she partnered with the "artisan cosmetic house" from Minnesota, Elixery, to create her own shade of lipstick, all of the proceeds of which were donated to CARE (relief agency).[31]

She was a contributing artist on the 2015 St. Paul-based "Plume Project." A public art installment in which images and colors were projected onto steam rising from a smokestack in downtown St. Paul and music and spoken-word pieces could be accessed by calling a phone number. Dessa read her poem "Circle Games."[32]

In 2016, she had a flavor of ice cream named after her on July 27, 2016 by Izzy's Ice Cream, “Dessa’s Existential Crunch”.[33] The same year, she contributed to The Hamilton Mixtape with her cover of the song "Congratulations."[34]

In April 2017, she headlined a show with the Minnesota Orchestra, which featured new arrangements of her songs as well as a story performed in prose.[35]

Dessa sang the National Anthem at the Minnesota Twins home opener on April 5, 2018.[36] And on July 28, 2018, she sang the National Anthem at the 2018 WNBA All-star game held in Minneapolis.[37]

In August 2018, Dessa traveled with the Minnesota Orchestra as they went on a two-week, five-stop tour through South Africa, reportedly the first tour of an American orchestra to the country, and helped document the trip for Minnesota Public Radio alongside MPR journalist and cultural critic Euan Kerr.[38]


Solo studio albums[edit]

List of EPs, with selected chart positions
Title Album details Peak chart positions
US US Hip-Hop US Indie
A Badly Broken Code 48
Castor, the Twin 26 36
Parts of Speech 74 19
Chime 139 3



  • "Matches to Paper Dolls ('Castor, the Twin' Mix)" (2013)
  • "Warsaw" (2013)
  • "Call Off Your Ghost" (2013)
  • "Quinine" (2016)
  • "Good Grief" (2017)
  • "Fire Drills" (2017)
  • "5 Out of 6" (2018)


  • Medida (2004)

Guest appearances[edit]


  • Spiral Bound (2009)
  • Sleeping with Nikki (2011)
  • Are You Handsome (2013)
  • A Pound of Steam (2013)
  • My Own Devices: True Stories from The Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love (Dutton, 2018) ISBN 978-1524742294)[39]


  1. ^ "Students Get Schooled on Hip-Hop at Minn. College". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Wander, Margret (May 23, 2013). "Good morning, world. Today is my birthday, ..." Facebook. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  3. ^ Eveland. "Dessa's mom, Sylvia Toftness, shows us around her Wisconsin cattle farm". City Pages.
  4. ^ "Dessa's brother (Max Wander, see "Children's Work from A Badly Broken Code) has been singing "The Chaconne" with her this week".
  5. ^ Darling, Dessa. "Dessa reflects on her artistic journey - City Pages".
  6. ^ "Best of What's Next: Dessa".
  7. ^ "Making Music Series: Dessa on Coffman Memorial Union". University of Minnesota.
  8. ^ "The Revolution Starts... Right After the Drinks". City Pages. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011.
  9. ^ "University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts, 2012 Spring Commencement: Keynote Address by Dessa". University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "A Badly Broken Code". Doomtree Store.
  12. ^ "Review: Dessa – Castor, the Twin (2011)". Mezzic. October 6, 2011.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Locks of Love – Dessa". HipHopDX.
  17. ^ "Spiral Bound review". Culture Bully.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Sensele(ss Love, by Dessa". Penguin Random House. 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Wander, Dessa (Spring 2009). "The Letter S, by Steven Ward". Ars Medica. Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  24. ^ Dessa (2017-03-21). "Wandering New Orleans After Seeing It From the Stage". New York Times.
  25. ^ "dessa - McNally Smith College of Music President's Blog". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Mark (February 21, 2012). "Ethics and Hip Hop: A Discussion with Dessa – Tickets on sale NOW!". Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Archived from the original on March 3, 2013. Retrieved May 25, 2013.
  29. ^ "2012 Forum: "The Price of Peace"". Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Retrieved May 25, 2013.
  30. ^ Thompson, Erik (December 26, 2012). "MN Original leaps forward". Archived from the original on January 18, 2013. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  31. ^
  32. ^ Kerr, Euan. "Plume Project aims to make art in St. Paul's sky".
  33. ^ "Izzy's announces 'Dessa's Existential Crunch' ice cream".
  34. ^ Johnson, Cecilia. "Hear Dessa's ferocious song on "The Hamilton Mixtape"".
  35. ^ Riemenschneider, Chris. "Dessa gives a truly brainy performance with Minnesota Orchestra".
  36. ^ "Minnesota Scene: Dessa to sing, U.S. curlers to throw pitch before Twins' home opener".
  37. ^
  38. ^ Dessa; Kerr, Euan (August 2018). "Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa". Minnesota Public Radio.
  39. ^ "My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Sensele(ss Love, by Dessa". Penguin Random House. 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-13.

External links[edit]