Chime is Dessa’s fourth album in a long career spent forging her own path. As CEO of the Minnesota-based hip-hop collective Doomtree, she has undoubtedly contemplated what it means to be a woman in a position of power, and she delves into these themes throughout Chime. Bending genres from hip-hop to pop, Dessa’s skillful rapping and everywoman singing voice explore where empowerment comes from.
“Ride” opens the album exploring different forms of systemic oppression. She will spend the album addressing her concerns about her barriers as a woman, but “Ride” acknowledges her privilege that gender is such a topic of public conversation, while there is still so much to be done to address racial inequality.
She then launches into a series of tracks exploring the foundations and limitations of her power. “5 Out of 6” shows how she has built herself through hard work and training. It is the rare empowerment track that doesn’t diss other women. She credits having no secrets as the key to her success: ‘I don’t need an agenda / I just tell the truth / Let it off the leash and don’t touch it / it knows what to do.’ In “Fire Drills,” she sees her potential diminished by a world that is always trying to take more from women, forcing her to stay vigilant to protect herself. ‘We don’t say go out and be brave / Nah, we say be careful stay safe,’ and this focus on safety over ambition puts ‘half the world off limits’ for women. It’s a standout track, a rap that shows her poetry roots.
The meditative “Velodrome” asks which parts of her fate are predetermined and which are up to her free will. Through the lens of womanhood (‘anyone in stilettos,’ ‘Eve in a makeshift dress’), she meditates on the role of fate in the human experience while name-dropping Thomas Aquinas over a bed of strings, piano, and soft bells. The album’s title is taken from this track (‘I ring myself to see if I might chime.’)
“Good Grief” seeks clarity brought on by failure. As someone who does ‘[her] own stunts and [her] own saving,’ Dessa finds that her best growth comes from being knocked down. She pokes fun at herself in “Boy Crazy,” admitting her weakness for romance and questioning how it interacts with her strength.
“Jumprope” uses the metaphor of girls jumping rope to explore how generations of women, past and present, have dodged patriarchal challenges. The track passes on the advice to understand the challenge, but not to overblow or underplay it, and to remember it’s all a game. ‘Never let a broken heart keep you from the dance floor.’
The brief interlude “Shrimp” is a celebration of her quirks and strengths. She claims to have been ‘as bad as good girls get’ while she made her own way toward her dreams, but laughs about how she’s ‘always a bridesmaid, never an astronaut.’ “Half of You” explores love as a learning experience. She describes longing to forget a dysfunctional relationship, but she ‘can’t remove the screws of [her] own youth,’ the relationship that built who she is. “Say When” questions what her victories are worth if they leave her alone with no one to celebrate with. How can you know when you’ve done enough?
The album concludes with “I Hope I’m Wrong,” with Dessa hoping her deceased grandmother is watching from the afterlife even though she herself doesn’t believe in heaven. The slight shift from the theme asks what role Dessa’s lack of religious belief played in her desire to control her own fate.
The conclusion Chime comes to is that while there are certain limitations to building yourself up, such as societal pressures and grappling with your own fate, potential is reached through authenticity, hard work, and openness. Dessa has clearly worked hard on herself, making Chime a more cohesive and insightful album than her previous Parts of Speech. It’s an ambitious and empowering album that leaves the listener with many memorable songs and even more to think about.