From its first track, Dessa’s new full-length Parts of Speech (6.25.13, Doomtree Records) announces itself as something different. The Doomtree veteran and inveterate wordsmith — having proved her mettle in the fields of creative non-fiction, spoken-word and hip-hop — jettisons all genre expectations on “The Man I Knew” and croons a heartbreaking lament to a disintegrating relationship at an explosively-building clip. From this moment on Dessa — oft–described as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker” for the wit and flow shown off on previous solo albums A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin — proves she has truly coalesced as an artist, transcending the restrictions of genre to reveal an astonishing multi-platform voice.
James Gardin has used his music to fuel dance floors, radiowaves, and varied social causes. But before opening for national acts (Macklemore, Grieves, Danny Brown, The Flobots, Ludacris, Ehlzi, Cool Kids), teaching music to children in South Africa and using his lyrics to champion cultural unity and HIV/AIDS awareness, Gardin had to learn to create for himself. James “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.” Gardin was born in Germany to two parents in the Army before moving to Arizona at four years old, and settling into Lansing, Mich. at ten years old. He got involved with music early through singing in the church choir, guitar lessons from a mentor, and his first raps as part of an anti-drug song competition at Bella Vista Elementary in Sierra Vista, Arizona. After failing a fifth grade test to play violin at school, he took matters into his own hands and dug into books to learn how to play sheet music. “I didn’t understand music in their systematic way, but today, I don’t approach music with rules set to it anyway,” James remembers. “I’m glad I learned it for myself.”