One to Watch

Dawn Richard

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - ZACH SCHONFELD @zzzza­aaac­c­c­chhh

Dawn Richard got her break as a mem­ber of the girl group Dan­ity Kane, which briefly ruled air­waves in the mid-2000s. But Richard’s solo ma­te­rial, un­der the name DAWN (pre­vi­ously styled as D∆WN), es­chews Top 40 hooks for in­ven­tive R&B grooves. Her lat­est al­bum, new breed, sig­ni­fies a fresh start af­ter the artist com­pleted a heady tril­ogy of al­bums. “It’s my per­sonal jour­ney as a black woman from New Or­leans,” Richard, 35, says. Her up­bring­ing “re­ally dic­tated how I went through life, with mu­sic, men, love, loss—ev­ery­thing.”

ORI­GIN STORY

She was raised by a funk singer dad and a dancer mom in the 9th Ward, and new breed teems with ref­er­ences to the New Or­leans neigh­bor­hood, with its ra­di­ant mu­si­cal her­itage of street pa­rades and brass bands. Her grand­fa­ther jammed with Fats Domino be­fore she was born. When Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina hit, “we lost ev­ery­thing,” she says. Her fam­ily was home­less for six months, even­tu­ally re­set­tling in Bal­ti­more. The fam­ily fi­nally re­turned to New Or­leans a decade later. In 2005—the same year as Ka­t­rina— Richard landed a spot on Diddy’s MTV re­al­ity show Mak­ing the Band, which re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of Dan­ity Kane. (The group dis­banded in 2009.)

SOUNDS LIKE

Her con­sid­er­able vo­cal swag­ger can power both erotic an­thems and dis tracks, like “New Breed,” which ex­tends a mid­dle fin­ger to sleazy in­dus­try men who doubted her con­fi­dence. “When I stepped into meet­ings, they had a prob­lem with the fact that I saw my­self as as much of a king as they saw them­selves,” Richard says. This frus­tra­tion dates back to the Dan­ity Kane days. “It was the pro­ducer that told us we were too dark. Or our voices were too soul­ful for the pop records we were try­ing to sell.”

She col­lab­o­rated with the ex­per­i­men­tal in­die group Dirty Pro­jec­tors, voic­ing the swoon­ing hook on 2017’s “Cool Your Heart.” And new breed spans a range of fu­tur­is­tic R&B tex­tures: glit­tery elec­tro-funk (“Shades”), dub-in­flected pop (“Jeal­ousy”), even an a cap­pella over­ture.

Many artists sing about their exes. With the thrillingly petty “Jeal­ousy,” Richard flips the cliché, writ­ing a love song in the form of an In­sta­gram mes­sage to her boyfriend’s ex. It was in­spired by a real sit­u­a­tion. “I wrote an en­tire let­ter to the ex just speak­ing my per­sonal feel­ings,” she says. “I had to laugh be­cause I didn’t re­al­ize how petty I was be­ing. I was al­ready nine pages in and I’m re­al­iz­ing: Oh, wait.” Did Richard send it? “I still have it in my in­box. I’m gonna save it, just in case petty me needs to live again.”

IN­FLU­ENCES

Her “all-time” in­spi­ra­tion is Prince. Richard’s last al­bum, 2016’s Redemp­tion, con­tained a non­con­ven­tional sa­lute to him—a fem­i­nist in­ver­sion of Prince’s “Dar­ling Nikki” ex­am­in­ing Nikki’s per­spec­tive. She’s a fan, too, of D’an­gelo, par­tic­u­larly his slow-jam stun­ner “Un­ti­tled (How Does It Feel?).” Both artists in­spired a frank treat­ment of sex­u­al­ity and de­sire in her own work, like “Sauce,” a bed­room-ready high­light from new

breed. “The level of com­fort I have in my sex­u­al­ity—‘sauce’ speaks to that on a huge level: un­apolo­getic, no fucks given. I have no shame.”

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