Dawn Richard‘s musical career has had more twists and turns than most.
She emerged first as a reality TV contestant, on MTV’s P Diddy-helmed Making The Band series – and was catapulted from being one of New Orleans’ many homeless victims of Hurricane Katrina straight into the girl group Danity Kane. (In a telling sign that Richard would be end up much more than an anonymous girl group member, they were named by her, after a fictional anime character of her own creation.)
Two albums later – including 2008′s hugely underrated Welcome To The Dollhouse, with its hyper-kinetic harmonies and sleek production courtesy of Danja – Danity Kane, perhaps inevitably, disbanded. By now, though, Diddy had noticed Richard’s songwriting potential – and when he set about creating the tour de force that was 2010′s Last Train To Paris, it was with Richard and Kalenna Harper as the Diddy Dirty Money trio. Press attention centered around the megastar in the group, but throughout the Last Train To Paris campaign Diddy consistently insisted that the three members should have equal billing and credit – and indeed, Richard and Harper’s personalities and creativity were imprinted firmly on the trio’s music. But the very nature of Last Train To Paris – an epic conceptual and theatrical narrative – meant that Diddy Dirty Money was destined not to be a long-term project either.
Following 2011′s self-released mixtape, Richard announced her departure from Bad Boy this February. It seems to have unlocked her creativity: a 10-track EP the following month, Armor On, stands as the year’s finest release so far. The album to which it is meant as a prelude, Goldenheart, is due out on October 16, and promises even more.
“That’s the first thing, to believe in your own project and vision. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will.”
“I wasn’t expecting to have no label. But usually no one has the freedom to leave a label so quickly and with so much support; usually it’s negative and takes a fight. It was an amicable split. I think it took time for people to adjust to the fact that I was a solo artist without a label. I had a choice: wait for someone else to understand what the project was about, or take it upon myself to go forward in my career and go hard, and hope that people got it along the way. That’s the first thing, to believe in your own project and vision. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will.”
How long had that vision been in the works?
“That story has been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting to explain that one for a minute, long before I was even in Danity Kane. I knew I couldn’t tell that story then – out of respect for each group I was in, I didn’t feel like it was the right time to tell it, because you have to share your dream with other people. Once I left Bad Boy, I knew it was an opportunity for me to tell the story in the way I’d felt it for my whole life. I felt like I dreamed it…Instead of looking at not having a label like a negative, I looked at it like an opportunity to do the things I wanted to do that a label would have restricted or questioned; they perhaps wouldn’t have allowed an artist like me to go down that road.”
“Once I left Bad Boy, I knew it was an opportunity for me to tell the story in the way I’d felt it for my whole life.”
What do you mean by “an artist like you”?
“Not in a negative way. Coming from two groups, they’d have an idea of what my sound was – I went from a pop-mainstream group to a hip-hop/R&B group. Going into something more conceptual would have been…well, often executives feel like they have an idea of what Your Sound is because of what they’ve seen you do before.”
One of the most impressive things about Armor On is how well it’s sequenced – both in the way the music ebbs and flows from track to track, and in how the lyrical themes are developed, it’s like a story…
“I wanted Armor On to be like the introduction to a book. I always told myself, it has to be vivid, it has to seem like you’re reading a book. It has to be cohesive. I hate when I’m listening to something and it breaks me out of the dream I’ve been taken into; I really wanted people to listen to it like they were walking the journey alongside me, and not for a second stop or pause or be confused. This journey has really been a walking whirlwind for me; it’s been a long road, a hard fight – being homeless, going through the things I went through – and literally every day I feel like I’m fighting this battle with armour on, trying to restore faith in something that has been lost. That’s the fight I want people to join me with.”
“I feel like I’m fighting this battle with armour on, trying to restore faith in something that has been lost. That’s the fight I want people to join me with.”
And you explore the idea of “armour” from every possible angle…
“You have absolutely got it, that is exactly it. And it’s not difficult, it’s so relatable. To me I feel that’s what writing is – the same stories retold in a thousand different ways, and I just want to tell mine in a way that causes you to dream a little.”
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