Dawn Richard’s “Redemption” Is The Album 2016 Needs
The first time I came across Dawn Richard’s solo music was earlier this year when she released a set of visuals to accompany her single “Not Above That.”
Struck how truly powerful the song was with its massive drop in the middle, I immediately looked into her older stuff and ended up discovering a thematically diverse body of work. The variety of sounds and vibes that Dawn uses is as expansive as her career.
Dawn’s latest album, “Redemption” dropped today. The last of a trilogy, and arguably the strongest of the three, “Redemption” is exactly what we need right now.
“This is for every black, white, asian, gay, straight, trans, man, woman, person that’s ever known that feeling of being the outsider,” Dawn says. This album is her own personal redemption, and could just as well be ours during this rocky time we’re collectively experiencing.
The record immediately launches you into a ethereal, yet boldly expressive universe that could only be built by Dawn Richard. This world, which builds into a tense futuristic masterpiece, highlights Dawn’s fully realized potential as an artist.
But where did she begin? You might remember her name from somewhere, and that’s probably because you were alive during 2006.
Dawn got her big break in 2005 when she put into the girl group “Danity Kane.” You’re lying if you say you don’t remember booty poppin’ to “Show Stopper” when you were in middle school.
Danity Kane was put together by Sean Combs (a.k.a. Diddy) on the MTV show “Making the Band.” Dawn competed for a spot in the girl group, and she ended up winning. Dawn and four other girls made up Danity Kane, and they went on to become the first female group in Billboard history to have their first two albums open at the top of the charts.
Like One Direction and Fifth Harmony, Danity Kane was put together for television ratings. Also like One Direction and Fifth Harmony, the group was bound for eventual disbandment.
It’s been six years since Danity Kane’s breakup. Dawn’s transition to solo work wasn’t seamless. Following several creative differences with her label, Dawn left to become an independent artist. No one else is pulling the strings except Dawn, but she’s finally getting her own personal redemption for those struggles.
“At the beginning, it’s wasn’t easy because of those problems with my label,” Dawn says, “and I had been doing it [with groups] for awhile. But now being on the third album with ‘Redemption,’ it’s easier because of the loyal fanbase I’ve had. They’re so supportive.”
She has since produced three eras of music: the first being “GoldenHeart”, followed by “BlackHeart” and the latest, “RedemptionHeart”, which come together to form a trilogy. Every album, or era, of her music has its own defining personality and stylistic effects that only exist within the era.
The era of “Redemption” could be described as reflective and honest. Dawn gets real about her own rocky relationship with the music industry, and even touches on today’s human rights issues like in the song “Vines” in which she says, “You been putting me in boxes and I don’t really feel comfortable for you to talk like this, I feel stifled and I feel like a seed that can’t grow.”
“Redemption is the self discovery and the recovery of people who have had to go through anything challenging,” Dawn says. “Things like the election, you know as women we have to go backwards sometimes to go forwards. It’s always three steps forward and two steps back, and it’s imperative that we keep doing it, and doing it without any restraint.”
Many of the songs from their respective eras also have a very strong visual component. Her videos are the most cutting-edge when it comes to their style, and she says inspiration for the videos comes from her interest in pushing boundaries in technology.
“I went to Sundance with a really good friend of mine, and we were inspired to do this video for my song ‘James Dean’ that was really ahead of its time,” Dawn told Galore. “It had all these animations, so for the next project, we wanted to take it a step further with more technology and virtual reality. We wanted to figure out how to apply that to the music. We worked really hard to get the VR to move us forward.”
That next project was how I came to be introduced to Dawn’s music and art. Dawn’s single “Not Above That” was released this summer with three different visuals: a 2D video (like a normal music video), a VR Experience video, and the last is a still perspective of the VR video.
“We released gaming perspective as well along with the VR video. Very few artists are taking risks on VR, and even less who are doing it without management. I’m fortunate to be one of the few independent artists who are getting into this,” Dawn says.
When I first heard “Not Above That,” I literally sat all of my friends down on my couch and forced them to watch the video. Not because of how literally trippy it is, but because the song is power in it’s rawest form, and the video captures that feeling perfectly.
“I wanted to do ‘Not Above That’ as kind of a homage to that great line between vulnerability and power that we find in femininity. The need of having a partner and having a person around then and not,” Dawn says.
Aside from the lyrics themselves, “Not Above That” is even sonically is powerful.
“The hook comes in so powerful and aggressive, yet vulnerable and I wanted the music and the cadence to be something that pumps through the song. I really think it shows there’s a way to be vulnerable and powerful as a woman, so as a transition piece, that strength had to be set in stone,” Dawn says of “Not Above That”.
But the innovative Manus x Machina-esque vibe isn’t the only way technology has influenced Dawn’s trilogy. With every era, she released a wearable component. With “Redemption”, Dawn made a wearable sterling silver USB necklace.
“The USB came later when I realized I wanted to incorporate a fashion piece. I kind of did that with every era,” says Dawn.
In 2013, she partnered with Coco & Breezy to release her own line of sunglasses with “GoldenHeart”. In 2014, she launched a capsule collection of women’s shoes through Lust for Life and a new set of shades, also from Coco & Breezy, for the “Blackheart” release.
“The shades were just really fun, they show the line between fashion and music. Same with the USB, you get to keep the fashion, and carry the album with you wherever you go,” she says.
And taking “Redemption” with you everywhere is so fitting of it’s sheer importance to Dawn. It’s hard to miss the energy and strength that she communicates through the music. One track that stands out is “Renegades.” It starts out just as vibey as “Not Above That”, but somehow drops even harder and packs more energy with that punch.
“This is the time to dance in your beauty, and your self-worth is at it’s highest. Call it a second birth, we have got to go to the streets and dance. This album is for the people having a jubilee, with no restraint, and be you at your fullest,” she says.
Right now, if it’s seeming to you like Dawn has put a lot of thought into this project, it’s because it’s been years in the making.
“If you think of the greats like Michael Jackson, they thought it through. ‘Thriller’ wasn’t something that happened overnight, it was insane, not to say I’m Michael, but I’d love to be an artist the people see as someone who is really thinking this through.”
But after the trilogy, what’s next for Dawn? “A martini and great book, so I can just sit back and enjoy the moment,” she says.
“I have been working so hard for the last seven years creating this sort of music and I’ve been through so much. People were doubting and me, and I ended up having to do all of this on my own, without a manager or label,” Dawn says.
These kind of boundaries haven’t been pushed before, but that’s exactly what she is: the Dawn of a new era.
You can buy Dawn Richards “Redemption” here.