Interview

DAWN RICHARD

Dawn Richard knows more than most people about reinvention. During the course of her career, she’s been part of two successful groups, commercially and critically, though perhaps not in terms of longevity.

The first, Danity Kane, was the product of Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs’s Making The Band reality TV series of the early noughties, out of which came two number one albums in the US, becoming the first group in Billboard history to top the chart with their first two releases. When the group disbanded, Richard was brought into Diddy Dirty Money, Combs’s short-lived, experimental hip hop/R&B trio who’s output consisted of only one, much-admired album.

Listening to DAWN ’s music now (the mononym she now goes by), allied to the bold visual identity that runs through her artwork, video, and live performance, it’s hard to reconcile that former artist with the one that has gradually, over the last four years, been forging a unique and confident body of work, yet easy to see why she’s, finally, coming out on top.

What does this part of your career mean to you especially in light of you previous experience in the industry?

It’s probably the most important time in my career. It’s not just pivotal as an artist but as a person and as a woman. When you’re young and you get thrust into the industry it’s really overwhelming, especially when you’ve been manufactured and you have all this money and a machine and an idea built for you – you kind of get used to that equation. I don’t think people realise that I was just a kid in college and my whole young adulthood was about being in mainstream culture. I really didn’t have a personal life, it’s just been music. So now, this is my creative freedom – these are my first steps as an artist, as an entertainer, a businesswoman.

When did the point come at which you decided you needed to go you own way?

The moment I walked in front of Puff, in his office, and told him the kind of music I wanted to do and asked him if he could support me or not. And his answer was that if I did this music, I wouldn’t be accepted. He said I needed make the kind of R&B and soul music so they could maybe make me into a Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole-type artist and if I did my own thing I wouldn’t be able to make it on the label.

Did you feel like that was a fair reaction?

Oh he’s always honest, so that was fair. I think he knew I deserved that because I had been very loyal and given Bad Boy nine years – so I think there was a respect there and I appreciated that honesty. It was for me to make the choice – do I compromise and still have the machine behind me or do I go with the idea I always had in mind? They all laughed because they thought it was overly ambitious and that no one would get it. But I didn’t care. That moment was the beginning of a pact I made within myself – I realised that not only do I have to be an artist but I’ve got to be everything now because no one believes in this. I had to believe in it hard enough to get past the naysayers.

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Photography by Hazlett-Beard

Is the conscious move away from your past an attempt to wipe the slate clean or was it more the case that this is just the kind of artist you knew you wanted to be?

My mom and my friends were like, ‘this is really you’. This is what I was like when I was a kid. I was the girl going to the raves, the girl with the pink and blue hair, I loved anime, I would go to Bjork and Portishead concerts – that was me and anyone who knew me growing up would say that this is the real me. The public never got that – they only got me on a TV show. I’m doing what I always wanted to do I just never had the power.

Is the conscious move away from your past an attempt to wipe the slate clean or was it more the case that this is just the kind of artist you knew you wanted to be?

My mom and my friends were like, ‘this is really you’. This is what I was like when I was a kid. I was the girl going to the raves, the girl with the pink and blue hair, I loved anime, I would go to Bjork and Portishead concerts – that was me and anyone who knew me growing up would say that this is the real me. The public never got that – they only got me on a TV show. I’m doing what I always wanted to do I just never had the power.

Given the ways we know music’s changed over the last the last 15 years or so, especially recently, the idea of genre has been deconstructed to such an extent it seems strange that no one was willing to back you.

I wish you’d tell that to the labels! Now maybe it would be a different story. Really it speaks about the industry itself – they’re upon the trend but never ahead of it. And my motivation has always been to be ahead of the curve. They all thought I would fail. I just don’t think they could conceive that I would do what I’ve gone on to do. The industry only allows for a small number of people to survive in it. But if you look at the way things are changing with technology, artists don’t need those kinds of platforms anymore.

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Given the ways we know music’s changed over the last the last 15 years or so, especially recently, the idea of genre has been deconstructed to such an extent it seems strange that no one was willing to back you.

I wish you’d tell that to the labels! Now maybe it would be a different story. Really it speaks about the industry itself – they’re upon the trend but never ahead of it. And my motivation has always been to be ahead of the curve. They all thought I would fail. I just don’t think they could conceive that I would do what I’ve gone on to do. The industry only allows for a small number of people to survive in it. But if you look at the way things are changing with technology, artists don’t need those kinds of platforms anymore.

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