To put Dawn Richard in perspective, imagine a citizen of Atlantis; that is to say, picture someone whose influences and mind predate all else yet still appears capable and keen on things their contemporaries have yet to grasp.
Exactly what Richard is keen on isn’t apparent. Her warbling resembles an auto-tuned siren riding the bass lines of a rock track, all while heralding bass drops that dip into richer valleys than any standard dubstep track. But whatever it is, it works for her, and places Richard in a category of artist all her own.
Richard, who also uses the moniker D∆WN, began as a member of Danity Kane, but a string of albums and EPs littered throughout the twenty-tens indicates less is more. In her case, Richard is the only person she needs, an artist whose plethora of influences and ideas lifts her latest LP, Redemption, from a standard album into an aural opus where she tackles the personal and sonic limitations set against her. “I don’t mean to talk about my personal business/ but Imma half to put it out there/ you been putting me in boxes and I don’t really feel comfortable being done like this” she coos, igniting the rebellion that leads to the “redemption” she speaks of.
As noted before, Richard cannot be pinned down to a single genre, as her music gracefully evolves over the course of single songs. Rarely does a track begin and end in the same way; for all their grandeur, it may even be more apt to call them movements. Such sonic majesty bursts forth in “LA” which transforms from electronica into hard rock to finish with a flourished jazz finale. Moreover, a kaleidoscope of synthesizers and vibraphones forms the backbone of “Lazarus”, welded together in the richness of an orchestral symphony.
Lyrically, Redemption strives for rebirth through rebellion, focusing its energies towards dismantling the structures obstructing Richard’s way. Though entitled “Black Crimes”, the aforementioned track repeats the phrase “love crimes” instead, evoking an idea put forth by Audra Lorde that “self-preservation is…an act of political warfare”. Guilty as she is of her self-love, Richard revels in her disobedience, admitting each infraction with her resonant, woodwind-esque timbre. The fadeout of “Valhalla” enjoins an escape to “open dreams, where rebels are the majority, and my color isn’t minority” in the haunting minimalism of Imogen Heap’s “Hide & Seek”. These escapes are not visions, they are revelations set in motion by, and only stoppable by, her.
This onslaught of concepts and sonic rushes drives Redemption right along, carrying the listener through Richard’s vast and captivating imagination. Though she tends to repeat the styles of her earlier works, Richard still sounds like nobody else in the game, and for that Redemption stands apart. “I didn’t change/I became” she declares, and let’s hope she continues this line of thought. B PLUS