The Heart of the People: Dawn Richard
written by: iman n. milner
“I wanted people to literally fall into my heart. And if they could hear each beat of my heart those songs would be the sound. If you took a walk in my heart those songs would be the soundtrack”. That’s the mind of Dawn Richard. She’s discussing her mixtape, A Tell Tale Heart, which went viral earlier this year and proved that she was more than just “that girl from Making the Band”.
But that is where she got her start.
For many, MTV’s “Making The Band” was a plateau but for Dawn it was a springboard. Selected in 2005 out of almost 10,000 women to join the girl group Danity Kane, Richard was an audience favorite not only for her talent but also for her story. Her tale of strength, endurance and passion in the face of losing everything to Hurricane Katrina embedded her into the hearts of millions. And then there was her vulnerability. On an unforgettable episode of MTB, cameras captured a young Richard at a piano, tears streaming down her face, singing for more than just a record deal but for what seemed like the only moment of pure happiness that she could find.
Sitting across from Dawn today, you’d never think this woman was the same one we once saw at her weakest. She’s transformed. Her confidence fills the room and she insists it started with a conscious choice to be courageous enough to find happiness within. “No one will trust in you if you don’t trust in yourself. In the beginning it was feeling sorry for what I’ve been through but as a woman now? I love who I am. Every time I fall, I feel like I dodge the next crack”.
A major crack came after the dismantling of her group, Danity Kane.
After two platinum albums, sold out tours and two successful seasons on MTV, Dawn found herself unemployed facing the real possibility of watching her dream fade away. “There was no solo career, contrary to popular belief”, she explains, “I didn’t know where the next check was coming from and I refused to stay in that position”. It was then that Dawn reached out to her old boss with determination. After submitting 3-5 records a day to Sean “Puffy” Combs, she was finally asked to reference songs for a group the mogul was looking to form. At the time, Combs also solicited the help of respected songwriter, Kaleena Harper. After flying to LA to meet one another, Kaleena and Dawn began to create the sound and soul that would bring Dirty Money to life.
“Kaleena and I were going through our own paths and journeys in love. We felt that if Puff wanted to tell a story of a woman he needed to have a woman’s perspective”. This perspective helped craft an album; a perfect tale of the chase between a man and woman finding love, losing it, even cursing it at times. The album was a dive into an amazingly refreshing sound with most tracks penned by Dawn herself. “There are a lot of girls like me”, she says with intensity, “I represent reality. There are those artists who are untouchable and larger than life and then you have those artists who are you and people need that, the artists that you feel are really telling your story”. Last Train to Paris, the debut album by Dirty Money enjoyed worldwide success and farther catapulted Dawn. It reminded many that she was still here and only getting better.
Though she was back on the map, she felt that for many she still had no real individual identity and it was time to change that. Richard went to work on a project that would give listeners a first hand look into the heart of a woman whose real story had never been told. “Releasing the mixtape was the best thing I could have done but I was so scared. The day it came out I just shut my computer, I really didn’t want to bomb. I didn’t even know if people wanted a solo project from me and I didn’t want to force it on them”. Over a million downloads later; Dawn is moving forward with finishing her first official solo project, “Golden Heart”. And though she’s well versed in feel good, pop music, Richard is hoping the chance she’s taking with this project will be bigger that just a few well charted singles. “Literally if A Tell Tale Heart is a fall into my heart then Golden Heart is the actual putting on the armor and walking to the journey of it all”, says the petite vocalist with a look of true passion on her face.
At that moment it becomes clear why no matter what comes her way Dawn Richard simply never loses: there’s purpose behind her art. Music, for her, has always been about who and what she can change through it. No fillers, no falsehoods, just a refreshing passion for people—it’s what you always get from Dawn Richard.
photos by Ashley Nguyen
Download Dawn Richard’s mixtape A Tell Tale Heart here:
purchase Dawn’s full length story and more photos in the print December 2011 issue here:
Styled by: Deonte
MUA: Nacomi Gutierrez
Hair: Rianna Devine
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