Dawn Richard wants Black women to break more barriers in different music genres
For Women’s History Month, Dawn Richard spoke to REVOLT about women in music, Black women in the electropop space, and more. Read here!
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We were first introduced to Dawn Richard on Diddy’s “Making The Band” and one-fifth of the pop girl group Danity Kane, who released hits such as “Show Stopper,” “Bad Girl,” and “Damaged,” made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the first girl group in Billboard’s history to have their first and second albums debut at the top spot. Since their official split announcement in 2014, members have branched off with their own brands, including Richard who has created her own imprint in the space of electropop and Afrofuturism space as a Black woman.
The New Orleans native and former Diddy – Dirty Money member officially signed to Merge Records and is set to release a full-length studio album this year. “I set out a long time ago to create a lane where genre was optional. Where a Black woman could thrive in electropop and Afrofuturism unapologetically. This record has been such a cathartic experience. To create an immersive story highlighting New Orleans culture through a futuristic lens has just been… a wild-ass ride,” she told REVOLT. “I’m stoked to take the wild ride with Merge, and hopefully the world wants to jump on, too. I plan to reshape the way people see and hear New Orleans. Hope you ready!”
REVOLT chopped it up with the recording artist about Black and female representation in the electropop space, her hopes of Black women being able to take over more genres than hip hop and R&B, and the significance of collaboration with other Black female artists. Check out our conversation below!
What’s the importance of Women’s History Month to you?
Beyond race, as women, we are still fighting for presence within the working space, cultural spaces, and Breonna Taylor within herself and the young women who have all not been respected in the same way a man has been respected in the sense of getting justice. We are a younger demographic of people who are still fighting for our rights daily.
When I think of months, it’s just a cliche because the information in these months should be year-round. Black history [shouldn’t] be just a month — it should be constant education. I feel the same way about women. We are fighting for our voices more than ever now. I love how beautifully we are coming together to do that and I hope that we continue to not shed light this month, but throughout the year. Within my daily life, I’m constantly fighting as a woman to create more spaces for us and if that’s a constant battle for me, I can imagine that it’s for my counterparts, as well.
As an artist, how have you seen the treatment of women, specifically Black women, in the music industry change?
Change is slow, but it is there. I can only speak to my journey, but I’ve always tried to sit in a different lane musically. I’ve always done the unconventional like being in a pop girl group that was predominantly white on a Black label. We were on a hip hop label, but we were a predominantly white girl group, so that in itself was something extremely unconventional and we were trying to push ourselves to the max. In a predominantly male driven industry, that was a struggle. On top of that, being a brown girl within a predominantly white girl group was a difficult aesthetic because most of the time when you are a Black girl surrounded by a white girl group, you’re 9 times out of 10 being told you’re ugly, you’re not good enough, your weight and your skin color is always a factor. You get a lot of negative energy from all sides.
When I decided to do the underground route while being an independent artist, I chose to go into more of an electropop feel. What I realized is that being a brown woman creating a lane for yourself in a different genre has been extremely difficult. I’ve constantly been told if I’m not doing R&B and hip hop then I’m alternative R&B. I know a lot of women of color in the industry can relate to that because if they’re not doing anything that’s sonically close to hip hop or R&B, we don’t get an opportunity to sit in the same rooms or places as everyone else. It’s very hard to be a brown girl and be looked at as a pop star, an electro star, a country artist, a folk rock star or a punk rock star. With this album and what I’ve been fighting for the last 15 years in my career, it’s been for the brown woman to be appreciated in multiple genres and be versatile.
One of the people who I grew up as a peer with, Lady Gaga, is able to, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch, shift through genres quite seamlessly. She was able to win, for the first time ever, an AMA award in the electronic category, which is the first woman to ever do it, which means that this entire time the American Music Awards has existed, we have not had a female win it. Lady Gaga was able to do that and I also look at my female Black artists and every time they put out an album — Rihanna, Beyonce, Janelle Monae or myself — it’s all considered R&B. I’m fighting daily with the hope of an opportunity that we will be able to move as seamlessly as pop star counterparts or our peers who are not Black are moving in.
How would you describe your evolution as an artist throughout the years?
I think I’ve been trying to push Afrofuturism in the most beautiful way — in the most New Orleans way. I’m still a girl from the boot and that is not a typical story of a girl from the south wanting to delve into electronic pop and dance culture, but it is something I’ve always wanted to do. The evolution of me musically has been me constantly trying to break the ceiling of that. In every move that I made, it was purposeful by doing collaborations with Adult Swim and doing VR visuals five or six years ago when I was trying to show that Black artists can be in the space of virtual reality — even from the beginning of joining a pop girl group or even Diddy – Dirty Money where two chocolatey girls were standing next to a Black man and we were pushing Black excellence and brown girls. That visual, that look and that sound kind of went over everyone’s head. Musically, I try to push the boundaries and the genres of what a Black artist looks like, the way they move and we don’t have to be the traditional Black girl with the sound, look or label that the industry gives you. I’ve wanted to be fearless in that and I hope people realized what I was trying to do with each album, each era. I want to be an artist that pushes the possibilities.
How would you sum up your experience as a female artist in the predominately white electropop space, and how can they do better?
We just have to be at the table. I don’t want to knock anybody’s journey, I think all artists belong and I don’t think that one is better than the other. I just think we have to make sure we’re inclusive. What I’ve noticed is there’s an uprising in film – independent and regular films – and there was a fight when the #MeToo movement happened. There was an uprising of women speaking out and fighting for something, and when I looked at my counterparts in music, what I saw was that we didn’t have the same uprising.
When I look at my musical peers, we didn’t have the same impact in our industry. We didn’t have those voices being respected or heard… Until we start giving women more seats at this table, it’ll continuously be that. I’m very introverted and I don’t like to make a lot of noise if it’s not in the art, but I have to be more purposeful in that. I want to be able to say that we need to be given an opportunity to sit in these meetings and in these spaces. We don’t have a lot of women in any award show categories of electronic or dance [and] Black women aren’t even showing up on those nominations – and that’s because we’re not at that table.
You’ve also collaborated with Coco and Breezy, who are huge in the fashion and music space. What’s the importance of collaborating with other talented Black female artists?
I applaud you for knowing. It’s nice to speak to a Black woman, speak on these things and you’re just aware of it. I’ve known Coco and Breezy since they were 18. I remember when we were all in New York, I was trying out for “Making The Band,” they were just moving to New York, living in a little shoebox apartment and they had all these dreams. I just knew we were gonna have a beautiful friendship. It’s been 12 or something years since I’ve known them and it was a no brainer to work with them. I’m so proud of them and it was such an easy collaboration. More of it needs to happen. One of the things I remember about being with women, a lot of times when men are the driving force or heads of whatever women are surrounded by, it’s so easy to pit us against each other.
Being in groups, one thing I learned was that it was the precipice of us. What girl could outdo the other? I don’t mind competition, but there has to be a level of love within us understanding that we have to climb together rather than against each other. The industry has been really good at pitting women against each other and right now collaborations, especially in the electropop world, is going to be imperative for us to really move. It’s beyond the artist – we’re not celebrating Black female DJs or Black female producers. There’s something beautiful that we all need to start pushing a little bit more because there are a lot of Black female producers that are so good and we’re dropping the ball because we’re not even acknowledging their presence.