- Confident contemporary pop inspired by the artist's Louisiana roots.
- "I don't think people really know who I am because I didn't get a chance to show it [after] Hurricane Katrina," Dawn Richard, AKA DAWN, told Billboard last year. It's only recently that the American artist has explored her Louisiana roots. She's spent most of her solo career inhabiting less earthly realms, from the epic fantasy tropes of Goldenheart to the sci-fi tinge of later work. ("They were like, 'Dawn's always talking about space and shit we don't even understand," she told me about her fanbase in 2017.) Richard's latest album, New Breed, completes a shift that began with the Machinedrum-assisted Redemption. It's a record that's looks both inward and forward, infusing Richard's out-there style with elements from funk, soul and hip-hop for her most direct and powerful LP yet.
Most of Richard's art has been presented in terms of struggle: against a music industry that didn't want her to succeed, fans of her previous group Danity Kane who didn't understand her music, and fairweather mainstream interest that only seems to care when there's tabloid drama. She built her own narrative, framing each of her three solo albums as distinctive eras in her career, culminating in the happy ending of Redemption. New Breed, then, is a reboot. Untethered to a concept, the album is simply a set of ripping funk jams and heartfelt ballads with a futuristic sound. One of the album's biggest triumphs, "Jealousy," is a milestone because of its simplicity. Where past romantic lyrics were couched in metaphors or characters, "Jealousy," in which she considers an Instagram post addressed to a lover's ex-partner, is Richard unguarded.
Even when she's singing about her troubles, Richard is newly content. Her heart might be in New Orleans, but she still lives in Los Angeles and sounds at peace with that. On the funky highlight "Dreams And Converse," she sings about "cruising down the Palisades," living "flagrant" and "reckless." She references driving through Downtown Los Angeles on another spry cut, "Shades," where a pitched-down Richard rides the bumpy, thrusting beat almost like a rapper. On "Shades" and the title track, she underlines her R&B and hip-hop bonafides and contrasts them with the cosmic production flourishes that set her work apart. ("New Breed" itself begins with a starry synth figure that sounds like it came off an Emeralds record.)
But New Breed is hardly a lighthearted affair. The terse and nervy "Spaces" starts with a serious monologue: "I had so many men in power telling me I was too brave, too confident, too black, too ugly, too thin. That girl believed 'em, but deep inside, the girl from the nine said fuck them." On the first half of "Vultures | Wolves," Richard sings frankly about her inability to commit. In the second, some of her old dramatizing habits come back. Her past faults become "vultures" and the music industry people who tried to derail her career are "wolves." On the next track, the piano ballad "We, Diamonds," she's a dazzling gem in spite of the damage she's suffered and the self-loathing she fights.
"We, Diamonds"'s bluesy piano figure is one of the gentle ways her New Orleans roots grow into the electronic foundations of her solo work. The approach is representative of what Richard has referred to as the "new New Orleans," part of a post-Katrina revival of the city's musical legacy—both Drake and Beyoncé have made overtures towards bounce music, and the city has returned to its former glory as a party destination.
But rather than relying on obvious references to New Orleans' music past, Richard prefers to forge on with her own sound. She produced New Breed with Hudson Mohawke, Kaveh Rastegar and Cole M.G.N., all of whom help with the album's glossy but unobtrusive sheen. It sounds contemporary and creative, lush without being overproduced, but nowhere could you pick out the fingerprints of, say, Hudson Mohawke. It's all Richard, sounding tighter, stronger and more assured than ever.
On the cover of New Breed, Richard wears shiny silver clothing with a headdress that hints at her Washitaw Nation heritage. There's a twist: it's a chief headdress, a position traditionally available only to men. "It feels natural because I feel women can be kings," she has said. "I've always seen it that way." It's a traditional idea with a futuristic and feminist bent, a mix of the rootsy and the sci-fi. It's a compelling visual cue for the ideas that make New Breed so stunning.
01. The Nine (Intro)
02. New Breed
04. Dreams And Converse
08. Vultures | Wolves
09. We, Diamonds
10. Ketchup And Po Boys (Outro)