R&B singer Dawn Richard, who performed at the Howard Theatre last night, could have ended up as just a footnote or trivia contest stumper. She was a member of girl group Danity Kane, the P. Diddy-formed girl group on MTV’s Making the Band. After Diddy dissolved that outfit, Richard became a member of Diddydirtymoney,whose Last Train to Paris album received some critical acclaim but failed to sell like Puff efforts of yore. After Diddy gave up on Dirty Money as well, Richard began releasing solo material, including her 2011 mixtape, The Prelude to a Tell-Tale Heart.
While those efforts reached fanatics, her recent thirty-six minute EP Armor On has climbed the R&B charts and attracted critical attention from the likes of Pitchfork and the Village Voice. Richard's vocals are smooth and soulful, while the beats, straddling R&B and dance-club, come largely from producer Druski. On “Black Lipstick,” he brings synth washes and rhythms that skitter and change speeds, while Richard’s voice seems to sing a duet with itself. “Bombs” is more boldly hip-hop, while “Change” showcases Richard’s yearning voice over a sea of synths and marching-band percussion. "Faith," the one song not produced by Druski, is a Rick Rude production that sounds like the shiny disco club beats Calvin Harris created for Rihanna on "We Found Love." Throughout, Richard sings lyrics she penned with songwriter Carla Carter largely about protecting oneself while seeking to find and maintain love. Other songs offer clever hiphop-inspired braggadocio. Where Richard's career goes from here remains to be seen. While some r'n'b singers have gained pop and critical acclaim, many are just known by followers of the genre. Via email, she answered some questions about her current project:
Steve: How long did it take to record Armor On?
Dawn Richard: It took two months. The actual album [Goldenheart, scheduled for a fall release] was already recorded and we wanted to make sure people could digest the sound so we chose to make Armor On the appetizer.
Steve: How did you end up working with producer Druski?
Dawn: I met him through a mutual friend at a writing session and the rest was history. We hit it off immediately. He understood where I wanted to go musically and I understood where he wanted to go sonically. Neither of us understood boundaries.
Steve: How did you come to write songs with Carla Carter or to sing her songs?
I met Carla through Druski. They were a team prior to me. I kind of fought my way in their circle..lol. I fell in love instantly with her lyrics. She and I write from the same soul.
Steve: Would you say any of the songs have a bit of flavor from your hometown New Orleans? How so?
All the songs do. It's the cadence in the melody. I tend to lay in the track, and the drum leads the story in each song. It's very reminiscent of New Orleans.
Steve: Will you have a band at the Howard Theatre show or will you be singing with prerecorded tracks ?
Yes I almost always use a band. I love the live band feel. It reminds me of home where all the clubs have live bands. It brings a fuller sound that I find addicting.
Steve: Do you like what autotune adds to your vocals?
I like the color it adds when I use it. It's more of an accessory. It's not needed all the time, it just adds a flavor.