— ARTIST, WARRIOR
Those who possess the grit to continuously rise from the ashes and reimagine themselves, alter the world and its inhabitants in a progressive way every time they press ahead. It’s a form of ambition that is almost tribal in nature—a culture where warriors symbolize vigor and courage, while always ready to defend their way of life. Dawn Richard is a warrior. And she knows it. Fighting for her dreams in a battle that will not be lost. Armor on, her style exudes and affirms her tenacious nature. And with honor, she takes the utmost pride in her craft, whether it’s primped and pretty or messy and unpleasant. There’s a loyalty she has to herself and her art, that allows her to find and embrace the beauty on either side of the spectrum.
It’s been over a decade since Richard has hit our radars. From contending for a coveted spot in Danity Kane, to having her boss Sean “Diddy” Combs become her group member, to then being rebirth as an independent artist—Richard has forged a distinct path in the music industry. One that is very much her own. As we’ve had both front row and nose bleed access to her trajectory, we’ve witnessed Richard’s steady, raw and organic growth—that of which we don’t often see in a person of celebrity. Richard ascends, she pushes, she conquers. She lets nothing stop her. In fact, it’s largely evident that nothing will.
Having been an artist for way over a decade, in what way has music acted as a beacon of light throughout your life as you’ve journeyed?
It’s kind of been my saving grace to be perfectly honest. I’ve had an interesting journey, some people have seen some of it, others haven’t. A lot of highs and a lot of lows, and through all of that, music has been a safe haven for me many times. In a lot of situations, I was by myself. Whether I was in a group or solo setting, I didn’t have managers or a team. So a lot of the hardships I had to experience on my own and climb my way out of those things. Music has been the therapist, the therapy and the diary that has narrated my journey so far.
How do your life experiences and interests outside of music aid in coloring your work?
If my music was the actual color, all the outside things around me are the outline. I didn’t realize when I got my degree in Marine Biology and Marketing that it would help me in my independent hustle, it’s saved my life a lot of times. Or that my mom being an entrepreneur, with her own dance studio–a lot of the inventory and things that I learned in that setting would help me in the long run. One of my biggest is fashion. I went through Katrina and I had nothing. I had to go on a television show and try to compete visually. Not only sonically, but visually. So I had to learn how to figure out my clothes and how to make things work for me. Now as I look back, all of those things have outlined the color of my career.
It’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch you evolve. From Making the Band to Redemptionheart, we’ve witnessed you come into your own in a very organic way. What does your creative process look like now in comparison to very early on?
The biggest thing is that I own who I am now. Prior, so many people tell you different things, especially being a black woman that is not your conventional black. When I say that, I don’t really think there’s a conventional black, but society tends to stereotype the black woman. Chocolate wasn’t always celebrated, being black wasn’t always celebrated, and being a black girl that loved geeky shit wasn’t always celebrated. I grew up in a time where people would tell you that that’s not accepted.
A lot of times I would know who I was, but because I was told what I was, was wrong, I would question it, second guess it and I wouldn’t own it. The difference within my space now, is I own who I am. I love the creative woman that I am and the visons that I have. That has really affected me musically and in my overall approach to my entire career. It’s just a self-awareness and a self-acceptance that I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t have prior.
Is it important that your creative process changes with you?
Your creative process should be authentic and organic to you. Everyone’s going to experience their creative differently. My process was already unconventional from the beginning, coming into a pop girl group on mainstream television–which was new at that time. Reality TV was just starting out. Then being pushed into another group, I went from the mogul being my boss, to him being my group member.
You’re going to evolve. If you’re smart, you’ll reinvent yourself and find new ways as music changes, as society changes. But you’ll never lose yourself in the process. Women in particular we’re always evolving, it’s important for us to try new things, fuck it up and find the middle ground for ourselves. In the fuck up you find gems. I never was afraid to get it wrong because at least I was trying.
As an independent artist, you strongly advocate for, and extend your hand to those who are in your shoes, but don’t have as big of a platform. Why is that important to you?
I’m experiencing it. When you don’t get a blueprint, it’s quite hard to figure out how to maneuver through this shit. It’s hard to not become bitter. You’ve got to figure out how to see the system and understand it, instead of getting angry at it. The first time around when I was starting into my independence, I just didn’t understand why people didn’t give us a chance or why there weren’t enough platforms for us to really move. It was so political, and because I tasted mainstream and I knew the same people, I didn’t understand why it was different because I didn’t have a label. I thought because I knew the people and worked with them, they’d appreciate me whether I had a label or not. But that wasn’t the case.
The truth is, if you don’t have leverage, you can’t really move in this business. Rather than being upset about it, I decided to make opportunities for myself, regardless of if they would give them to me or not. And what I promised myself was, once I got in a space where I could understand it I changed it. So now that I’ve been in it for a while, I want to create more opportunities. I want to lift the people up who don’t have anything.
Is that where your hashtag #indiebutmajor came from?
That’s exactly where it came from. Rather than say all the reasons why this industry doesn’t work, I’ll be one of the reasons why it does.
One thing that’s for sure, is as life goes on, we sometimes realize that we’re all still “figuring this out.” How have you embraced that notion?
I choose to be fearless in things. And I don’t mean not have fear, I’m totally petrified of the risks I take. I just choose to overcome and try. When you have nothing to lose, it’s easier to let go and do it. I’ve had the opportunity to see what it means when everyone is on your side, and what it means when no one is there for you.
It’s something beautiful when you figure it out for yourself, because then you realize that you don’t need as many things to get to the same place everyone else is. It’s great to you know can create the palace you want for yourself. It will take longer. It will be harder. Some days you’ll want to quit. Most days you’ll want to quit. But that shit just feels sweeter, and no one can take that from you. That’s what’s powerful about the #indiebutmajor movement, even though you have less, it doesn’t mean your worth is any less.
Think about the first time you had a "dream" until now. I'm sure your life path has changed and gone in directions that you couldn't have imagined, in both good and bad ways. With this happening, how have you not allowed your circumstances to alter your dreams or make you forget about them?
I really believe you are not your circumstances. You can remember and understand where you come from, but you can evolve. Any of the things I’ve gone through have been beautiful motivators for me to continue to move forward.
What's your biggest piece of advice to anyone on their life and dream path?
I hate advice because people tend to take it as a curator for their lives. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re all just winging it. What I will say is, trust who you are and trust the choices that you make. Know that if you fuck up the choice, it’s okay to get things wrong. No one has the true blueprint. You can’t look to someone else’s life as the sure way you’ll get there. Keep eyes on your journey, even though it may be imperfect. Trust in yourself. If you trust in yourself, even if you fall you’ll know that there’s room to get up. It’s okay to not have it all together. People are so afraid of mess. You find so much fucking greatness in mess, in junk, in dirt.
What is the most significant thing about your still evolving story that you want people to know?
I’m not that interesting. We both laugh. I’m just a regular girl that has really big dreams, with really little pockets. That’s the truth. And because of that, I figure out how to make my dream from sticks. I build the world that I want.
How do you DREAM IN HD?
I don’t DREAM IN HD, I dream in virtual reality and that’s the problem. My shit is beyond HD.
Dawn says this with a light and excitement in her voice that proved just that.