DAWN, aka Dawn Richards, was to girl-group Danity Kane as Beyonce was to Destiny’s Child—it’s surprising then, that DAWN has never reached the massive popularity of the latter. new breed (out January 25th ) is DAWN’s fifth solo album, and while it sonically nestles somewhere into the eclectic R&B of her previous trilogy of albums (spanning 2013-2016) specifically, it does feel like something of a thematic soft- reboot, or clarification, of her purpose. And considering that DAWN herself co-produced a majority of the ten tracks here, it does feel more focused and personal than her previous work.
DAWN’s vocals on new breed lean towards silky and soulful, though often understated. Rather than rely on the power of her voice during emotional climaxes, she often just overlays her own voice into a supporting choir, with the standout exceptions of her performances on “spaces” and the former half of “vultures | wolves” particularly. Overall the production is edgy, biting, mixed with concurrently funky guitar riffs
(“dreams and converse”, “shades”) and spacy electronica (“new breed”, “sauce”). There’s a lot of proud black influence (rapped vocals, soul samples, gospel piano), without ever cluttering the surprisingly stripped down production. But perhaps the understatedness of the overall sound disarms a few potential bangers.
More interesting than the production is DAWN herself—her lyrics and storytelling here is cemented together with concrete images of her childhood in New Orleans (pairing nicely with the clear influences and vinyl crispiness filtered through the album). “new breed” refers to the unlabeled women of today and tomorrow: women as “lions” (an image from her older work) and “kings”, “They ain’t no bitches, ain’t no queens”. More interesting than the fierce “I” is the ever-shifting “you” Dawn sings to—the proclaimed ‘new breed’ she intends to lead, ex-girlfriends of current lovers (“jealousy” goes on the offensive with secure attitude), and lovers lost, lovers out-of- reach, and lovers beneath her heel. There’s never a lovesongy feeling, but rather, a display of DAWN as a strong woman who ignores any spots on her. Tribal chant-touches and samples, as well as the album’s cover, remind the listener of her ties to the Washitaw Nation Tribe, who voice their support for her in the last moments of the album, directly after her open letter to listeners to essentially take her or leave her: “You need to brighten your range son / You need to catch this vision”, “It’s yours if you want / A bitch so boss.” (“ketchup and po’ boys”).
The reason I compared DAWN to Beyonce earlier is that fact that, with new breed, she seems to be throwing a hail mary for that “goddess” position, displaying herself and her history as honestly as she can. And while her message can be at times inconsistent (reflecting the danger of modern semantics), this manifesto of the ‘newmbreed’ of people seems anti-label, or rather, pro-self, factoring in DAWN as a Washitaw, a black woman, a lover, and an individual. Standout tracks are “spaces” and “vultures | wolves”.
review by Matthew Wardell