New Orleans' singer, dancer and actress Dawn Richard, who had already released
the solo album Been a While (2005) under the name of Dawn Angelique',
joined the all-girl band Danity Kane in 2005. They released the albums
Danity Kane (2006) and
Welcome to the Dollhouse (2008)
before disbanding in 2009.
In 2009 Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper formed the duo Dirty Money
(spawned by a reality show)
and collaborated with rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs to form Diddy & Dirty Money and release the album Last Train to Paris (2010).
Danity Kane reformed (well, three fifth of it) and released DK3 (2014).
Richard launched her solo career with two EPs of smooth neosoul and, at the age of 29, the album Goldenheart (2013), with the
synth-pop ditty Riot,
followed by a series of singles
(Valkyrie, Levitate, Judith and Meteors).
It was Blackheart (2015), produced by Scott "Noisecastle III" Bruzenak
and David "Swagg R'celious" Harris, that turned her into a dance-pop star.
The album boasts sophisticated arrangements (the synth-Caribbean-pop vortex of Calypso,
the discreet marimba-like irregular pulsation of the slim, spartan Swim Free, the polyrhythms and polyvocals of Blow)
ballads in Janelle Monae's vein
(notably the somber piano ballad The Deep).
The catchy reggae-fied Castles is unusually straightforward.
The seven-minute "outerlude" Adderall/ Sold bridges bluesy melisma and muezzin invocation (as well as rock guitar and cinematic synth) in a futuristic electronic soundscape, like a neosoul version of Laurie Anderson.
But the best display of her vocal skills comes with the quasi-psychedelic Projection, a spaced-out invocation over a swampy rhythm,
followed by Phoenix, her venture into emotional Alanis Morissette-style confessional rock.
and Lady Gaga-style epic synth-pop.
After another sequence of singles
(Dance, Not Above That, Wake Up and Cali Sun),
producers Travis "Machinedrum" Stewart and Noisecastle III crafted a
bold fusion of sultry neosoul,
Abba-esque Euro-pop and electronic dance music on
which closed her "Heart Trilogy".
The songs are generally more streamlined and in a
more exuberant mood (Black Crimes), at times blatantly dancefloor-oriented (the twisted disco jam Love Under Lights), at times almost comic (Renegades, the bounciest beat).
The lugubrious distorted chamber elegy The Louvre Bjork-esque is the most daring moment, followed by
the digitally manipulated vocals of the funky Hey Nikki (a veiled tribute to Prince).
The velvet ballad Tyrants is the nadir, and half of the album is wasted time.
After the short ten-song New Breed (2019) of more conventional funk-soul, she released
the 16-song Second Line (Merge, 2021), mostly
produced by Ila Orbis (who not only created but also performed most of the music).
Here she indulges in a more
bombastic and hyperkinetic take on the same dance-pop fusion, particularly
in Bussifame (a sort of deconstructed house jam) and Jacuzzi.
The production spans a broad range of styles, from the
jazzy languor of the seven-minute Mornin / Streetlights to
Boomerang, which seems to pay tribute to Giorgio Moroder, and frequently tests the boundaries of dance music, whether
complex syncopation of Pressure or with the
complex polyphony of Perfect Storm.
Peppering the proceedings are several interludes, notably the neoclassical piano lied Le Petit Morte, and a surreal seven-minute synth-heavy outro, Selfish.
Nothing groundbreaking, but better than Redemption (2016).