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DAWN - new breed Music Album Reviews

Moving in a more traditional R&B direction, new breed is a richly detailed, self-confident, yet somewhat uneven album that attempts to weave together disparate elements of Richard’s personality.

Dawn Richard has a sumptuous rasp of a voice and brazenly left-field musical instincts. She pulled from club, R&B, and electronica to craft a propulsive, expressive trilogy of sleek, dance-floor-ready albums that felt like the kind of accomplished artistic statement that the erstwhile Danity Kane and Dirty Money member had been working toward for years. For her latest release, new breed, Richard attempts to synthesize the pleasures of her past music while moving in a more traditional R&B direction. Where 2016’s Redemption elegantly closed out a narrative of overcoming both the music industry and romantic hardships, new breed digs into Richard’s formative years growing up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward and how they have fortified her character. The result is a richly detailed, self-confident, yet somewhat uneven album that attempts to weave together disparate elements of Richard’s personality.

new breed’s cultural and historical bent adds a welcome new fold to Richard’s music. Threaded through with clips of spoken word from elders of the Washitaw Nation, a black tribe linked to the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, the album feels instantly lived-in, communal. Richard moved back to NOLA to regroup following an extensive tour behind Redemption, and here she makes strides to honor the ways in which her hometown have shaped her. She sports a hand-sewn headpiece made by Washitaw figurehead Chief Montana on the album’s cover, and on the sparse, airy intro, shoots off references to eating crawfish on Jonlee Drive and throwing beads at rude revelers during parade season. The effect is illuminating, offering up a specific, fleshed-out portrait of Richard as a person and an artist. “She just a girl from the Nine,” she makes clear over a chorus of her own soaring, multi-tracked backing vocals. “She just a king from the Nine.”

That sense of self-assurance is pervasive on new breed. “They ain’t no bitches, ain’t no queens/I’m the motherfucking king, yeah,” she spits on the title track over charging synth lines and martial programmed drums. She even cuts in a bite-sized clip from an iconic Grace Jones interview, further giving a sense of cultural context to the record. Richard’s strong sense of purpose is more deliberate on the two-part centerpiece “vultures | wolves,” when she renders her plaints against soulless music industry types: “Those packs of wolves/With suits and deeds/Tempting the girls with pretty things/Just to share them piece by piece.” Richard’s delivery is affecting, her voice both forthright and honeyed, and the imagery is haunting and timely in a way she hasn’t explored before.

When Richard recasts R&B in her own image, new breed truly excels. Her noted devotion to Prince’s wanton spirit manifests here on the smooth, sex-obsessed “sauce,” on which she adopts an appealingly louche rap flow: “I just cleaned the spot and put on your favorite panties/The ones you say look like Diamond’s from Player’s Club, I’m wylin’.” The similarly woozy, dub-inflected highlight “jealousy” finds Richard taking vindictive to a whole other level. “I know you feel you have a right to text him,” she chastises her partner’s far-too-present ex, “You don’t.” The song’s waterlogged bassline and glitchy production furnish a smoky, laid-back atmosphere for Richard to seethe.

Richard’s dusky voice is a soothing conduit for slower tempos, too, but the ones on new breed’s end up more stilted than usual. “we, diamonds” is a melismatic victory lap that is hamstrung by dated references to Bobby Boucher (?) and Tony Hawk (?!) in its opening verse. Even “jealousy,” with its Instagram-centered lyrics, falls into similar lyrical potholes. Richard is speaking her truth here, but the way she phrases them and the speed with which she moves from one topic to the next don’t always allow new breed’s themes—romantic jealousy, sexual autonomy, triumphing over industry setbacks as a black woman, the vibrant historical tapestry of New Orleans—to completely jell and flourish. As a sincere love letter to NOLA, new breed certainly succeeds. But as a further example of the kind of musically adventurous statement that Richard has already proven she’s capable of, it falls just shy.

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