Dawn Talks Standing Apart From Diddy, New Love Life & Why You Need Her Mixtape

Photography by Sarah McClogan / Styled by Ugo Mozie.

Yes, she stands next to one of the most iconic people in hip-hop. Sure, she was apart of a platinum-selling girl group that disbanded. Nevertheless, neither of these experience define Dawn Richard. Not totally. This songbird who rose from New Orleans is on the brink of the solo stardom that she’s been craving. Even though she’s currently promoting her latest music project Last Train To Paris alongside Diddy and Kaleena, she has carved out time to speak with VIBE. She’s given us a glimpse of her train ride and a peek into her tell tale heart. -Niki McGloster


You just got back from Paris Fashion Week. Tell me how that experience was.
It was amazing. I got to meet one of my favorites of all time, Karl Lagerfeld. It was the Dior Homme line, so it was the men’s collection; it was so beautiful. The fluidity, the fabrics, and we asked him why he chose such a fluid look this year, for this season and he said that his Spring collection wasn’t as fluid. To hear his ideas about what he was speaking about when he made the collection was really cool; to see it up close and personal the commentary of the person that came up with such a great line was really dope.

What was it like meeting such a fashion icon?
I study his work. I love Chanel. Chanel is one of my favorite lines. I just love what he does with the favbircs. I love how he displays it. And I whispered in his ear like, ‘My name is Dawn,’ and he was like, ‘I know who you are.’ [Laughs] I wouldn’t expect him to know me from the millions of other people who appreciate his work. And for a brown girl, a chocolate brown girl in the industry coming from New Orleans, Louisiana, that’s a big deal for me.

Are you pleased with how Last Train To Paris and Dirty Money is being received?
I’m so grateful to be in such an amazing group. To be able to write with people like Grace Jones and Justin Timberlake, Drake, Sean Garrett as a writer, James Fauntleroy as a writer, it’s really has stepped my writing game up complete, and I’m really proud of it. I was writing for Cassidy and Danity Kane and Day 26, but I really didn’t get an opportunity to show my skills because, contrary to what people may think, coming into the writing game is similar to coming into the artist game. You have to fight from the bottom up. It’s beautiful to be able to be with a group of people who appreciate that like Puff and Kaleena. I mean, it’s huge. We’re like number 3 in the UK on iTunes. We’re number 3 in Australia. We’re number 6 in Switzerland. It’s crazy; we’re overtaken internationally and I’m just so excited that the people are accepting it just as much as they’re accepting it in the states.

I have to admit that I was hesitant to take it all in, but with all late adopters, you gotta just give it to people and they’ll catch on. They’ll fight it at first, but it’ll catch on.
Trust me. I know that all too well. That’s kinda how they received me. I read a comment yesterday that someone had sent me. It was really interesting because they said, ‘Dawn doesn’t have that “it” factor; she’s not a star.’ And because my character is so out there right now, I think it’s uncomfortable for people. I think Dirty Money is the same way. I don’t think it’s bad; I just think we’re different. We’re different, and there is no poster set thing out there that can be followed. We are the new trend. Because of that, it does take time for people to digest it, so I know that all too well.

Even though it has taken a little longer for people to grasp it, do you enjoy being a trendsetter?
Yeah, sometimes. Then other times you just get over it like, gosh, I wish they would get it. Sometimes we have those chat sessions as a crew, and we just wish they would get it. We have those moments like, why don’t they understand it? But like you said, we have to let the flow happen because it does get frustrating when you look at it and you’re doing everything right and you’re singing this thing full out and I’m doing everything, and they still don’t get it. But we are so happy that people are starting to get on the train and understand what this movement is.

Puff is clearly at the helm of the project, and people may view that as a bad move if you want to be recognized individually. Do you think Dirty Money is the proper launching pad for your solo career?
There’s no right or wrong way to do what you love. Because of Puff’s past and his track record, people tend to think that I’m stupid and I don’t get what’s going on and it’s not a good look for me. I will say this: This business is extremely difficult, and you have to know who you are. The reason why I chose to stay along with Puff and Dirty Money wasn’t because I’m dumb and I’m stupid and he pulled the wool over my eyes and I don’t know that he’s using me and of this crap. I did it because I love the music. I did it because when I heard the tracks, and when Puff was like, ‘I want you to write on this. Do your thing on this. You have the opportunity to be apart of something dope,’ that’s what I wanted to be apart of. I have had the opportunity to work with people like Grace Jones, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, the name go on and on. As well as amazing producers like Swizz Beatz, Bangaladesh, Polow Da Don, Rodney Jerkins. These are names that had I said, ‘This is not a good look for me; I’ma be about myself and make this solo career,’ I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to do those things I wanted to do. That’s the choice that I made. I know very well who Puff is, and I know what this industry is. I think it’s a great platform for me because I’ve made great relationships. I’ve gotten to perform all across the world because I made the choice to be apart of Dirty Money. So, I do think it’s beneficial for me. If people don’t think I was smart in doing it, if they were in my position, they would have changed their thoughts about that. People always want to comment on things that they don’t know or things that they see from the outside, but it’s different from the inside. I think I’m doing the right thing.

The universe does its own thing anyway. If you believe that then you’re right where you’re supposed to be.
I agree. People base things on attention in this industry and star power; I base it on talent, and I base it on timing. For me, I tried to be as selfless as possible. When you tend to go for self, you’re very short-lived. I want to be in this thing for a long time. Yeah, my money and my solo career is important, but I feel like it’s about making great music and I had an opportunity that came across the table that said I could make great music. I think we as people should believe in each other, instead of saying you’re stupid; you did the wrong thing. But I think we tend to not want to do that because we always want to bash the person negatively. I think I did a great job. Now you guys aren’t wanting to talk about how Danity Kane broke up or me and my relationship; you’re asking me about the music. And that’s always what I wanted. 

I feel you. Now, it’s not just you and Puff. Kaleena is on this train too. What’s your relationship with her and how was it when you two first met?
Puff knew what he was doing. Puff has two sides to him, and I think Kaleena and I are those two sides. We are a lot like him. He was thinking about doing a group at the time, and he had no idea who he wanted to use, so he asked me to go to L.A. and meet up with Kaleena. I had no clue who she was, and I think he was worried because I just left a girl group. He was right. I wasn’t into doing another group thing, but I met her and she was exactly what I thought she was be. She’s phenomenal! How I came up into the artist world, she came up into the writing world. We teach each other a lot about each others’ fields, so I think we have the best of both world between the both of us. I’m her yin and she’s my yang, and I think her and I have a great relationship because we’re able to understand what that is. We’re able to sit in a room and be together and know that neither of the us have to be competitive because we both fill each others’ voids. Females are going through that right now with being too competitive with each other. It’s always about who can get the edge up when really there’s space for everybody. With Kaleena and I we’ve mastered that.

It seems to be a good formula. It’s very clear that females need to get back together instead of fighting each other.
And I think we’re the epitome of that. We’re two different types of swag, and I think that’s what Puff loves about us. That’s my bitch and we’ll always be able to support each other. People don’t want that. They always gotta have one less better than the other. ‘She’s dope, but she ain’t. She’s flavor, but she’s not.’ And Dirty Money is forcing people to be like, ‘Damn, I love her, but then her swag is crazy too.’ Most people say, ‘Them girls is background singers,’ but it works. We know what we’re doing. Everybody else just doesn’t know.