Diddy ex-affiliate Dawn Richard's fantastic full-length debut, Goldenheart, follows in the unheralded tradition of black musicians drawing emotional power from Tolkien tropes.
Here's a pop quiz. A new album is named for an alternate-universe version of a late-medieval king, and the lyrics throughout evoke imagery of quests, queens, giants, armies, battles, miraculous events, and (in one song) spaceships. The lyric sheet is printed in a pastiche medieval font, and the video for the lead single finds the singer wandering a forest in chainmail, encountering sirens, and defeating a mysterious foe by feats of arms. The final song on the album is built on a famous piece of classical music. What genre are we talking about?
If you answered prog rock or metal, you'd have a whole lot of precedent on your side. But the answer is R&B.
By the quick-moving standards of contemporary pop, Dawn Richard is a music-industry veteran. Born and raised in New Orleans, she first came to major-label attention as a member of Danity Kane, the R&B girl group formed on MTV's Making the Band in 2005. Signed to the Bad Boy label run by Sean "Diddy" Combs on the strength of their lush harmonies, Danity Kane had a few minor hits and then disbanded in 2008. But Richard kept going as one-third of Diddy-Dirty Money, a progressive R&B/rap trio with the label honcho at the fore, which produced one outstanding and underappreciated full-length (2010's Last Train to Paris), then too disbanded. Freed from her Bad Boy contract because she was unwilling to wait around for Diddy's release schedule, she's been releasing a steady stream of music since, including a mixtape named after an Edgar Allen Poe short story (2011's The Prelude to a Tell Tale Heart) and an EP (2012's Armor On) that was better-sequenced, more sonically varied, and of greater emotional weight than most albums.