Dawn Richard: From artist to advocate with Hip Hop Caucus

How New Orleans native Dawn Richard went from founding chart-topping Danity Kane to helping more Black creatives with Hip Hop Caucus

From left, Tanerélle, Dawn Richard and SAMOHT

New Orleans native Dawn Richard burst into the world of pop culture in 2004 as a member of Danity Kane. After the group’s hiatus, Richard returned with Diddy-Dirty Money to release cult R&B classic Last Train to Paris. But it was her solo career spanning six critically acclaimed albums that transcend gender and genre that fully captures the varying talents Richard possesses. Beyond the music, Richard has become a staple for innovation by creating opportunities for Black people in areas from creative to philanthropic spaces. Richard helms the mantle as a creative consultant with Adult Swim, providing opportunities for fellow Black animators. As a business owner of the vegan food truck Papa Ted’s, creative consultant, and educator, Richard has held a residency at NYU and is now working with Hip Hop Caucus as Artist Relations Director.

Hip Hop Caucus encourages young people to participate in the democratic process by leveraging hip hop culture. Richard was inspired by the work of the organization’s president and CEO, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., in founding the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign, a coalition of national and grassroots organizations formed to advocate for Hurricane Katrina survivors in 2005.

Since joining Hip Hop Caucus, Richard has helped produce The Basement Series, an intimate new series that brings creatives together to discuss community and culture. The showcase also includes a sit-down conversation with an artist around relevant advocacy issues. The first installment of The Basement Series was held on December 8, 2022, in Los Angeles.

From left, Dawn Richard, R&B artist Samuel Green, and filmmaker dream hampton

“The first one was magnificent. It was a trial to see if we could do it, and we had [amazing people] like dream hampton, who is [an] incredible filmmaker, especially in the docu-style. To put her on stage with a new up-and-coming artist like Samuel Green and show that those two people can share a stage and talk art. That’s what The Basement Series is,” Richard says of the initiative.

The inaugural The Basement Series featured performances from independent artists SAMOHT and Tanerélle. SAMOHT is also a 2023 Grammy nominee with PJ Morton for Best Gospel Performance/Song for “The Better Benediction.”

Audience at The Basement Series on December 8, 2022

Richard and Hip Hop Caucus are bringing The Basement Series back with a Grammys edition on February 2, ahead of the 2023 awards ceremony. This installment will feature India Shawn, Kia Harper, and Saint Elgin performances, with house DJ Amorphous providing the vibes. It will also include a Sofa Session and performance with businesswoman, actress, and transgender rights advocate Angelica Ross, moderated by Richard.

Reckon recently spoke with Dawn Richard about her journey from musician to philanthropic advocate with Hip Hop Caucus and more.

Q: Looking back, how would you describe your journey thus far as a multihyphenate?

Dawn Richard: Still evolving. I think my story is so unconventional. My journey is not remotely close to a normal artist’s journey within the industry. I’m constantly [changing] the concept of what a Black artist specifically is in an industry that, oftentimes, is not built for us.

Q: What’s your driving motivation each day to keep this journey going from being an artist to doing advocacy work for other artists?

Dawn Richard: [B]eing able to collaborate with Hip Hop Caucus and creating something like The Basement Series, working with Adult Swim, and becoming a creative director to bring [opportunities to] Black animators. Doing those things keeps me moving because it shows me that, though I didn’t have the space, I have an opportunity to create it for someone else, [which] means something to me. I like the concept of someone not struggling how I did. Those rewards keep me moving and wanting to create more moments like this.

Q: As a fellow Louisiana Creole, how do your roots and foundation show up in the work you do each day?

Dawn Richard: My culture is everything. New Orleans is in literally the clothes I wear, the speech, the intention is powerful, and if you know my journey and my story, you know that to be true. The reason I am working with Hip Hop Caucus is a very New Orleans mentality. We’re not having a good time unless everyone is. I genuinely want to help. I genuinely want to dance. I don’t want to dance alone. That’s real to me. The party has to have multiple people thriving, which speaks specifically to Creole and Cajun culture.

Q: Now that you’ve started a new chapter as artist relations director of Hip Hop Caucus, what does this role entail, and what do you hope to achieve?

Dawn Richard: People tell you, you’re a musician, that you have to have this [specific] story. You are supposed to make it massive, have a clothing line and a fragrance, and continue to be on stages, which is equivalent to success. What happens if your label doesn’t believe in you? What happens when you do everything right, but [aren’t] built for that journey? Do you give up, or do you create something for yourself to make it work? My choice was the latter. I can still be a successful [musician] but also work in a corporate and philanthropic [capacity] and bring the avenues of what I learned as a musician into this space.

Taking on a role like Hip Hop Caucus was a no-brainer for me because I went through Katrina; I lost everything. Hip Hop Caucus is an organization that works specifically with environmental justice, which is something I went through. So, it was a no-brainer to say, “How do I bring artists and music into a philanthropic world and do good?”

Q: Tell me about the first Basement Series. What led to creating this initiative?

Dawn Richard: We have a cool organization, again, talking about collaboration. We have a great staff. When I first came on, Calvin Spann, who works in events and promotion, said, “I think we should do a concert series.” I was like, “That’s a really big feat. Let’s see how we can facilitate that,” and then we came up with this very intimate concept of bringing people to office space, but we didn’t want to copy Tiny Desk because they have their own thing and it’s very much their vibe. We wanted to create something culturally that was ours for BIPOC people and LGBTQIA+ people.

One of my favorite things was Wayne’s World growing up, and I was like, “It would be cool if we could create a Black version of Wayne’s World where it’s just like a sofa. We bring people in and we just talk art.” That’s where that came from, so the name of The Basement Series came to be. Instead of making it this big grand thing about money and [grand] productions, we made it a safe space for us to talk about policy, culture, and lifestyle, with a few performances, but real lowkey.

The Reckon Report.
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