The member of P. Diddy's girl group weathered their breakup, a stalled solo career, and a family crisis. Now she's launching herself into the future with a revolutionary new album
Credit: Brandon Hicks

After Danity Kane, the girl group mentored by P. Diddy and featured on the MTV reality show Making the Band, split up for the first time in 2009, singer Dawn Richard thought she’d hit rock bottom: She was exhaustively pitching herself as a solo artist to major labels, only to constantly face rejection. “That was really hard for me,” she says. “For the first time ever, I was doing what I wanted to do, and it wasn’t being accepted.”

Hope seemed to emerge four years later. After Richard self-released her solo debut, Goldenheart, Danity Kane re-formed to record an album. But that reunion ended when Richard had a falling-out with members Aubrey O’Day and Shannon Bex. Soon after, Richard learned that her father had been diagnosed with lymphoma. (It has since gone into remission.) “I had no idea that what I thought was my low wasn’t really my low,” the 33-year-old recalls now with a laugh. “That’s what a lot of people think, then life reminds them, ‘No, there’s lower.'”

With her stellar new album, Redemption, Richard, who records under the moniker D∆WN, has risen from those depths with a forward-thinking collection of space-age pop. Blending R&B grooves with skittering electronica, it’s the third part in a series dubbed the Heart trilogy; while the first two installments, released in 2013 and 2015, were commercial disappointments, Redemption is by far her best and most visionary effort yet. “I arrived like any other woman who has been through s—. I’m at a place now where instead of being bitter about [my past], I confront it and realize it’s created a woman that I’m proud to be. I wanted to celebrate that journey.”

The experimental vibe on Redemption isn’t the only thing that’s progressive. The album is available on a USB necklace loaded with a virtual-reality experience; the content takes users on a trippy jaunt through space (see video embed below). Richard says she feels like technology has finally caught up to her ambitions. “I think I was a little bit ahead [of the times],” she says. “VR shows where we were going with what we were doing with plug-ins and layering.”

While Redemption is thoroughly modern, Richard was inspired by her past—most notably her hometown of New Orleans, where she was raised by her mother, a dance instructor, and her father, a musician. For Redemption, she tapped local artists like PJ Morton and Trombone Shorty to re-create the live energy of the Big Easy’s famed funeral processions, known as second line parades. “What a second line really means is to dance [when you’re at] your worst. There’s a sense that [someone] is going to a better place. I’m not saying this is the death of myself or my career, but a homecoming.”

Richard hopes her challenges provide comfort to others, and that the trio of albums will be like a sonic balm. She says, “It’s supposed to heal you.”

To read more on Dawn Richard, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now – and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.