Mini album review: Dawn Richard - Armor on

Dawn Richard - Armor on | Mini album review

After a stint in a girl group and a short lived gig as Puff Daddy's sideline ho, Dawn Richard is doing the solo thing. It's been a long time coming. Needless to say she was a favourite of Diddy's. Getting a second shot after Danity Kane, staying on the Bad boy payroll to do nothing but pose beside him in cheap wigs. But despite Dawn staying on the R&B / Pop radar in some capacity, we never truly got a sense of who exactly Dawn was. If she was to go solo what type of music would she do? Does she even have what it takes to stay afloat as a solo artist. All questions are answered with her debut solo EP Armor on, which see's Dawn take centre stage.

Dawn made many bold promises and stated that this album of hers would take R&B to all kinds of new levels and sound unlike anything else anybody in the solar system and the Mushroom kingdom has ever heard. A bitch lied. But we won't hold it against her. For her to say 'My album sounds like Brandy and Kanye West' may not be the best billboard synopsis to sell an album, although the prospect of a such a sound in itself does sound enticing. And this is pretty much what Armor on sounds like. Brandy and 808s & heartbreaks.

The main problem with Armor on is that despite it being a chance for Dawn to shine as a solo act and show the world who Dawn is, Dawn never truly comes through. If Dawn isn't being smothered by vocals layers, then she's being domestically abused by taiko drums and cowbells.

Album opener "Black lipstick" sounds like some B-side left over from the Blade runner soundtrack. This is selling the song better than it actually is. "Black lipstick" stinks so bad of 80's Sci-fi flick that you'd swear somebody yanked the track from a Highlander VHS cassette and fed it to you in your sleep. Ominous drum lines, syncopated synths and square waves give this song a brilliantly retro feel. But then it happens. Dawn starts singing and you're not sure what's happening. Dawn is singing about something which is difficult to make sense of. Not just because she's singing about what is seemingly nonsense, but because everything around her vocals is more audible than she is. It's a shame, because with a stronger vocal rhythmic pattern and less ambiguous lyrics which are easier to make sense of, "Black lipstick" could have been something pretty amazing. As it stands, it's still a great song. But being truly able to make sense of it all will prevent you from truly connecting with it. Though on the flip side, you could equally be lulled into the hypnotic vibe of the song and continually listen to it until it all clicks.

Dawn sets the clubs in her sights with "Automatic" and "Bombs". "Bombs" is a banger, with a beat which refuses to quit and a bassline which will set a speaker ablaze if tested. But the song suffers in the same way in which "Black lipstick" does. Lyrically the song is easier to make sense of. 'I'm a bad bitch, n***a watch yo'self' and repeat. But the dreaded vocal layering, coupled with a monstrous set of drums once again create a sense of disconnect. "Automatic" is just a mess. The beat goes hard, but Dawn is just rambling throughout the whole song. The chorus is pretty much just 'Automatic, Automatic [words, words, words] Automatic n***a [words] Automatic'. Even by ghetto trash standards this shit is just bad.

"Change" is the first song on the album which is easy to digest and dials back on just about EVERYTHING to enable you to latch onto the song, make sense of it and allow yourself to connect with it. Lyrics lament over a lack of consideration for a lover and Dawn's promise to do better and let her man know how much he means to her. Dawn's vocals are soft and meaningful and the tribal percussion's and 808's delivery a musical backdrop which plays at the pace and thump of a quickened heartbeat and makes you want to dance. For me, this is the albums' best song. This shit takes you back to basics and then drags you by your ankle like Kunta Kinte to Africa. Brilliant song. This is followed by "Heaven" which treads in the same footprints as "Change", albeit with a middle eastern lean and an orchestral sweep.

If Dawn is after a shot at a chart hit, then she may have one in "Faith". The song starts off with a house piano piano riff and funky house percussion's and then ends on a complete high of euphoric rave. It's like "Change" on acid. Comparisons may be drawn to Rihanna as it feels like the kind of song you'd expect from her and sounds like an amalgamation of songs she's done. But it never feels like a rip off because Dawn sets the tone for this song with all which comes before. This may be the song which divides the 'hearts' as they're torn between Dawn hopping on a bandwagon, yet still staying true to her sonical vision. But simply "Faith" is a cracking song. And it's a shame Dawn released a video (and a great one at that) when her full length LP is on the even of releasing.

Armor on's consistency is what makes it such a tight little LP. Produced in its near entirety by Druski and an over arcing aural theme of tribal, apocalyptic beats; it's a neat little package. Dawn clearly has a message and a lot to say, but much of it gets lost in the vocal arrangements. Brandy is a clear influence in terms of how Dawn layers her vocals and harmonizes. But it comes at the sacrifice of vocal clarity. Between Druski's relentless production and Dawn's layered vocals, you sometimes have a hard time catching what she's saying or latching onto the rhythmic pattern of the songs. As the EP works its way through, the songs become a bit easier to digest. But at the start you feel as though you're just listening to noise with somebody trying to sing over it. It becomes easier to decipher the more you listen to it. But on a first listen, many of these songs do not feel immediately accessible.

Dawn's vocals are what mar many of the tracks for me. The Brandy stan in me is mad that she pretty much ripped of her entire vocal style. But what irks more than anything is how over bearing her vocals can be. It feels as though she's trying to just layer vocal upon vocal for the sake of seeing how many of her vocal tracks she can stuff into a song before her she becomes a monotonous drone, which she does on 80% of the album. There is a lack of clarity, which is the one thing Brandy always gives you. Even on songs such as "Finally", "Focus", "Should I go" and "A capella (Something's missing)" when you are listening to what sounds like an army of Brandy's in the studio. The clarity is still there. This is what seperates the two for me and defines the originator and the emulator.

Armor on is a nice EP, but it's not wholly memorable save for 1 or 2 songs. Dawn did not deliver on her promise that she'd take R&B to the next level, especially when artists had already done this shit 5 years ago. But I admire her unwavering vision which seems unperturbed by the musical climates according to the current charts.

Album highlights:
■ Black lipstick
■ Change ★ J's fave
■ Heaven
■ Faith


  1. Actually, I love the whole EP, and love how it flows together.


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