You can never really shake your past. But that doesn't mean you allow it to enslave you. And for the past six months, Dawn Robinson has been getting her fill of Southern comfort as an Atlanta transplant soaking up the Grammy glow of super producer/career rehab specialist Bryan-Michael Cox (Usher, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige).
His State of Emergency production unit is crafting a "left of center" sound for the former funky diva. The punk/hip-hop vibe, with alternative undercurrents, would make any classic En Vogue devotee shake in their nostalgic boots. But that's the point.
"It's not safe. I am Dawn Robinson," she says. "I have to take risks.
"I left En Vogue because the corporate machine was pushing us ... molding us into the next Supremes. I did not want to leave, but after a while you wanna branch out and not stay within the confines of being cookie cutters," says Robinson, recanting how the Motown-inspired outfits, finishing school photo shoots and business corruption ate at the marrow of her soul.
With her exits from En Vogue and later Lucy Pearl making international gossip rounds, the past five years have seen Robinson release a lukewarm solo debut – one she admits was a case of bad timing – serve as lead actress in David E. Talbert's play Love Makes Things Happen, tape a soon-to-be-released reality show, begin writing a tell-all book, and nurse the wounds of a complacent industry where outspoken female voices are muted by insecure male gatekeepers. Beyond finding her musical footing, the journey has been about finding internal balance.
"It wasn't a matter of finding my voice," says Robinson, "but about finding my heart."
She accomplished that goal when she married her husband, Dre Allen, a talented singer/songwriter. Guided by a tough-as-nails persona, à la her inspiration source Tina Turner, a changed Robinson seems insistent on using her testimony to empower other women reeling from status quo drama to record label blues.
"If I die tomorrow, I want people to know that I was fighter ... an independent woman who has been through hell and back. These things gave me the drive to keep going, to show myself and others that I am not washed up," she says. "I am not a has-been!"