For The-Dream, it’s all ‘point of view’
The most decorated space in The-Dream’s Newport Beach pied-à-terre is the master bedroom — no surprise, perhaps, for the R&B star behind such sex-obsessed slow jams as “Love King” and “Sweat It Out,” the latter of which finds him helpfully advising a lady friend, “Girl, call Latisha, your beautician / ‘Cause your hair is gon’ need fixin’.”
Yet during a recent visit to the minimally furnished crash pad — where the Atlanta-based singer-songwriter-producer sleeps when work brings him to the West Coast — it wasn’t erotic paraphernalia that filled the bedroom but recording equipment: keyboards, microphones and computers, as well as a large whiteboard with song titles scrawled on it. This was where The-Dream and Kelly Rowland were finishing work on her single “Dirty Laundry” not long before the two artists were to begin a joint tour May 23. (Last week, most of the tour’s dates were canceled after Rowland signed on as a judge for the next season of “The X Factor.”)
It was also where The-Dream was overseeing final mixes for his new solo album, “IV Play,” due Tuesday. Dressed in jeans and a tank top, a Falcons cap pulled low over his eyes, the 35-year-old born Terius Nash mouthed along to the lyrics of his song “Too Early” as it boomed through a set of speakers at neighbor-alarming volume. A mournful electro-blues cut with guitar by Gary Clark Jr., “Too Early” is something of a departure for The-Dream, who in addition to his own music has helped craft sparkly smash hits for female stars such as Beyoncé (“Single Ladies [Put a Ring on It]”) and Rihanna (“Umbrella”). He knows it too.
“We were both so excited about making this new kind of music,” The-Dream said, referring to Clark, whose “Blak and Blu” inspired loads of blues-savior buzz last year. “It’s a fusion — my thing on the right and his thing on the left. And in the center are the people listening.”
If “Too Early” reveals a fresh wrinkle in The-Dream’s sound, though, it’s hardly the first time he’s ventured from his sex-you-up core. Each of his albums — “IV Play” is his fourth, not counting a 2011 disc he released online under his given name — balances radio-ready singles such as “Shawty Is a 10" and “Walkin’ on the Moon” with weirder, more introspective material such as “Fancy,” a spacey 61/2 -minute ballad on 2009’s “Love vs. Money.”
Beyond “Too Early,” “IV Play” has the spooky “Holy Love” and “Turnt,” an appealingly stark club track with Beyoncé and 2 Chainz. (Unfortunately, the album also features the charmless title track, which might be The-Dream’s least imaginative song ever.)
Last year, a handful of adventurous young R&B performers — including Frank Ocean, Miguel and the Weeknd — earned widespread acclaim for expanding the parameters of mainstream soul music. But all of them were following an example set by The-Dream, who was demonstrating how creative and commercial ambitions might coexist as far back as 2007.
“I pride myself on not making the same record twice,” he said, gazing at the ocean as he sat on his back patio during a break from mixing. Part of his determination to keep pushing, he added, stems from his desire to maintain the influence he’s had on R&B. (Even Justin Timberlake seemed to be nodding to The-Dream’s signature vocal delivery in “Spaceship Coupe,” from Timberlake’s blockbuster “The 20/20 Experience.”) “You gotta come up with something else that people are trying to copy,” he said.
More important, he wants his music to reflect a realistic variety of emotions and happenings: the lush bedroom fantasies along with the fights that threaten to undo a relationship; the humble satisfaction of a family man as well as the entitled petulance of a celebrity. Few singers embody those conflicting impulses more convincingly than The-Dream, an ability to adapt that also helps explain why he’s become such a go-to songwriter for women.
“It’s point of view, point of view, point of view,” he said, describing the way he thinks his albums work. “It’s like going different places in the world. You wake up and there are different rules, different ways to play life. You grow up in the hood, there’s a certain way you go to your car — you look over your shoulder a little bit.” He waved his hand toward the water, shimmering in the early-evening sun. “You here in Newport, you probably don’t do that. I don’t have to tell my girl, ‘Yo, put your purse on your shoulder — it’s too easy for someone to come snatch it out your hand.’”
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.