The word "brilliant" is too often abused by hyperbole, unless you're describing Terius Nash, better known as the prolific 34-year-old songwriter and R&B singer The-Dream.
Several of radio's most indelible hits of the past five years — including Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and Rihanna's ("Umbrella") — were penned by Dream and his writing partner Christopher "Tricky" Stewart. Besides crafting hits for others, the Atlanta singer has released four albums (three as The-Dream; the most recent, "1977," was released online last August for free under his real name) as a solo artist. He’s currently headlining the "Kill the Lights" tour, which stops by Fillmore Silver Spring on Saturday and Baltimore Soundstage on Sunday. As he prepped for back-to-back shows at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, The-Dream spoke about his upcoming album, writer’s block, the Weeknd and why R&B beef is "wack."
You held a listening session for "Love IV" the other day. What was the feedback like? Did any responses surprise you?
I'm never really surprised. People show up wanting me to go to the next place and based on the looks from everybody, they understand that I'm definitely pushing it. But I’m not going out of bounds or totally left field. I'm not going to take the lovemaking out of my records. I've never understood that type of pressure on artists, where they feel the need to change so much. Every situation breeds a new song anyway, so just write about the situation.
There were reports the album would be released in December. Obviously, that didn't happen. Was it a case of it not being completed in time?
You know that's never the case. I have to stop myself from doing records. I'm supremely blessed for doing songs. I wish I could take a vacation and stop, but it's literally my drug. We have a lot things happening at Def Jam. Joie [Manda, formerWarner Bros.Records executive] came over to Def Jam as the president [on Wednesday]. That’s going to be great. Joie was calling me on the phone raving about "1977," before ever coming to Def Jam. He was just writing "1977" in his email, nothing else. He had nothing to gain; he’s just a music purist.
Def Jam needs somebody that cares about the artist and the music, not about themselves. A completely selfless person. There’s so many great and talented artists at Def Jam and somehow we've been unable to connect. I have my theories and [Manda] has his theories. Hopefully we can get it shaped up to what it was.
Any idea when we’ll get "Love IV"?
Probably around Memorial Day. I’m going to have a meeting with those guys, and try to see if there’s too much of a mess going on. If it's not right, I'm not doing it. I took the kill on "Love King" for not being right. I’m not doing it again.
Would you do anything differently with "1977"? How it was presented or which songs were on it? A lot of it, quality-wise, could have made a commercial album.
I wouldn't do anything differently. That was a complete channel of an emotion. I think that's why I broke through with it. People gravitated toward it, people that have been through that mindset and space. All of these albums are like books. I take the lyrics pretty seriously. I might put some cheeky stuff in it. … It might not sound like I know what I'm doing with lyrics, but I know both sides. You need a single and the album. But that was great about "1977," I didn't need a single. I just put it out. If I could do anything differently, I'd put it out commercially. Not to make money but to make back what I put into it, which was around half a million dollars. I still have videos for "Used to Be" and "Wake Me When it's Over" to come out. The label isn't paying for any of that, and videos aren't cheap.
The feeling I get is that your talents as a songwriter are celebrated and recognized, but your solo albums are underappreciated. Does it feel that way to you?
They are underappreciated. [laughs] Your feelings will serve you correct. It is what it is. I don’t think I should be appreciated now anyway, the way I look at it now after talking to older guys in the business. I'm in a place where nobody is going to like the stuff I do until 10, 15 years from now. I can do something today and people will look at it and compare it to radio. If you do that, you’re only comparing it to something I had something to do with four years ago. And that's unfair.
You want me to push it but you don’t want me to push. You want me to give you that beat and those cadences. I haven’t forgotten how to do it. I just don’t do it. I know the formula to make a massive urban record. That’s where [Rihanna's] "Birthday Cake" came from. It's not rocket science.
When was the last time you had writer’s block?
Man [pauses] … You know why I don’t get writer's block? Writer’s block comes from wanting to write something specific. When you don’t attach writing a song with an emotion, you can never get to that song. If we’re talking about having sex, the bassline and the sonics just come with it. A break-up song? An emotion comes with it. A sonic melody. I can never have [writer’s block] because that’s the record Beyoncé needs. She wants a Michael [Jackson] record. [starts humming "Love on Top"] See, my mind is happy. I'm flowing. I see the moonwalk. I see Michael and his brothers. The vision happens. I can never have that block because I have that vision and the photos keep coming. I can never see myself not envisioning a mood.
You’re in artist mode right now, but I assume you and Tricky have been putting in work with other artists. What can we look forward to this summer and beyond?
I just got finished doing what I wanted to do – work on a rap album. I’m working on Pusha T's album. Really great. It's one of the first things I’m going to try to get Joie to listen to. I always loved the Clipse. Period, point blank. Everyone around me knows that. We went to work. Great records, man. This one song, "Automatic," is a great record. You’re asking me to do a radio record for someone that needs one. And I did it, because that’s what time it is. We ended up doing 11, 12 records.
What else? I'm working with Shakira coming up. I’m excited for that. Casha, that's my artist. Beautiful voice. No one like her in this marketplace in a long time. She's from Compton, Calif. She's a real girl. I'm interested to see the girls get fed someone that’s really like them. I want her to keep things real raw and honest.
I have to bring up the quote that had the Internet going nuts: "I haven't done a show in close to two years and ever since then, there’s like four dudes that sound like me now."
Have you ever read Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" books? When you say something with no intention and you just say it, it’s like shooting in the dark. If someone gets hit, they’ll yell.
If someone quotes something to me, and they don’t mention my name, the blogs make sure that I know. If there’s a song that’s close to mine, they’ll let me know. It’s like high school again. It’s only like high school if you’re in college and you’re smart enough not to get involved. You should know what’s real and what isn’t. We’re sitting back and watching and laughing, like "Watch what [the blogs] turn this into." There’s a real problem with somebody and then there’s a problem that comes from the Internet. But they say I sound like everybody. They say I still sound like Prince and I'm like, "Cool."
Obviously the Weeknd thought that quote was directed at him. Was it? And what does it say to you that he felt attacked without you ever saying his name?
I think that maybe he feels the pressure from either peers or kind-of fans or the blogs. He’s read certain comments that have probably affected him. I put it on my daughter, when I said four people, I could have picked any number. I could have said two or six, and that was the whole point. The point was to say four. Then what do you want me to say now if you said "aight"? It’s no big deal. It won’t go beyond this point. R&B beef is wack. Like really? There cant be an R&B beef. It’s not cool.
And No. 2, what he does is incredible actually. If anybody sounds like me … everyone knows me, I’m flattered. I’m not arrogant but I’m confident enough to know what I can do and what I can't do. And I'm fine with what I can't. Anything else that people are doing on the Internet or radio, I can do all those things. There’s nothing I can't do musically. You can say "Dream sounds like R. Kelly," because I’ll say, "you're exactly right." That’s why I did "Kelly's 12 Play." I know there are certain cadences I use. Maybe I'm just smart enough to say, “What’s your point?”
[In] 2007, [Tricky and I] were everywhere. Nobody was doing that. Nobody had done that and I take complete pride in it. I have to. You’re not going to take my credit away from what I did. It was based off music before that, yes, but it was an incredible leap from what it was.
If you go
The-Dream performs Saturday at Fillmore Silver Spring, 8656 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Doors open at 8 p.m. $25. Call 301-960-9999 or go to fillmoresilverspring.com. He also performs Sunday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place. Doors open at 6 p.m. $25, $35. Call 410-244-0057 or go to baltimoresoundstage.com.