As Executive Vice President of Def Jam Records Terius “The-Dream” Nash, sits proudly in a plush office on the eighth floor of Universal Music Group’s NYC headquarters. Being one of the heads at the house that rap built is just one of the hats he wears, though.
He’s also a multi-multiplatinum writer and producer who’s crafted hits for Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Justin Bieber—to name a few. Yesterday Complex met with Dream—not so much to talk about his work for others, but to get into what he has on deck as a solo artist.
Since dropping his debut Love Hate in 2007, The-Dream’s earned a reputation as a lady-loving, self-deprecating singer and songwriter who’s unafraid of telling us all about the joys of his highly publicized relationships—as well as the foul feelings he had as they crashed. His upcoming fourth album, The Love, IV promises to strike those same chords.
Repping his hometown with an Atlanta Falcons snapback, several gold necklaces, and Jordan 11 Concords, The-Dream slouched on a cream leather couch and talked about IV, producing cuts on Pusha T’s forthcoming debut album, his thoughts on Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, and what to expect from his Kill the Lights tour.
Interview by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
You have your own sound—as soon as one of your records drops, folks know it’s yours. Does it piss you off when others imitate that sound? Do you look at it like “I have reinvent and switch it up a bit?” Or do you feel like, “I’m not going to change myself”?
Good loaded first question. It’s flattering on one hand, I think, if any artists are using a format that we made popular—the repetition, the pronunciation of certain things, yeah. And then on one hand it’s not that it’s disrespectful from a media standpoint, it’s just sad what they do with the credit of it. The first thing you would mention, probably just as a music lover would be knowing what the source is. In this culture now, especially where media is not really media, it’s more blogging. It’s easy to forget what somebody probably invented just days before.
It’s crazy, because getting that information is as easy as a Google search.
Yeah. I met this girl maybe a week ago and she knew all about this one guy and she had never heard my stuff. She was like “Awww man, this is crazy!” The producer in the room was like “Hold up hold up. Let me play you something.”
So he played her these records. He played “Fancy” first. She was like “Who the hell is this?” He was like “That’s him,” pointing at me. She was like “Oh, well the only thing I knew was “Shawty is a 10.”
Well, number one, you’re late by like five years. Number two, how are you supposed to love a guy that sounds like this guy and then not know where it comes from? [Laughs.] Now that’s just disrespectful.
Some people hear a lot of The-Dream in The Weeknd. The Weeknd is kinda like you on drugs—literally. I wanted to know your take on The Weeknd specifically.
I think The Weeknd is an incredible melodically driven artist. People often say to me that he sounds a lot like what I do, and I’m sure that the influence is there. But he’s not me, nor is he trying to be me.
I think he’s an incredible melodically driven artist. People often say to me that he sounds a lot like what I do, and I’m sure that the influence is there. But he’s not me, nor is he trying to be me. He has his own culture of those guys that like that music. He’s an artist first. I’m a songwriter first.
My gears that I have to go through... One minute in my mind to be Beyoncé and one minute to be Rihanna and one second to do a hook for Kanye and then have to write records for myself. I’m so many people, I’m never just one person. So I don’t have to reinvent because artists around me reinvent for me.
The records that I’m going to do two years from now for myself are going to be dictated by what Rihanna does in two years or what somebody we’ve never heard of does. So that’s the difference between me and anybody else that’s in that place—because there hasn’t been a cultural writer that’s an artist also, really, since R. Kelly.
Because you can take my sound and put it on anybody. His sound is his sound. You would know. There are records of mine that you wouldn’t even know that I’d written. You’d never even guess.
When I mentioned that you did “Baby” for Justin Bieber, everyone in the office was like, “Huh?”
Perfect example. That’s what I mean. I reinvent through other people.
In a way what you have is amazing thing. But in another sense, you don’t really have a specific thing to hang your hat on, unlike the acts you write for.
Well hopefully it works out how it did for Jay and I end up being this 40-year-old guy who gets his first No. 1 at that age. I’d rather it work out that way because I’m not letting go of culture just to become defined as a person that does that. Because once we know you do that, that’s all we want you to do. We don’t want you to do anything else and I’m in that box enough as just an artist period.
What do you think of Frank Ocean? Would you say he’s a writer or an artist first?
I definitely don’t hear any of my stuff in what Frank Ocean does. I think he and The Weeknd have this niche, which is what artists need to find out and go directly to the people they’re talking to.
I would say an artist first. Whenever you’re signed as an artist, you’re pretty much an artist first. I think he signed to Tricky [Stewart], actually. I definitely don’t hear any of my stuff in what he does. I can’t personally hear it. He has a great cult following also.
I think he and The Weeknd have this niche, which is what artists need to find out and go directly to the people they’re talking to. Only those guys know who they’re talking to. That’s what you need at the end of the day.
Where is your place in the game as an artist? Do you look at the Billboard Charts on a competitive level, like, “I’m trying to bust into the Top 10 of R&B or The Hot 100.” Where do you feel your spot is?
Mine is the arrogant spot of being able to drop music that moves the needle and not give a fuck about where it ends up on the chart. I have that luxury to not even care about what number. None of those guys you’ve mentioned before, nobody else who’s definitely just an artist first can have that. So, naturally, they can’t really be as raw as they want to be.
Even if they try their best they can’t do it. If you do it on record one, you can’t do it on record two because you still look for the numbers and you have to go by the numbers. It’s like when Jay says, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” That’s exactly right. Except I have the luxury of a songwriter who lives through the numbers of so many other people that the number doesn’t matter to me on an album of mine.
Only thing that matters is the number of people that matter that I move. It only matters if Jay is like “Oh, this shit’s crazy” or if Kanye is like “Man, that track on number 11!” That matters to me.
So for you it’s more about your peers?
My albums have always been about that. Love/Hate started off being that. I wasn’t trying to become this Dream figure that’s an artist that’s dancing on stage. I’m not going to be that type of artist because I’ll never be. I’m an artist because of how I do things, not because I’m trying to be one.
So with that being said, I make sure I get what I’m supposed to get. That’s all I want. I know exactly what I’m supposed to get. I know when a label fails. I know when they don’t do certain things. I know when I go into a store and nobody knows the album is out that that’s marketing’s fault. I know the business.
Beyond that, if you still didn’t get it that means that I didn’t market for you to get it in the first place. You’re not my target.
So how do you feel about the performance of Love King?
I feel great about the fact that from the critic’s standpoint it was critically acclaimed. Which puts pressure back on the label again. That speaks to what I was talking about, like when people are saying “I didn’t know there was a third album out.”
Then you have a problem. I’d rather you know it and just didn’t get it versus “You got an album out?” People still hit me, like, “Yo, this is the first time I’ve heard ‘Sex Intelligent.’”
You said you’re awarded this kind of freedom because you’re a songwriter first. So why are you an artist? You’ve got money coming in from all these different lanes. You could be in the office all chill.
Me, Tricky, and Los Da Mystro did something in 2007 that moved the needle. Music sounds like it sounds because of those records that we made, and it still does. We still affect how music sounds so we have an obligation to do it.
It’s about music. Quite frankly, at the end of the day, I couldn’t say this 10 years ago but I can say it now: It’s 2012. Me, Tricky, and Los Da Mystro did something in 2007 that moved the needle. Music sounds like it sounds because of those records that we made, and it still does. We still affect how music sounds so we have an obligation to do it.
It’s not trying to be funny or no type of way, but being dope and trying to be dope are two different things. It’s hard to say I’m dope, but I am. It’s not an arrogant thing, it’s just I know what I do, I know how far my blessings go, and I know what my limitations are. I wouldn’t try to go play basketball because I’m not dope at it. I’m just not dope. It wouldn’t be a good day, nobody would get paid.
Music shit, however, I’m just really, really good at it. I’m not even close to how good I could probably be. I don’t even have any idea. So I do it because I know I can do it. I would go crazy if I didn’t do it.
What story are you telling with your next album? On your previous albums you were the guy who’s been wronged. Last year with all the controversy with the Christina Milian break-up and all this other shit, it made people go, “Yo, he might be the guy fucking up relationships. Not the girl.” Who will you be on IV?
Okay, so, let me get this right… I’m usually the wronged person?
For the most part your songs follow the same story arc: You’re a great guy offering these great things to a woman, and one way or another, your lady decides to screw things up.
Okay, got you. I’ve never lied on a record. I’ve never had a line that said it wasn’t what it was. I have this record on this album coming up called “Tendencies.” The first line goes, “You want to tell them how badly I hurt you, I know, you want to tell them how I mistreated your love.” And I think the next line is me telling how harsh I am, how self-centered I am. So all of these things are about me.
So you’re not perfect.
Oh, not at all. But I’m not saying it because of anything. I’m saying because nobody’s perfect. I’m saying it not because there’s an incident or there should be an incident. These things are in place already. But I’ll go ahead and throw it out there. There is nothing completely normal about me.
I don’t do anything normal. Somebody who sits around and writes a billion songs a year is not normal. My life isn’t normal, I wasn’t a normal kid. I didn’t do normal sh*t.
I don’t do anything normal. Somebody who sits around and writes a billion songs a year is not normal. My life isn’t normal, I wasn’t a normal kid. I didn’t do normal shit. And I don’t want normal things. So when somebody’s judging on that plane saying this is about blah blah blah that’s cool. But, that’s not right. And that’s me considering that you know nobody’s normal. We’re all off.
But in the song I really talk about myself a lot and it’s just being totally honest and it’s not being honest like, “Oh, let me now tell you about this.” It’s like “Oh, I thought you knew this but let me remind you that I’m the crazy motherfucker that will fall in love and do all these things for you. But if you cross me right here, I will fuck your shit up.”
Any other singles from IV that you’re particularly excited about?
“Tendencies” is great. I have too many records, probably over 2000 records that are just songs sitting there. I don’t have time to wait for the album cycle or what the number is. Now that I can stop worrying about the cycle, I can stop worrying about what I put in the market.
It’s just about the demand and being able to take up that space. You’re not going to out-write me, if we can have a writing contest on who can put shit out. It’s not going to happen.
Okay so you’re an artist and a writer. But you’re also a Def Jam exec. Who are some of the artists you’re working with in that aspect?
Pusha T and Casha.
What are you doing with Pusha?
You’re personally producing for it?
Yeah. We found a little magic. We did, like eight, nine records together. It sounds really, really great. I’ve always loved him and loved the Clipse. Always been a big fan, so when the opportunity came, we did this one record called “Automatic” and it just took off from that.
What can we expect on that album? Is it nearing completion?
Yeah, Kanye will listen to it in the upcoming days and we’re going to try to decide what we need and what’s missing, which is probably like two or three records—which we probably already have. It’s at the end of that.
The Clipse is known for coke rap. Will this be a well-rounded album with other kinds of stories?
Kanye will listen to Pusha T's album in the upcoming days and we’re going to try to decide what we need and what’s missing, which is probably like two or three records—which we probably already have.
Yeah, we’ll still talk about a little coke, though. We’re going to chop up a few grams. [Laughs.] But yeah it should be a great album.
Do you still work with people outside of Def Jam?
It depends on who they are and what their numbers are. Some people you just don’t turn down, for political reasons and... there’s just some people that I fuck with.
So you’ll still be a part of, say, Beyoncé’s album?
Yeah, ready when she is.
You don’t tour much. A lot of fans are looking forward to your Kill the Lights tour, though.
Yeah, if it comes between artist and writer I usually take the writer route. This year I’m going to do a lot of stuff that bends toward touring and stuff—not because there’s nothing to write but because those people care about my personal music and I owe it to them to go out and support. So yeah, SOB’s on March 11 and 12 should be pretty big.
I’m sure we you have some tricks and surprise guests up your sleeve.
Somebody might come out. [Laughs.]