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Artists and producers taking to Genius to annotate some of their biggest hits continues today with The-Dream breaking down some of his most memorable songs and collaborations. Included are stories about Jay Z and Kanye West's "No Church In the Wild," Rihanna's "Umbrella," 'Ye's "All of the Lights," Justin Bieber's "Baby," and many, many more. The full list of The-Dream's annotations can be found here, while a few of the best can be read below.
On Kanye West and Jay Z's "No Church In the Wild" featuring Frank Ocean:
As they were wrapping up Watch The Throne, Jay says “Are we finished? Is this it? Okay, cool, I want to play you a record that’s gonna be on my album.” He plays “Holy Grail,” and of course a shitstorm happens. Kanye’s not an idiot. Kanye says “This track is crazy, it needs to be on Watch the Throne.” And Jay says “No, that’s a single from my album.” And that’s how I got the phone call asking me to try to do a record close to that one.
I get to New York, and we’re at the Mercer Hotel, working. We had the whole floor. I get in, Frank Ocean’s sitting there, and they’re just starting on “No Church In The Wild.” So “Holy Grail” itself inspired them to change Watch the Throne. Because of that record, six other records got made at that point, including “Otis.” I go in the next room with my engineer, and just sing eight or twelve bars for “No Church.” Right after Ye’s verse, I sing that whole part. I got a Grammy for that.
I end up doing the same kind of thing with “Umbrella” where I’m singing this part, and I think it’s awesome, to myself. I didn’t know what they were trying to do. Like, can I go back to my habitat on the golf course? Me and Jay went out, we went to eat, hung out with Leonardo Dicaprio that night—that’s what I remember. And the next day we worked more on a couple other things, I don’t remember. Later my friend called and said “Yeah, so there’s an album getting ready to drop and you’re on it, but you don’t know you’re on it, but I just wanted to let you know.” I didn’t even remember what I had written. I just recorded it and left it alone. So that’s what “Holy Grail” was, that little nudge. Jay finally admitted what went on around the record in an interview. He talked about playing the record and how there was a little fight about “Holy Grail.” Of course that’s flattering. Kanye is so great, he’s only most of the time just being challenged by himself. It’s a blessing when it happens to any of us, for a record to come out of left field and push you to a thing.
On Kanye West's "All of the Lights":
I was working on Beyoncé’s 4 album. Kanye just happened to stop by the studio, and he said, “Hey, I want you to listen to this, we can’t find the hook.” I ended up writing the hook for that record. I also did this mumbling thing at the end. I like when those little things happen.
He only had a rap verse of his own, the Kid Cudi part, and some Charlie Wilson background vocals. And he had the horns. I said “Oh, this is amazing. This is easy.” The first time I did the hook, it was done. He said “I don’t know yet.” So we kept going and doing different ideas. I looked over, and Ye is knocked out. Beyoncé and Jay are sitting there. B says, “Dream, that first one was the one,” and I was like, “Yeah, I know.” We kept going while Ye was sleeping. So then I get a call a week later saying that they’re going to use that hook.
Kanye just wants to make music all the time, which is awesome. He doesn’t care where he is. He could be backstage at a fashion show. He’s passionate about everything. No matter what it is.
On Rihanna's "Umbrella" featuring Jay Z:
Tricky Stewart: Dream and I go into this studio we’d been using for about a year, and he goes behind the mic. I’m standing there doing the background thing and my cousin’s got the drum loop going. Terius proceeds to write “Umbrella” in one take, straight down. Everything that’s happening, I’m playing live. We’re just looking at each other and being telepathically being connected through these notes. And his words — I don’t even know what he’s talking about at the time. I hadn’t heard those words before. I was like, ‘What is he talking about? This is amazing.”
Dream: It was just two passes and that was that. At that time, I didn’t believe in writing second verses. If I could write the first verse and the hook, I would probably mumble something, kind of knowing what I’m saying, just to get to the bridge. Once I get to the bridge, then I can go back. But that one was a scan all the way down. Start to finish.
Tricky: By the time we got to the end, 85% of the song “Umbrella” was written. Even if you listen to the song, there are parts where the keyboard parts go backwards against the song because those were mistakes. I think in the post-chorus music, after the bridge, something happens and the music gets flip-flopped, but it sounded cool to run the melody against those notes, so we kept it. We knew we had something really, really special. We’ve spent a lot of time together since that time.
Dream: In records before “Umbrella,” to be witty in R&B wasn’t a big deal. But I wanted to impress rap guys. I wanted to impress Jay. When Kanye walked in, I wanted him to be like “Wow, did you hear that Dream record?” I wanted to impress those guys with my wit. Melody and all that shit, I already had that. That song was part of making my jump. It was a fusion of the two things in one song — using this umbrella to shield somebody, to protect them. It’s the word “umbrella” itself, a one word song, which I love to death. I hate multiple words in the title. If I could get it down to one, great. I love it when it’s just one word.