we’ll always have those boots
by Chris Randle
The-Dream is famous enough as a performer, but the roles he played in his biggest hits were invisible. He wrote Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” allegedly in 15 minutes (more like a passing drizzle than the single’s Biblical tempest). A year later he partnered with Christopher “Tricky” Stewart to produce “Single Ladies,” striking up the beat that Beyonce and thousands of emulators bounced on. Patronizing tracks made especially for the ladies are one of modern R&B’s wrinkliest clichés, although some guys have an improbable knack for the subgenre. But Dream writes a striking number of his best songs for women, interweaving those trademark synths from one remove, obliged to balance pure craft with the necessary empathy.
This week his relationship with Christina Milian publicly fell apart. Maybe it was predictable; the album he released last month did boast about having “girls in Toronto.” But sifting through the forensic evidence from a dead marriage is pointless unless you’re implicated in the case, so I’ll focus on the music. Several people I follow online joked that Terius Nash must be rushing to buy his lady one hell of a make-up bag; on the single of the same name he suggests that $5000 of Prada can absolve any sin. (In a singular example of incorrigible horniness, he also marvels that “she cursin’ me out with nothin’ but her panties on.”) Money = sex is an old equation in pop music’s economy, but the Twitter lolz cut to Dream’s sometimes-hidden vulnerability. As you can probably guess from the picture above, Terius is not a handsome man; he’s nondescript, a little dumpy, even awkward-looking at times. And several of those music videos depict both his suaveness and his swagger struggling to convince. But he’s got money, by which he really means his creativity, and few can compete there. So what does it mean for that elan when even the love king can’t ransom himself from his doghouse?
It’s not like The-Dream never considered these questions before – I mean, his last album was called Love vs. Money. The title track laments: “Anything she wanted, I brought it / Broke my neck so this girl didn’t go without it / And I can’t even hate homie, / I am to blame, / Instead of loving you I was making it rain.” I suppose you could file this under Terius’ broader reinterpretation of loverman tropes, the way he redecorates worn scenarios with his polished idiosyncrasies. My favourite track on Love vs. Money was “Kelly’s 12 Play”, a sex jam Nicholson Baker could’ve written, pointillist and ruminative and finally Oedipal (in the sense of being homoerotic, and also in the sense of being thoroughly crazy). “Fancy” unwound six minutes and seventeen seconds of spare, languorous beauty before bringing in drums with 0:12 left to go. “Sweat It Out” is the tenderest, most evocative song anyone’s ever sung about their hair fetish. (And there’s strong challengers: not just Prince but Milton too.)
A lot of critics, myself included, are predisposed to crush on pop formalism or metacommentary, but Dream knows his way around an earnest, uncomplicated love song too. Here’s “Yamaha,” from Love King, which went on sale shortly before Terius was photographed frolicking with his personal assistant:
Infatuated with Kells, infatuated with Prince. He might be gazing at his beloved’s unbelievably huge ass, but it sounds like his eyes are only filled with stars. “Love King” the song mostly bangs on about how Dream’s black book transcends barriers of class (“Got a girl up in Target / A girl outta college”), creed (“I got girls in the club / Girls in the church”) or phone carrier (“Got a girl on my Sprint / My AT&T”). There’s one couplet that latches onto me, though, sap that I am: “Got a girl when I’m sick / She watch what I eat.” I don’t know if Terius ever had that girl, or if he only wants her now, but I know that I do.