If you were thinking of slipping backstage during The-Dream's show this Saturday night at the El Rey, you might get lucky. He's not a one-night-stand kinda man.
Born Terius Nash, The-Dream really does love the ladies. The 34-year-old has been married twice, to singers Nivea and Christina Milian. He became famous writing poppy songs for R&B princesses with hooks that latch themselves to your brain like barnacles – Rihanna's “Umbrella,” Beyonce's “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Mariah Carey's “Touch My Body,” a zillion others you suddenly find yourself humming in the shower.
Since the 2007 release of his solo debut Love Hate, however, he's moved from behind-the-scenes to star, keeping many of those bubblegum sticky hooks for himself. Ahead of his show and the upcoming release of his fifth album, Love IV MMXII, we talked to the chatty producer over the phone about how he makes his songs stick in your heads, why he loves gossip about his personal life and the one song of which he's sick.
So how should I address you? Dream, Terius, Mr. Nash?
Either one of those first two work, and depending on if she's trying to marry me, she'll start saying, “Baby.” Near the end of the conversation, she'll start saying, “Hey baby, what do you think about –“
Yeah, they do it to me.
Oh my goodness, it's like your essence comes across even over the phone, whatever! You can't hide it.
[Laughing] Oh, cut it out. See? Now you runnin' game on me, look at you!
I read a review of your show in New York and it said the woman you brought onstage wasn't very enthused.
Yeah, she didn't do anything! It's straight out of the R&B textbook 101 Series: You go onstage, you'll be slightly harassed maybe, make sure you're into it. Don't be at an R&B concert for the wrong reasons. 'Cause somebody might call you to the stage! That's how it used to be, back in the day. Now everybody acts like they're at a rap concert, look mean the whole time. It's R&B, baby. I decided to make sure that girl never got on any stage again.
You blackballed her.
Yeahhhh. You know, when it ain't workin', you gotta replace 'em.
That sounds like a loaded comment.
Hey, I'm just sayin'. It might be a baked potato comment.
So, since you're a single man and on the road —
Do you have girls trying to get backstage?
WHAT!? Oh, my God. And um, yeah. You have to understand, I always had a girlfriend. I always wanted to be in a relationship. Sometimes, I want to be in one so bad, I end up picking the people that aren't good for relationships. ANYWAY. So, I don't know what to do with myself. I'm actually probably more fearful of myself and somebody else's intention, 'cause I'm in a place where I usually am not. I don't do the whole bachelor thing very well, and I haven't ever, at all. I don't get it.
You want one girl.
Oh, I definitely want one girl. Too many headaches, man. Although there are a lot of beautiful people out here. My next relationship I think we need to have an understanding.
Nah, I can't give that away.
You can put it on the record. You know, I read you said you shouldn't date a songwriter if you don't want to end up in a song.
Oh, yeah! I keep telling people that and they don't understand. Ahhh, man, I wouldn't date me! If I'm thinking about trying to keep my privacy. Like actors getting ready for roles, whatever happens while they're getting ready to [play that part], you can't count that against them. That's a part of what makes them, that's where they get their shit from. Everybody has something. It just so happens not to be crack and ecstasy pills with me.
Has it been difficult for you transitioning from behind the scenes to having your personal life really out there?
Mmm-hmm. I love it, though. It's great. I'd rather be the guy that doesn't hide. I'd rather you pick holes in me. I get to be the literal face of what a man is, how he succeeds, how he fails. I'd rather be all those things than just casting a light that's bright and shiny. That ain't me. Who wants to be that guy, really?
Are you spiritual?
Very. I believe we do things that come back to us. I make sure I'm very generous, because I feel like my being generous is why I am where I am. I don't know anybody more generous than I am. Not one person. I'm sure there are people more generous with their time, 'cause they have more time to give than I do at this particular stage in my life. I've met a lot of selfish people; I've paid a lot of selfish people off. When somebody asks me for something, if you try to sue me, or if you divorce me and want some money, I give you exactly what you ask for. But that's all you gettin'. Remember what you asked for.
On a related topic, you said you were underrated. I don't see that; I feel like you're everywhere.
Oh, yeah? I'm pretty underrated. Anybody who's done as much for black urban music and the culture to never have played on the BET Music Awards? That's pretty underrated. The other part is I'm from Atlanta and they don't play my records in Atlanta. My grandfather basically built that city with his hands — literally, as a cement mason.
Do you live there full time now?
I pay full-time Georgia taxes [laughing].
I'll go to New York, Chicago, Cleveland, New Orleans — all crazy. Then I get to Atlanta and I believe it's like a big brother routine. Like, “I know you from here, so eh, whatever.” Sure you wrote these big songs, sure you went to school here, sure your roots in this city are deeper than probably any radio program director ever — they're probably not even from Atlanta! L.A. loves me also. The Bay Area especially loves me. They broke me, actually. They broke this record, “I Love Your Girl” back in 2007 when they didn't have to.
Do you know when you've got a catchy hook?
I tried for years before I ever got to a point where they were good. I still build on what “catchy” is — less is more, tinkering. You have to keep challenging yourself. This has to be remembered melodically. The cadence, the word you say on the end has to feel a certain way. I'm not getting lucky doing it. I don't have that type of blessed-from-birth singing voice. I figured out how to make people's minds remember my songs.
Ok, honestly, do you ever get sick of your songs — the ones you write for other people?
Yeah, I'm starting to get sick of [Rihanna's] “Birthday Cake.” I hear it everywhere, all day, all night.
How many rappers and singers do you estimate write their own stuff?
Hmm. I've never even thought about it. I hope not many don't, cause that keeps me in a job. I hope nobody writes [laughing]. Just let me write it, I got it. I think all rappers write their stuff. I hope so. That would be terrible if that weren't the case.
You know they don't.
Really? No, I wouldn't know that. I don't hang out with too many rappers.
Who do you hang out with?
The-Dream plays tomorrow night at El Rey Theatre.