The-Dream: Perfect Ten

Many of today’s young artists struggle to make it to the top, but for Def Jam’s new wonder boy The Dream, the scene played out like a fairytale.  If you’re thinking that you haven’t quite had this dream before, think again. The songwriter turned singer, who is married to R&B diva Nivea, is the genius […]

Many of today’s young artists struggle to make it to the top, but for Def Jam’s new wonder boy The Dream, the scene played out like a fairytale.  If you’re thinking that you haven’t quite had this dream before, think again. The songwriter turned singer, who is married to R&B diva Nivea, is the genius behind Rihanna’s #1 hit ”Umbrella,” J. Holiday’s “Bed” and the hook on Young Joc’s latest single “Coffee Shop.” With music moguls like Jay-Z and L.A. Reid in his corner, The Dream is attempting to steal the shine with his solo effort LOVEHATE, which he boasts was written and recorded in nine solid days. Despite his made for TV success, and a new single “Shawty Is A Ten,” The Dream still has a lot to prove in an industry that thrives on hits and misses. Ready and willing to take on that challenge, the ever so confident singer/songwriter/producer talks with Alternatives about why Ne-Yo is no match for his animalistic approach to songwriting, finding a home at Def Jam, and working with his “baby” Alternatives: The buzz about you has been growing by the minute. Tell me, what’s all the fuss about?The-Dream: Aww man, what’s all the fuss about?  It’s like one of those lines in Kanye [West’s] song, “I’m kind of glad I showed up to the party late,” you know?  I’m just new. I’m the new guy that knows how to do something.  So you know, you get the buzz, and then you fall off.  But ain’t no falling off over here. That ain’t happening.AHHA: Maybe not, but there have been so many writer-turned-singer cats that have approached the scene in the past year alone, chief among them, your label mate Ne-Yo.  What are you offering that will force people not to group you as just another one of those guys?The-Dream: It’s all about me at the end of the day. Ne-Yo didn’t grow up in Atlanta. We don’t have the same name. We don’t do the same melodies. I’m selling me, so that’s what’s different all by itself.I couldn’t wait to address this question. [laughs] Back in the day, everybody wrote their own songs, so I don’t get what the big deal is now.  Like, the same thing that separates me from Ne-Yo is the same thing that separated Prince from Michael [Jackson] back in the day, you know?  Not everyone was meant to be a star, but everyone can do their own thing. And if the artists are concerned with us taking their jobs, make me feel the pressure of not crossing over, you know?  Step up to the plate. Don’t let me take your job.  AHHA: Okay, I hear you. You have recently been credited with penning Rihanna’s#### single “Umbrella.” Did you ever think this record would be doing so well on the charts?The-Dream: Umm, I actually knew that it would do well.  It was time for something new, and I was just blessed to have whatever it was that was new-that thing.  I did it my own way, so I can duplicate it, you know?  In the production and writing game, it’s all about politics. We could have played “Umbrella” on the wrong day, and it wouldn’t have gotten any airplay, which happened. I took that song to several labels. But when execs or A&Rs are having a bad day, or just aren’t in the mood, you have to take whatever they throw at you. Then you might take it to this other label and maybe this guy was watching CNN and was like, “The world is crazy, I like this record.” Like, it really just depends on the person and how they’re feeling that day.AHHA: That’s crazy. Creatively, what went into writing that song?  Did you develop the hook, and then fill it out with lyrics, or vice versa, because I cannot get that damn “Ella, ella” out of my head?The-Dream: Actually, I started the metaphor first.  I’ve gotten better at this point at the lyrics just coming, because then it’s just making sense and leading up to the first or second verse. I know what you mean about it being stuck in your head too.  I did that on purpose.  I knew it would have that effect. People think I dumb down these songs with hooks like that, but honestly, I just know what sells-the catchy, pop t### hooks.  But if you listen closely, there is a very real feeling within the lyrics of the song.  Even still, I know when someone goes outside and it’s raining, and they go to reach for their umbrella, that song is just ringing in their ears. [laughs]I also wrote a song for Sting, called “Black Box.”  Looking at the title, no one is going to know what it is about.  But basically, when a plane goes down people, are looking for the information box that says what went wrong. I used that metaphorically and spinned it. Like, that’s what people look for in relationships, that black box. You wonder where it all went wrong, even though it’s over and it doesn’t really matter anymore, still you can’t help but search for answers.AHHA: Dope. Now I know you think you’re hot stuff and all, but Ne-Yo has penned some pretty big hits for Rihanna as well.  Do you guys rumble over who gets to write for what projects, since you’re on the same label?The-Dream: No, not at all.  That guy is very great at what he does; Sean Garrett is too, but I’m a monster. [The label] needs people like me, because I’m going to write and grind and make sure I’m on the album and they’re not, because I know I’m going to give you the hot song.  I’m making sure that what you hear is hot.  So when they’re working on whatever project they’re working on, I sit in whatever room I’m in and find out who’s writing on what albums and those are the records I attack. I’m sure they do the same thing; they just won’t admit it.AHHA:  As I think about Def Jam artists, I notice that they have done well with keeping things in the family, with regard to writing, features, etc. Do you feel like you’ve found a home at Def Jam?The-Dream: Oh yeah, definitely. Anywhere with L.A. Reid is home. I’m from the “A,” so it’s whatever.  It’s like we just seek him out and that’s it. He and Jay-Z are both great. L.A. signed me, but Jay was actually more of an influence of me coming to Def Jam. It was like “Jay’s over here. That’s my n****. Definitely going over there.”  We talk like family. I remember one day my car was running late, and when L.A. Reid came out I asked, “Why is my car late?” [laughs] L.A. Reid said I’m the first person to ever ask him why my car showed up late or anything like that.AHHA: Aren’t you bold. [laughs] Do you remember every single detail that happened on that glorious day that you were signed by L.A. Reid?The-Dream:  I sure do. Actually what happened was, I recorded the song “Bed” by J. Holiday, and I thought to myself, “I need to go sing some of these songs, because somebody’s going to sing one of my songs the wrong way and rub the fans the wrong way.”  The next day, I called up to Def Jam like, “I’m going to be an artist.” They laughed, but they knew I was serious. The next day I sold “Bed” to Capitol Records for a nice amount.  Then Karen Kwak [Senior Vice President, A&R Operations/Island Def Jam] called, screaming because I gave that record away, but I wasn’t trippin’ because I knew I could write another one. The thing was, I wanted them to want me, not just a hot song.  Afterwards, I did “Shawty Is a Ten,” and L.A. was like, “If you want to be an artist, let’s do it.” We did the paperwork in two days; signed in three days. Two days after that, I had a transfer of funds. Five days after that, my record was playing on Hot 97.AHHA: Insane. I should admonish the kids that it isn’t always that easy. [laughs]The-Dream: Nah, hardly. But I’ve been working hard for a while now.AHHA: True. Writing and producing records has become just as big, if not bigger, than being an artist. With that said, publishing has become a big deal. Were you careful with your publishing arrangements when you began writing?The-Dream: What’s funny is…I’m just so blessed.  I got out of my publishing deal a year before I recorded “Umbrella,” because they weren’t supportive of what I was doing.  So I wrote “Umbrella” without being in a publishing contract, and then I signed an administration deal with Warner Chapell for close to a million dollars, with 100% publishing.AHHA: Again, insane. [laughs] Was writing always your passion, or was it just an entryway into the music industry, so you could emerge as a recording artist?The-Dream: Well, I was in a little singer group in Atlanta in ’98. I was trying to really make a career out of it, but my friends were busy running around with girls or just not focused like I was, so we parted ways. I feel like everyone starts out in the industry wanting to be on the big screen, you know? And if they say differently, then that’s the loser mentality. I mean, no one grows up wanting to be the Vice President; they want to be the President. I mean, everyone started out watching Michael Jackson on TV, and you got in the mirror with your little red jacket thinking, “I want to do this.” AHHA: Your first single “Shawty Is a Ten” is gaining momentum on the airwaves. Is the excitement less intense, having already experienced hearing other artists cover your songs on television and radio?The-Dream: It’s way more exciting knowing that 100% of a certain work has been done by you, and to a certain degree, has been accepted. It feels better than writing.AHHA: When I listen to the song, I am reminded of early R. Kelly with a T-Pain twist. Do you feel like Atlanta has a subculture that might contribute to the similar style of R&B artists out of that area?The-Dream: I think sound is sound. Hearing a song and drawing similarities is easy, because there isn’t but so much you can do with music, you know?  But I think being from Atlanta has a lot to do with it. I mean, we ain’t doing nothin’ new.  Almost everything we do has been done before, by older Atlanta artists like Kilo.  AHHA: Kilo?The-Dream: Yeah, you don’t know nothin’ ‘bout that right there. That’s that “freaknik” music. [laughs]AHHA: You are a mess. [laughs] I hear you’re working closely with Jazze Pha on the album. Are you enjoying that?The-Dream: Mmhmm. That’s my homeboy. We’re working on a lot of stuff together–Janet, Usher.AHHA: That’s what’s up. Alright, so there must be a story.  There is always a story. Has anything really crazy happened to you since becoming more popular within the industry?The-Dream: Actually, yeah. Somebody from one of the tabloids asked was me and Rihanna dating, because we were in LA together last week. Like, it’s weird to me. I mean, sure I’m in LA with Rihanna, but maybe we’re doing a song or something. Then my accountant called like, “I knew something was going on!” AHHA: Well, is something going on?The-Dream: No, nothing is going on. [laughs] That’s my baby though. She’s a good friend.AHHA: You’re hiding something. I’ll get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, what do you have lined up for the next six months?The-Dream: I got a song with Sting and Nicole Scherzinger coming, called “Power Without,” and a single with Mary J. Blige called “Sleepwalking.” Watch out for Usher. There are a few others.AHHA: If you could put together an all-star performance cast for the biggest tour of the summer, what artists could we expect to see?The-Dream: That’s easy. Kanye West, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000; then Coldplay, U2, Rihanna, and of course you got to put Mary J. on there. Then you add me, and we’ll be good. Oh, and let me put Usher on there, because he might be p##### off if he ain’t on there. [laughs] Oh, and we’ll put Rihanna on there again.AHHA: Go ahead and tell on yourself. You and Ms. Rihanna, huh?The-Dream: I don’t know what you’re talking about.  She just broke her toe too, but umm, yeah. That’s all I’m saying. Let me go.  I feel like I’m talking in my sleep. [laughs]