Suge Knight, a man of muscle and madness, lived by an ethical code worthy of heading up a label called Death Row Records. Fear gave him power, and fear gave the label its authority. Death is a dangerous brand when it's associated with authentic trouble and the repercussions that come with going beyond "keeping it real." Look no further than record executive Irv Gotti, his company Murda Inc., and the maelstrom of unfortunate circumstances that occurred prior to 2003, when the Hollis, Queens native attempted a name change to cleanse the record label of negative connotation. Names, monikers, and labels can be used to identify, but they also can become your identity.
Within the first 10 seconds of his major-label debut single, “Shawty Is a 10” (also known as the raunchier, uncensored "Shawty Is Da Sh*!"), Terius “The-Dream” Nash utters the parlance “Radio Killa.” The phrase is confident and catchy, a tag that doubles as both declaration and record label imprint. Nash was a new voice on the radio, but he boldly assured listeners of his prestige. Through the song, listeners were introduced to his name and identity. Yet another example of a man claiming to be a killer, but this one didn’t murder men.
At the time, the title of "Radio Killa" was fit for the Neptunes duo of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, seasoned mainstays of the airwaves. Timbaland had the notoriety and the catalog to claim such bragging rights. Even T-Pain, in the infancy of his Auto-Tune dominance, was a recurring presence between commercial breaks and radio personalities. The-Dream appeared seemingly out of nowhere with a Def Jam record deal, an infectious feature from Fabulous, and an air of certainty that he would be here to stay.
What many didn't know, however, was that long before he was a known voice, name, or face, The-Dream was a pen alongside longtime songwriting partner Christopher "Tricky" Stewart. Creative practitioners who perform in background roles are credited, but to be spotlighted requires a portfolio of success.
In 2007, six years after the pair began working together, Nash and Stewart struck gold with Rihanna's "Umbrella." Embedded in the song's DNA were the melodies, harmonies, and "Ay!"s that have since become textbook characteristics of Nash. Style is a stamp, and The-Dream used his distinct extended syllables, vocal refrains, and songwriting talents to help a budding star roll out the red carpet to eardrums. Now certified Platinum six times over, "Umbrella" achieved the kind of success that launches careers, and it immediately did so for The-Dream.
When “Shawty Is a 10” reached radio-waves in July 2007, the mainstream was already well-acquainted and familiar with how his words worked. When follow-up singles “Falsetto” and “I Luv Your Girl” broke into the top 30 of Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking at No. 30 and No. 20, respectively, his smooth-talking R&B with hip-hop candor officially became a brand. Before every rapper turned singer, and every singer began rapping, The-Dream found a perfect middle between brash swagger and sensual romanticism; the lasting influence from Prince and late ‘90s R. Kelly. With the bravado of a rapper and the sentimentalism of a singer, Nash appealed in equal measure to men and women with impressive ease.
The-Dream didn’t write as his contemporaries wrote. He didn’t sing as his peers sung. The modern blueprint being followed by others was not his design, and that’s what made The-Dream a spectacle. There were better singers and, arguably, better writers, but few could match his ingenuity and raw instinct to push ideas forward. Sex, love, and relationships were given a perspective that spoke of the change occurring in how the subjects were navigated by contemporary R&B stars.
In the year of T-Pain’s Epiphany, Ne-Yo’s Because of You, Marques Houston’s Veteran and R. Kelly’s Double Up, the arrival of The-Dream and his Def Jam debut album Lovehate remains the R&B standout of 2007. The major-label offering wasn’t the biggest, or most commercially popular, but it was musically in a world of its own. The Timbo-inspired synth production paired with the seamless suite album sequencing displayed how his creative vision expanded far beyond the singles. The-Dream understood how to construct an immersive album with all the bells and whistles to be unforgettable.
T-Pain brought to pop music the robotic textures of tomorrow, but The-Dream was a trailblazer, serving as the biggest influence on the future of R&B. He had traditional roots, forward-thinking concepts, respect from music’s biggest names, and mainstream exposure as both a singer and songwriter. Giants are judged by the shadows they cast. To be large and visible is to have a presence that engulfs. Terius “The-Dream” Nash, in the worlds of R&B and pop music, was a budding Goliath by the time Love Vs Money, his stellar second studio album, was released in 2009.
It was impossible to escape The-Dream in the first four years of his transition from celebrated songwriter to spotlighted R&B maestro. And he continued his prolific run writing for others. Nash and Stewart penned two more number-one hits in 2008: Mariah Carey's “Touch My Body” and Beyoncé's “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” More radio magic from the Radio Killa.
As a solo artist, Nash was thriving on the charts alone, but also saw winning results in the company of Kanye West and Mariah Carey, Drake and the Gym Class Heroes, Fabolous and Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg. Yet, no matter how effective his presence was, The-Dream couldn't replicate the chart-topping success of "Umbrella" or "Single Ladies" on a record that he was actually featured on.
It wasn’t about the charts with Nash, or how many albums he sold, but rather his constant return to Atlanta radio. Radio’s rotation of his records gave him a sense of eternity. Death, taxes, and a new feature, single, or album from The-Dream. How I once believed Rich Homie Quan would never stop going in, I believed The-Dream would continue to be to radio what the sand is to the sea—unmoving and always present.
One day, death came. So did taxes, but there was no Dream on my radio. Somewhere between 2010's well-received Love King and 2013's shaky IV Play, the music began losing its reach. This could be a matter of label woes; The-Dream departed from Def Jam in 2014 after seven years underneath the label’s care.
The issue could also be the music; what once made The-Dream’s dreamy electro-pop R&B so innovative and exciting was trapped in repurposed predictability. The-Dream's Fabolous-assisted single “Summer Body,” released in 2017, is a painfully cliché effort that’s a shell of what the two accomplished a decade prior. Doing new versions of what you’ve done better may work well for Apple products, but music is a harder sell.
Not all The-Dream's recent offerings have struggled with failed repetition. He made three strong contributions to SBTRKT’s 2016 album SAVE YOURSELF, applied a touch of gold to Big Sean’s “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” and stood out alongside Nas on NASIR's “Adam and Eve. There are gems to be found on IAMSAM, his 2015 album of Sam Cooke covers, and the experimental Genesis, the soundtrack to his 2016 visual album. These are projects driven by passion instead of return-to-form ventures. But while they're satisfying, there’s still a void that hasn’t quite been filled since 1977, arguably his most personal and underrated body of work, released in 2012.
The-Dream isn’t a diminished version of his talents, but he is no longer the only occupant of his standout strengths. We are living in a post-Lovehate R&B landscape where pieces of his past novelty have influenced modern voices such as The Weeknd, Jeremih, Frank Ocean, Bryson Tiller, and Ty Dolla $ign. On his single “Love U Better,” Ty jokes about a woman who doesn’t know if the song belongs to Dream or Dolla. Hearing the two together, it’s obvious how closely their music communicates. Hearing the seamless transitions throughout 6LACK's new sophomore album, East Atlanta Love Letter, it's easy to wonder how much of Dream’s influence impacted the storytelling and pacing.
There’s an alternative universe where Drake’s “Ratchet Happy Birthday” and “Summer Games” from the B-side of Scorpion are rightfully delivered to Nash and Stewart. The industry didn’t morph in his image, but plenty has been artistically molded based on the revered projects in The-Dream’s discography. What he lacks in millions of album sold and a plethora of plaques for his solo singles is made up with his lasting impact. Legacy, if honored, will keep Terius “The-Dream” Nash in the conversation as one of the most influential R&B artists of the millennial generation.
Recently, in a series of Instagram posts, Nash hinted at new music coming soon. Somewhere, deep down, there’s hope this resurgence is the second-coming arc of his career. With the burgeoning return of T-Pain, the prospering of 2 Chainz, and even Tyga climbing back into the Billboard ranks, there’s room for a reinvigorated The-Dream.
For those who can adapt to currents and step ahead of curves, the window never completely closes. It would be naïve to believe old magic will be met with modern genius, but that’s exactly what brought the impressive songwriter to the radio he so proudly killed. The radio is where The-Dream made his name, where he made a home for memorable hits, and where I hope he rightfully returns. In a year where the news is fake, logic is dead, and all trust has been broken, we could use some familiarity. Someone who lives up to the identity we believed in. The Radio Killa.
By Yoh, aka The-Yoh, aka @Yoh31
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