Beyonce, Mary J. Blige Featured on the-Dream's New Album
The-Dream performs in Austin, Texas. Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images
It's been a year since the-Dream first previewed his album, IV Play MMXII, an event thrown together as if for the hell of it: at the time, no release date had been set. There was a song with Gucci Mane, another with Mary J. Blige, one called "Loving You." Months went by with no public progress. In December, a second listening session showed a white board with six of the original nine songs gone, replaced by "Pussy!," "Thirsty Whore" and "Psycho." He'd gone from the-Dream to Terius Nash, warm winds to storm clouds. The project's title hadn't changed; everything else had.
Yesterday, noting the "final tracklist, but not the final sequence," the-Dream once again hit the space bar, this time on the top floor of New York's Jungle City studios. A small crowd joined him, over two sessions maybe 30 people in all, including Timbaland. Wearing a BBC hoodie and Jordans, a Louis Vuitton briefcase next to him, the-Dream seemed friendly, quick to shake hands and small-talk, but still a bit unsettled: When the room would go quiet between songs, he'd scroll through his laptop screen and beatbox. While he didn't play it, the-Dream mentioned that "Equestrian," a song with Big Sean that's been kicking around for a while, would also be on the album. At the end, he got up and shook more hands, a wide smile, seemingly relieved to put this out there.
"IV Play": Soft-spoken and polite in person, the-Dream opens IV Play matter-of-factly: "I could give a fuck about the foreplay, I want it now/I'm talking straight sex, stop fucking around." It's not demanding or abusive; he sings with ellipses, not exclamation points. If anything, he sounds delicate even when attempting rough: a British accent can make the dumbest words sound refined, and The-Dream can always turn dishrags into flowers. Sonically, it sounds like Jodeci, "Splackavellie" and Roger Troutman in a Cadillac Eldorado, which is to say it sounds great.
"Fi (Fire)": When introducing this, the-Dream said, "Fire's in parentheses, because that would be the non-ghetto title. Beyoncé's on this." She sounds soft, airy, as if from a hallucination: "I've never been high, but tonight I might try it. I've been such a good girl, but tonight I might try it." She name-checks D'usse cognac, obviously, and says "I'm so trill" and casually mentions "boppers." All right, we get it, you're from Houston, Bey. Dream runs his vocals through every ProTools filter, as if in a carwash, first through A$AP and then Nineties effects – up, down, red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish. And, yes, in the middle of everything, there's marimba.
"Where Have You Been": In the studio, the-Dream said in a sing-song voice, " . . . with Kelly Rowland. I got Destiny's Child on my album!" (Note: Michelle Williams is not on the album.) It's reminiscent of an Anita Baker and Peabo Bryson ballad, with fluffy shoulders and cringing faces and heaving, lots of heaving, where each word is said between breaths. It's like a hug, a couples therapy session where both parties are saying the exact same thing. The song, like Drake's "Started from the Bottom," feels like eating in a rotating restaurant. I had it stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
"Too Early in the Morning": It sounds bluesy, woozy and dirty, and it's not even what you think it's about: fighting after waking up. He sounds like Prince. "I used to love to undress you, now I don't never pay you no mind." There's a slow build, string plucks; "ahh's" build over one another in the background. It sounds foreboding, like something bad is happening. Pitching down his vocals, as he does so often now, he chants, "Too early in the morning to break up and then make out."