TERIUS “THE-DREAM” NASH is arguably one of the greatest songwriters of Generation Z-Share. The self-proclaimed “radio killa” has composed some of the most revered R&B anthems of the decade for the biggest pop stars in the world (Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body”). After such successes, the 31-year-old Atlanta native—who drops his third album, Love King, on June 22—is the first to sing his own praises. He openly brags on the power of his pen, claiming he can compose a hit for any artist who steps to him. Sure, he can construct a ballsy banger, ballad or babymaker at whim, but what if the subject matter was a bit more far-fetched than say . . . a bed?
VIBE decided to challenge the songwriter with a few scenarios of our own, so we joined the hit maker in the studio to put him to the test. His mission: to create three brand-new bangers from start to finish in less than three hours.
4:39 p.m. Bathed in burgundy, the belly of the studio feels more like a bedroom than a recording booth. The interior is dim and candlelit. Bubbling lava lamps and bowls of green grapes (he demands that the mini Snickers be removed from the room) sit on the end tables. All in all, the room is vice-free. No blunts are passed. Patrón bottles stay tightly corked. Dressed in Seersucker pants and a Mommie Dearest T, The-Dream twists in his swivel chair as he attempts to describe his songwriting process.
“Ninety percent of the time I’m thinking about an artist before they even approach me,” he says. “Ok, let me write this for Rih—she’s doing her punk rock shit. Then I’ll call her and tell her I wrote a song for her. I used to sit down with the artists a long time ago—when I wasn’t making money. Everybody had a scenario. I can’t remember the last time that happened.”
5:13 p.m. All that’s about to change. We present him with three situations, letting him decide which one to choose first:
Option No. 1: A guy knows he’s not right for his woman, but still tries to convince her to stay. They both know he’s probably the worst person in the world for her.
Option No. 2: A guy falls in love with a lesbian and attempts to get her to change teams without resorting to tired promises of turning her out. In fact, he can’t mention sex at all.
Option No. 3: A dude cheats on his girl and ends up burning (passing an STD to) the woman he loves. The song will serve as his explanation/apology.
The-Dream muses for a moment and, more than a little intimidated by the last set-up, starts mocking it. “That would be career suicide,” he says. “Why would I want to look like the biggest asshole in the world? No artist would ask me to write a song like that.” So he chooses the first, and most familiar, and gets to work.
5:24 p.m. He slides his chair over to the first desk and immediately starts fingering the keys. Working four keyboards and a drum machine, he starts layering the elements: first the low chords, then high. He floats over to the MPC and punches out some hiccupping percussion accents. Once he has the loopy, whirring foundation laid down, he adds even more slithering synth layers. The track starts to breathe and swell.
5:41 p.m. He asks me to repeat the scenario and disappears into the cushioned booth to record the vocals. First he adlibs, cooing out his signature Dream-isms: eh ehs, falsetto flourishes and oh-ooh yeahs. He freestyles the opening bar: “See, I kinda like you, so I’ma keep it one hundred/There ain’t nothing about me that’s worth you wanting to spend your whole life with . . . ”
The-Dream’s longhaired engineer, Pat Thrall, is not only gifted, he’s patient. After every couple of lines, the artist cues him to rewind the track—“one more time”; “back that up”; “after that”; “gimme that line again”—so he can pick up where he left off. They repeat the volley until the first verse is finished. As Thrall adjusts a few levels, The-Dream starts snoring dramatically. “That means I’m taking too long,” Thrall explains with a chuckle. “It’s his trademark.”