5:45 p.m. The-Dream is back on track. “There’s something inside of me that’s broken, and it’s been like that for a while/In my heart I can never maintain focus/You can’t fix this so don’t you even try/Allow me to be my own hater/I’ll always be a player.”
And then he eases into the crescendo:
“Ba-by, I’m misery . . . ”
The-Dream practically trips onto the hook. There’s no toiling over word choice or editing intermissions. It just comes out. Naturally.
“He just has this incredible ability to tap into his creativity,” explains Thrall. “It’s like somehow he’s revving up as he’s going through it and then when he gets that hook he has his creative momentum all the way in gear.”
The process is far from seamless, though. In fact, it’s choppy and repetitive. Imagine the writing process without the writing. Instead of putting pen to pad, he brainstorms in the booth as he’s recording. He feels for the words and lets them erupt of their own accord.
5:48 p.m. I look around the room to see if anyone is as impressed as I am. Nobody is the slightest bit fazed by The-Dream’s technique. His personal assistant and two sound engineers are bobbing their heads absently— business as usual.
5:50 p.m. The song is finished. Now he goes back over it to layer the harmonies.
5:57 p.m. He whips off his headphones, walks out of the booth and asks for the next scenario.
The-Dream singlehandedly produced, wrote and recorded a song in a half hour. Now in the zone, he refuses to back down from the three-song challenge. But he doesn’t take all the credit— his long-time collaborator Christopher “Tricky” Stewart isn’t in the studio today but his presence is felt . . . or heard.
“[Tricky and I] basically execute the same process every time. We jump on keyboards together— that’s why there is more than one in the same studio. This is what I’ve learned from him over the last eight years, because it didn’t start out that way. When me and Tricky first started working together, I was definitely not the guy in the keyboards or the beat machine.”
6:01 p.m. He tackles the lesbian conversion with signature style: “Let me love you, babe/Let me make you change/Baby, I ain’t even gotta touch your loving . . . Enter my eyes, drop your disguise/Baby, sure you’ve been missing this kind of attention/Sure, you love kissing her and I know how it feels/But it doesn’t feel half as good as you just standing here/Let me love you with my mind . . . ”
6:39 p.m. The-Dream approaches the career-killer with equal “eloquence”: “The bitch gotta nigga fucked up/Call 911, nigga, fire on my nuts/After I hit her, I hit you, and I ain’t even that kinda dude/I know I’m wrong, but damn, can’t hang with bitches that wanna fuck your man/I know I should’ve strapped up ’cause damn, now we both fucked up/All I can say is I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry . . .”
7:11 p.m. When the final track is laid down, he emerges from the booth and checks his watch. “What was that?” he asks. “Three songs in an hour-and-a-half. Sorry it took so long.”
Whether you consider him an R. Kelly impersonator or an innovator, The-Dream seems to have discovered the formula for pop prosperity. No matter how long you watch him chef it up in the kitchen, you can’t extrapolate his recipe. The minute you try, he’ll 86 your ass.
“That’ll be 80 times three. $240,000,” The-Dream deadpans. “Cut me a check.”