But The-Dream is not bourgeois. As much as he has, not much of it seems that important to him. His tastes are expensive but not extravagant, and he’s as invested in giving to others as he is himself. Over the course of a few days he makes multiple generous offers to multiple people. When a manager compliments his Nikes, Dream offers to drive to the outlet mall outside of Atlanta to buy a pair for everyone in the room, because, as he says, “I want you to be fly.” When his ever-present cigar box filled with pricey imports is opened, he offers one to anyone around. And when the website of the Florida resort Dream stays at when working in Miami makes my pupils dilate, he offers to pay for my vacation, saying “If I find out you went down there and didn’t let me pay for it, I’m going to be really upset.”
As nice as it is to be offered lavish gifts, this is not what makes Dream good to be around. He’s one of the funnier people you will ever meet, constantly punchlining conversations and lightening work with gentle ribbing. One night, as Dream works on several projects at once in his studio, his assistant delivers a small cup of lime sherbet at his request. He thanks her and then goes on a five-minute rant about the miracle of sugar while spooning it up. The banter with his studio engineer Pat Thrall—a dead ringer for The Eagles’ Joe Walsh—is so ridiculous it almost seems rehearsed. And during our photoshoot, he points out that the reason his slim T-shirt looks extra slim is because “there’s a piece of cake out there for every hit I’ve made.” That is, no offense to Dream’s physique, a lot of cake.
Along with his partner Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and a loyal team of engineers and vocal specialists, The-Dream has built a startling catalog in a very short time. Since getting his first break from Tricky’s brother and fellow producer, Laney Stewart, in 2001 writing songs for boy-group B2K, Dream has made career-defining classics for Beyoncé (“Single Ladies”), Rihanna (“Umbrella”), Fabolous (“Throw It In The Bag”) and J. Holiday (“Bed”). He has forged new identities for established stars like Mariah Carey (“Obsessed,” “Touch My Body”), Jamie Foxx (“Digital Girl”) and Ciara (her entire new album). And he is redefining what Atlanta, R&B and pop will sound like in the 2010s. The words he has so generously written for other artists are now sung by your mother, your little sister, the mailman, rap dudes, the urban woodsman next door, the First Lady and the First Lady’s husband. His hits are HITS, classics, timeless standards for a new era that reach millions without pandering. He’s been able to break barriers of genre in a way that his predecessors couldn’t because of his careful study of Sam Cooke and Lionel Richie and—at least musically—R. Kelly, whose genius will always be inextricably linked to his misdeeds. The-Dream is not someone you like ironically or follow because he might embarrass himself, and the only thing ostensibly “weird” about him is his productivity.