This is Dream’s gift, an absurd ability to write songs that become a part of your life in just a fraction of his own: “Umbrella” was written in 15 minutes, “Single Ladies” in 20. “I remember going up that day and looking at [Beyoncé] and saying ‘I don’t know who thinks they got the first single on your album,” he says of the singer’s I Am…Sasha Fierce recording session. “But I’m fittin’ to write the first single.’ And I had no idea what I was going to write. None. I like putting myself in that corner because I have to come with it, like, You got to do it now!” In an hour of studio time, Dream works on a dizzying array of projects in varying states of completion, one of which is a new single for J. Holiday, his newest singing to Radio Killa Records.
The song is called “Tippin’ For Life,” a mid-tempo bass heavy grind that in someone else’s hands would go to obvious places. The-Dream is anything but obvious, always subtly surprising listeners in a way reminiscent of the days when radio play necessitated clever double entendres rather than bleeped out profanities. In this case, he was almost too subtle for Holiday—a line originally written I work my ass off just so I can address you has come back as I work my ass off just so I can undress you. Dream defends it as a simple mishearing but immediately gets on the phone after listening to both his demo and Holiday’s to clarify the lyric and offer several other pointers. As with all of his songs, he has given specific guidance as to how he wants things to sound, down to the very last vocal inflection, and to be honest, his version is better. “Tippin’ For Life” is not about strippers (maybe a little bit), it’s about supporting the woman in your life if she supports you. It’s about giving your heart to a good woman after having it broken by a bad one. Holiday does it justice, but The-Dream’s demo is emotional. It makes you feel things Holiday’s doesn’t because the young, successful and handsome singer most likely hasn’t felt those things himself. The-Dream has.
“I’m writing it so I’m supposed to feel it,” Dream says. “That’s the trick and the magic of the whole thing—me trying to get that feeling and pass it on to somebody. I’m gonna be outspoken in a technical aspect, but it’s hard for them to match what the feeling is or deliver a certain line how I deliver it. That’s him to me, though. Thinking of him made me write the record, not thinking of myself. All of these artists have a place. I could sing that record, but it’s not me. Vicariously through him I can sing it. I can write ‘Single Ladies’ for B. Just like I can write ‘Falsetto’ for myself. That’s me. Nobody else can sing that record—it’s the play on words, it’s the goofiness about it, it’s the cockiness about it and it’s about me cursing. If there’s not a shit and a damn and motherfucker on it, it’s not mine.” The most transcendent of Dream’s songs for other people are the ones on which the recipients were able to meet his standards. The most transcendent of Dream’s songs for himself are just plain personal.
He may not ever sell as many records as Beyoncé or Rihanna, but Dream’s solo songs are the ones that played when you fell in love, consummated that love, broke up with that love and then did something stupid to get that love back together. But where his previous albums, Love Hate and Love vs Money, approached love from a distinctly wounded part of Dream’s psyche, on his new album, Love King, he evolves that to reflect his current, happy existence with his wife Christina Milian and their brand new baby daughter, Violet Madison Nash. It’s Dream’s fourth child and second marriage, after a much-publicized relationship with Atlanta-based singer Nivea, but to hear him talk about it, it’s his first chance at a real adult relationship. “It’s definitely in a good place. I feel really good about it,” he says. “Since this is my second one I don’t forecast it. I don’t treat my relationship like my music, because my expectations with my music are astronomical and I can’t pass that on to someone else’s problems. Like this is the softer side of Sears now. Calm down.”