The-Dream speaks on penning hits for Rihanna, their tonal similarities, and what it takes to get a Terius Nash writing credit.
The-Dream is certainly is a successful solo artist, but his chart-presence is much more visible when you read the fine print. The Radio Killa, who you may have heard bragging about being "all on you like the credits on a CD", has a very impressive song-writing repertoire. From writing for the likes of Beyonce, Ciara, Usher, Mariah Carey, and even Justin Bieber, Terius has gained some serious cred (and some pretty serious stacks to go along with it).Â
One of Dream's bigger clients is Rihanna, for whom he has written and produced a handful of hits, including one of her biggest tracks, "Umbrella". Terius spoke to V Magazine about his songwriting approach, describing Rihanna as the singer who has done his songs the most justice, due to their vocal similarities (though it should be said that Rihanna has a tendency to mirror her songwriter's reference tracks, as evidenced by her strange pronunciation on "Diamonds" which is a direct lift from the Australian songwriter's take). The IV Play singer also talks about how much he charges for a song (outside of royalties), the absence of songwriting partner Tricky Stewart on his new album, and the influence of "Umbrella" on his own work.
Read excerpts from the interview below.
How does one go about getting aÂ DreamÂ track?
TDÂ Honestly, the best way is to show up with about fifty thousand dollars in cashâ¦ Boomâ¦ Thatâs the easy route. Wherever I am, you show up with fifty, you probably got a song. Itâs going down.
Of all the artists youâve worked with, who would you say has done you most justice?
TDÂ As far as my whole sound, my tone and melodicness, Iâd probably have to say Rihanna.
Is that because of âUmbrellaâ?
TD No. Itâs more because our tones are so similarâfrom a sonic standpoint.
Since âUmbrella,â your soundâs been recognized by the presence of âellaâsâ and âeyâsââthe melodic mark ofÂ Radio Killaâ¦ where did that whole thing come from?
TD âEllaâ was just literally me playing on the word âumbrellaâ at the time. It was a way to bridge the gaps in the song, connect the measures. When âUmbrellaâ hit so hard and had such an impact, it kind of just became my calling card. Like my own little marketing campaign for myself that Iâd put into songs to bring them all together. They never previously existed before âUmbrella.â It was so hooky that Iâd use it in other songs of mine and thatâs how it became a signature. Originally, it was just tying the beats and the words together, and it worked. I actually donât do it as much anymore, thoughâ¦ Iâve come to let the songs have to be what they are.
So, in other words, it was not a concerted effort to bring doo-wop into this century?Â
TD I actually havenât ever thought of it that way. Thatâs interesting. I like that. And I can see how youâd say that, but, honestly it just started as a good way to connect things both within my records and record to record. I try not to overanalyze and just do what feels good and it just felt good and grew from there.
Moving onâ¦ is there a track you wrote that you were expecting to be a hit but fizzled?
TD I probably expected âMoving Mountains,â [which] I did for Usher to be bigger than it was. Itâs a great song. Lyrically, I really dove head first into those words. It was all about how love works and the ups and downs of it and using the metaphor of mountains. The track was great. It was kind of weird when it didnât live up to expectations. It didnât live up to its own potential. Its probably one of the greatest records Iâve ever written that didnât get its shine. I can say now that just because you have a number one [song] onÂ BillboardÂ doesnât mean youâre a hit. You can have a hit culturally that youâre not even thinking about and not have a number one single. I equate it to having someone be the best dressed at a party. Thereâs no hit chart for how good you looked at a party, but, if people be talking about itâjust because you canât quantify it doesnât mean itâs not a hit from a cultural standpoint.Â
Is there a track you wrote that became a hit unexpectedly?
TD [Rihannaâs] âBirthday Cake.â It was hot to me, but, it was never recorded as a full song... at least to begin with. I definitely felt itâd be an anthem-y thing for the girls whoâd hear it at the club and go wild for it, but, never thought peopleâd be asking where the full version wasâ¦ and it became that.
Do you know when youâre making a hit?
TD â¦ I guess, thereâs a sense that thereâs something Iâm doing, and Iâve done it so long that I donât even realize Iâm doing it. It would probably take someone like you, outside of me, to tell me what makes my songs hits. I wouldnât even know it. I definitely donât have a regimenâIâve written songs on buses, airplanes, VegasâI do, though, like to put myself in some sort of pressure. I thrive when itâs the end and my back is up against the wall.
You write so well for women. I mean, all you have to do is refer to your roster and youâll see its more women than menâ¦ why do you think you capture the female scope so well?
TD In the end, I guess, itâs kind of like the unexplained truth for meâ¦ I think my relationship with my mom has a lot to do with it. When youâre dealing with that sort of thing, your sensitivity goes up. I also think my imagination of people feeds into itâI just like being around different people. I like watching them and watching their psyche. Itâs part of the way as a writer I can put myself into their eyes.
What would you say is wrong with R&B today?
TD When R&B started to compete with pop numbers, thatâs when shit started to go awry. You canât compete with pop or hip-hop numbers when youâre trying to make a great R&B album. You also should be able to make a great R&B album without any features. Once you put a feature on an R&B track it becomes either a pop or hip-hop record. R&B should be strippedâ¦ for instance, with âRockinâ That Shit,â they put on all these rappers and it became another thing. I didnât want anybody on that record. I wanted an R&B record. Once shit starts to compete with pop and hip-hop numbers, itâs like people donât realize that you should be doing 50-60k salesâ¦ thatâs an R&B record. R&B is lovemaking! It should be as slow-moving and gradual as life is. The song may be fast, but it isnât âfast and right nowâ like pop is. Itâs not about this week. The importance of first-week sales really did a number on R&B today.
Of your entire catalogue, do you have a magnum opus in your opinion?
TD I havenât made it yet. I think this âNikkiâ album is going to be interesting and Iâm kind of prematurely calling the fifth installment of theÂ LoveÂ series,Â Phantom. I also want to do a 12â record calledÂ Sadeâs Sonâ¦ like six straight songs of âFancy(s).â
I discovered last night at your listening party thatÂ IV PlayÂ features no tracks produced by your formerly frequent collaborator, Tricky Stewart. How come?
TD Trick, where you at? [Laughs] Trickyâs at Epic [Records] now. It was more a political thing than anyâ¦ thatâs still my homie. Heâs just over there with my good friend, L.A. Reid, for a minuteâ¦ in a good way, though. But donât worryâweâve got a whole month blocked off in August to work together.
Check out one of Rihanna's more transparent Dream-penned tracks below.