While R. Kelly has been preoccupied of late learning the definition of "teenager," a new R&B songbird has flown onto his perch as the singer of choice for both the block and the bedroom, and his name is Terius "The-Dream" Nash. The pen behind some of the biggest R&B songs of the past two years - writing (Rihanna's "Umbrella," J. Holiday's "Bed") or co-writing (Beyonce's "Single Ladies," Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body," Mary J. Blige's "Just Fine") for almost every prominent name in the genre - established himself as an amazing artist in his own right in 2007 with two gold singles ("Shawty Is A 10" and "Falsetto") and one refreshingly unique-sounding gold album (Love/Hate). In tandem with the production of Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and Carlos "Los Da Maestro" McKinney (and a small army of engineers and others housed at Dream's Radio Killa label [click to watch] Dream introduced that New New Jack Swing - an '80s inspired blend of synth-driven R&B/Electro sounds. And the ATL-based singer/songwriter has continued to develop that special brand of futuristic funk on his standout sophomore outing, Love Vs. Money.
Although there aren't many sonics on Love Vs. Money that are as instantaneously impressive as Dream's latest hip-swinging smash "Rockin' That Thang," the supercharged synths and conga drums of the boot-knockin' anthem "Put It Down" come pretty damn close. And while he has some trouble hitting the song's high notes, Dream slyly acknowledges his vocal limitations when he self-deprecatingly sings, "Well if they ask you can I sing like Usher, say no/But I could make you sing like Mariah."
The self-proclaimed "R&B Gorilla" subsequently breaks into a mid-song rap, which serves to highlight the almost emcee-like approach Dream takes with his craft, including dropping his native A-Town adlib ("Aye!") and inserting down south screwed vocal samples (even on the sweeping piano-driven moment of melancholy, "Fancy") all over the album.
Dream most notably shows his rapper sensibility at the conclusion of the bass heavy "Mr. Yeah." After explaining over twinkling keys to a lost love that she can come back whenever she likes and declaring that "Cupid ain't got shit on me," he punctuates the song by bluntly asking his eventually returned ex, "Can we fuck now?"
Mr. Christina Milian keeps the subject matter on LVM mostly sexual - light on love but heavy on male machismo, similar to the approach of Jodeci in the '90's and Dream's most obvious influence, the aforementioned Kells. Student pays homage to teacher (and the Chi-Town crooner's classic sophomore disc) on "Kelly's 12 Play," as Dream emulates his stylistic forefather's "Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh" moans as he and a significant other are "Doin' it to Kelly's 12 Play" before she switches CD's and he notes, "Now we doin' it to Dream's Love/Hate."
Dream sounds very Kelly-ish on the ode to destroying a love's fresh new hairdo in the bedroom on the slow-grinding "Sweat It Out." But even with all the Kells love on Love, he is not the singer Dream is most consumed with on his latest full-length - that honor goes to former flame Nivea. On the album's title-track (and its more menacing Pt. 2) Dream goes in about their past relationship - singing about love in a way he does nowhere else on the album. After detailing how he thought he could buy her love and loyalty, he explains that a new man in her life (presumed to be Lil Wayne [click to read]), "took my shawty/He took my girl." But Dream eventually brushes his loss off after in a rare moment of candor conceding that "Money ain't no match for love."
Unfortunately, it's not all heartfelt confessionals and stellar soundscapes on Love Vs. Money. "Right Side Of My Brain" is an awkward beatbox-based lament on being dumb and in love. And then there's the completely banal "Let Me See The Booty," where Lil Jon helps anchor a track featuring his signature (circa 2004) stylings but with added shrill echo effects sounding like some sort of soundtrack for a Haunted House of Crunk.
And while I'm dishing out some hate for Love, Dream's duet with Mariah Carey, "My Love," is a little cheesy. And it wouldn't have hurt the album if Kanye West's passable verse on the Michael Jackson-inspired disco-ey dance number "Walkin' On The Moon" would have been scrapped - as well as the other Crunk&B selection in addition to "Booty": "Take U Home 2 My Mama."
But these critiques are ultimately dwarfed by Dream's unparalleled knack for making R&B interesting at a time when it seems so stereotypical and redundant. He will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Kells, but with Love Vs. Money Dream proves his spage age music is in a galaxy all its own.