There aren’t too many artists that can say they’ve achieved what The-Dream has accomplished in his 20-year career. Before becoming a full-fledged artist in 2007 with his debut album Love/Hate, The-Dream was a highly sought-after songwriter penning hits for popular artists like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Rihanna.
As a writer, The-Dream racked up 14 Grammy nominations with four total wins and, as an artist, crafted a critically-acclaimed discography that includes seven studio albums. With so many accolades and a respected Rolodex of artists at his disposal, what is there left for The-Dream to do?
“Time. Will I end with a voice that has something to say? Am I a guy that can get things done for the people coming behind me,” The-Dream tells HipHopDX. As he enters a new chapter with his seventh studio album SXTP4, The-Dream is going up against time at this point in his career. “How can I make it last forever,” he adds.
The first step The-Dream is taking to figuring that out starts with his latest effort, SXTP4. The project is a continuation of 2018’s triple album Ménage à Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3, and on it, The-Dream took an entrepreneurial approach that he hopes will extend his legacy. On the music side of things, it was business as usual for him as he wrote, produced, and recorded all 13 songs with the help of his engineers. However, The-Dream was inspired to take SXTP4 and the entire Sextape series further and make it an actual brand.
“First thing I wanted to do is establish Sextape as a thing. It’s not just about a Dream album, it’s about these vibes,” he explains. “I want it to grow into the idea of, cool, I can hit Bryson [Tiller] and say, ‘Hey man, can you do Sextape 6 for me? It’s all yours.’ Like The-Dream presents Bryson Tiller’s Sextape 6. And that’s this whole tape. Sextape 7, [would be] somebody else.”
This idea of making the Sextape series live with other artists besides himself may come from The-Dream thinking of how he can keep his finger on the pulse of the culture. Artists who have more than 10 years in the game eventually have to face the issue of keeping up with the times and adapting to change while hopefully leaving a legacy for others. Some artists can do it while others fade away and are forgotten long after their time is up. For The-Dream though, he’s been prepared for this moment since he first started in the music industry.
— THE-DREAM (@TheKingDream) April 12, 2020
“I’ve been on that quest since the beginning. I was 20 saying I should be able to retire by 40, and that became an absolute truth,” The-Dream says. “I’ve already passed that part of, okay, yeah, I could quit. Once I got there, it was like, not only believing that you could do anything that you put your mind to. It just became more apparent that there’s so many other things that I could do if I focused on it.”
Besides focusing on new music, The-Dream is venturing out into other fields as well. He’s currently enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design, taking classes to help him prepare to develop his upcoming fashion line. With this new endeavor into fashion, The-Dream is showing his audience there’s more to him than just his music. “I never really accepted the king of anything,” he explains. “Because you’re just going to make me the king of something so I can’t do anything else.”
HipHopDX spoke more with The-Dream about SXTP4, how he goes about working with new artists, his thoughts on producing an entire album for someone else, why Jhené Aiko was the sole feature on the new album, how he handles his music while being a perfectionist, going into the fashion industry and more.
HipHopDX: Tell us about the role time has at this stage of your career.
The-Dream: I think it’s just about my thing now is it isn’t about the first wave, it’s not about the second one, this is just about time, evolution. It’s about forever. Do I go to my death? Have I changed people for the better? That’s it, man.
HipHopDX: Have you ever thought about producing an album where it’s just you and the artist, and no outside help? Like what JAY-Z did with No I.D. And if so, who would it be?
The-Dream: Oh, wow. Yeah. No. For me, production gets in my idea way, right? So, there’s certain patience I would have to have, and I think I only have that with myself. Because I want it done, and I want you to do it, I want it done now. I don’t want to wait for it. I don’t want you to go do something that’s unnecessary, or that’s not sensible and that may not be right for me. It may not be enough patience for me to have with an individual. But I’ve been through those times where I know I could’ve given an artist my best, and they weren’t giving themselves their best. And I knew it. They didn’t know which isn’t my fault.
I want my ticket to be like the person who I’m working with’s ticket. We both supposed to be here. We’re worthy of being in this place. So, the production part isn’t the problem, it’s more the mentality part. So, that’s what the whole Last Dance Jordan thing is about on ESPN. It’s about the mentality. Everybody’s looking at cars, they’re looking at him shooting a ball, and all of these things, and then they’ll end up missing the idea like this is a mentality. We know most people can’t even take that type of talk from anybody.
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The Modern Day………….. love to All who keeps the Future in front of them and don’t bend to the will of the machine but yet make up your own damn mind about what’s what. I Salute the Fans, Thank You! thank you this far for Everything, every Debate, Every time you say I’m That Nigga, I appreciate it. Beyond humbled, I’m blessed with the Realest on the planet, YOU. I’m Changing my Government Name, so Nash can go back to the Owners of my Ancestors as I evolve t a place on my future that awaits me and also celebrates where My Spirit is from. So to all of you who Supported Terius Nash Follow me, no don’t follow Journey with me. Music, Spirituality, Art,Fashion etc. I think it’s time to show you and myself how far the rabbit hole truly goes. #sextape4 OutNow!!!!!!! The-Dream OUT FOREVER!
HipHopDX: How do you work around an artist whose mind is not where you think it should be? I know you’re somebody that cares about your work
The-Dream: It’s usually because I care about them. See, but the funny thing about caring about a person, and about where they come from, their family, how to make everything better, because you start to compare it to your life, right? The bad part about that is the other person doesn’t know that’s what it is. Sometimes the person in their mentality starts to think there’s something that they’re doing. Like, “Oh, it’s because of me. It’s because of this.”
There’s been a lot of situations with me growing up that, yes, I was really good at songwriting and good at this, but underneath it all there was a percentage of where somebody cared about me getting to the next spot. There’s no way to really get there without somebody having that particular thing of investment. Right? So, you got to have both. You have to have the idea that this person cares about me and my wellbeing one and then two cares about my musical career, or whatever it is I may be doing for anybody coming up.
HipHopDX: Let’s get into this new project, SXTP4. You took a different approach with it this go around. You wrote, produced, and recorded everything with your engineer right?
The-Dream: Yeah, my engineer was here. That was luckily before the quarantine and we just kept working via satellite after that. I think that the song I started to record on last in quarantine was “Wee Hours.” So, it was like I got to put all these backgrounds, all these harmonies on here, and I needed to record. I needed to jump back in that seat. I remember sending it over to the engineer and he’s like, “Oh, you went in” and I was like, “Yeah. You know, daddy’s still got it.” You get me touching them buttons. You know what I’m saying? I get up in that and do that thing.
So, that was fun. And just it’s something you just don’t forget. You don’t forget how to get the shit out when it comes down to it. There are not things that I forget how to do. If I hear something that doesn’t sound right under my car, I’m on the ground trying to find out what it is. It’s certain things I’ve never forgotten. There are things that you just don’t forget. You work, and you have success, and you’re happy that you can concentrate on one thing, and somebody else can cut the grass. If I needed to cut the grass, the grass getting cut. Ain’t nothing but something to do, bro. You know?
HipHopDX: Were there any challenges or something that was hard for you working on this album?
The-Dream: The hardest thing? There was nothing hard at all about it to be honest because it was fun. I’m working and there were times I was like, “That piano, that first one, the note isn’t that. What note is that? It’s a B-flat? Okay, cool.” That’s not hitting the right note going into it because the harmonies, it throws the harmonies off. I added harmony and that harmony had to be a certain type of way and so, that’s fun for me. Listening back and just trying to like let me hear the songs. It’s like add an 808 at this part. Take it out and send it back to me. Let me hear it in the car now. My main shit is I got to get in the car. You play me shit in the studio, that’s cool. I need to get in the car and ride around. If I can’t get in the car, I don’t want to hear this shit.
HipHopDX: How do you ease the perfectionist in you when you’re content with hearing the changes you’ve made without thinking of something else to make it better?
The-Dream: Wow. The perfectionist, the Virgo perfectionist thing in me just, first of all, that thing is irritating. It’s irritating even to myself. I’ll do something and I’ll leave the engineer. I’ll just leave. I was like, “Man, just put a rough on it. Because if you don’t, I’m going to tear this song down, and I’m going to do it again.” So with that being said, this is kind of a short answer, it’s just me and I know myself. I know when it’s just time to walk away.
HipHopDX: With this being the fourth entry in the Sextape series, you released the first three as a whole project. What did you want to do differently to have this one stand out from the rest?
The-Dream: Oh, wow. The first thing I did actually to make it stand out is making it shorter. Giving those first 40 songs was like, “Okay, cool. He gave us 40, so it must not be any gems in here.” The great thing about music as I took that approach is branding. My point was starting a brand of a thing. And so, that’s why four even sounds different. It’s just the idea of, okay, cool. I think we got the brand part down. We got the marketing part of this down. I’ve touched enough people in the beginning and top side of this that I can go on now to focus more on the record itself. And so, that’s kind of more so what I did. So, I think by making it shorter for the 11, 12 songs that it actually gives a different ear, and people were able to sit there and say, “Oh.” And now, of course, they’re like, “Yo, where’s Sextape 5?” I’m like, “Come on, bro.” It hasn’t been a day and a half, bro. Stop.
HipHopDX: Why was Jhené the best feature to have on this project when you could’ve just handled it on your own?
The-Dream: I think the song definitely lacked a female presence. The way she sings, and does stuff, and says things bluntly for me made all the difference. I could’ve tried that song on three, four different people, and maybe in their mind, their perspective wouldn’t have understood that this needs to be in this particular place, or that particular thing upsets their brand, or whatever it is. So you have to make sure you have the right person. It would come down to who is singing that song besides me.
It would come down to Jhené or Rihanna. And so, it was just one of those things, man. I remember I hit Big Sean first out of respect. Like, “Yo, I’m going to call your girl. Let you know trying to get this song done. You reach out to her, let her know.” The team followed up, we got her, she heard the song, loved the song, recorded the song, and sent it back. Most of those things when they’re right, they’re just right. And even myself to this day, I have to learn not to force things, and just let the great things fall in place.
HipHopDX: There’s something I notice about your music and that’s your seamless transitions between songs. You did it again with “Hard For Me,” “Notice,” and “Spiritual.” What’s the science behind that, and why do you incorporate that style into your music?
The-Dream: More so for people, I think, at first I didn’t know if it was a musical thing by itself withstanding. From the idea that early on in life I was in a band, and of course, we did festival music, and there were transitions that you go through. There are different tempos throughout the music and the music business isn’t like that. It’s one, two, three, four, or two, two, three, four. It’s just basically in a box. And so, that’s fine which is how people consume it, and they can stand it, and it can go onto the next song. Especially based on the idea that most things are radio driven, and that’s where we came from.
So for me, the transitions were about adding that element of something that I know and learned from earlier in life and making it a part of what I do. That was the first thing. Now, I think the second thing from a mentality standpoint and from a psychological standpoint is to show how complex and perplex of a personality that I have to go from this place to this place without any care in the world about whether my first song started with “Hard For Me” and ended with the title “Spiritual.” And that’s the part people are missing.
HipHopDX: You just recently enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design taking classes to develop your fashion line. What inspired you to do that?
The-Dream: Just things I’ve been doing over the last decade. Some of these things go, back to the point, go without being said. It’s also you getting a preview of an idea of especially working with the friends that I’ve been working with, and have been blessed to work around. It’s just being in all spaces, watching things develop, and certain times just in that space of newness and creativity. Those things had already been apart of what I was doing from the beginning. It’s cliche to say typecasting goes along with what you do. And then, that’ll be what I do. It won’t be I don’t know whether Dream can build a rocket or not. I would know. You know?
So, I don’t like being typecast with the idea of genres even. It’s like why? When you know I’ve done these other things in other genres at the height of that genre. But then, say, “Oh, you the king of this.” And say you’re basically setting me up not to give you anything else, which could be something great. And if you’re setting me up that way, you’re setting up somebody coming behind me the same way. So, we’re not looking to them to get anything else.
This is why I feel like even taking this thing on, it will end up in a great space because I know I have to already fight out of a certain thing. I have to do it so great that it can’t have any response to the idea that, “Oh, you do music. Your fashion cool, but you do this thing.” It wouldn’t be any problem though if I started out in fashion, and never did music before ever. It’s almost like a hindrance to the fact that I succeeded at something.
HipHopDX: One last question. I know you announced The Nikki Project awhile back.
HipHopDX: What’s the concept of that project, and why is it that you can’t leave this Nikki character alone? You bring her up so many times in your music.
The-Dream: Oh, it’s just a bedrock of my foundation of how I’m built, and why things sound like they sound. So for me, it’s not about leaving her alone, it’s about this is a person that we all could contribute a lot of great things to and a lot of pain too. So, I know that this is that character that’s well-rounded enough for us all to understand all of the emotions that go into this person. And then, there are real people who pass this on to another person. There’s just not as defined as Nikki, but they do the same things. So then, Nikki just takes on her own mantra of being that girl and that’s the person who I’m writing about. Where this story may be about two Nikki’s, but the real one is the reason why she exists.
Follow The-Dream on his Instagram page @thekingdream and stream his new project SXTP4 below.