The-Dream Says Rihanna Does His Songwriting “Justice”
The-Dream speaks on penning hits for Rihanna, their tonal similarities, and what it takes to get a Terius Nash writing credit.
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 a Dream track?
TD Honestly, the best way is to show up with about fifty thousand dollars in cash… Boom… That’s the easy route. Wherever I am, you show up with fifty, you probably got a song. It’s going down.
Of all the artists you’ve worked with, who would you say has done you most justice?
TD As far as my whole sound, my tone and melodicness, I’d probably have to say Rihanna.
Is that because of “Umbrella”?
TD No. It’s more because our tones are so similar—from a sonic standpoint.
Since “Umbrella,” your sound’s been recognized by the presence of ‘ella’s’ and ‘ey’s’—the melodic mark of Radio Killa… where did that whole thing come from?
TD ‘Ella’ was just literally me playing on the word ‘umbrella’ at the time. It was a way to bridge the gaps in the song, connect the measures. When “Umbrella” 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 I’d put into songs to bring them all together. They never previously existed before “Umbrella.” It was so hooky that I’d use it in other songs of mine and that’s how it became a signature. Originally, it was just tying the beats and the words together, and it worked. I actually don’t do it as much anymore, though… I’ve 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?
TD I actually haven’t ever thought of it that way. That’s interesting. I like that. And I can see how you’d 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 on… is there a track you wrote that you were expecting to be a hit but fizzled?
TD I probably expected “Moving Mountains,” [which] I did for Usher to be bigger than it was. It’s 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 didn’t live up to expectations. It didn’t live up to its own potential. Its probably one of the greatest records I’ve ever written that didn’t get its shine. I can say now that just because you have a number one [song] on Billboard doesn’t mean you’re a hit. You can have a hit culturally that you’re not even thinking about and not have a number one single. I equate it to having someone be the best dressed at a party. There’s no hit chart for how good you looked at a party, but, if people be talking about it—just because you can’t quantify it doesn’t mean it’s not a hit from a cultural standpoint.
Is there a track you wrote that became a hit unexpectedly?
TD [Rihanna’s] “Birthday Cake.” It was hot to me, but, it was never recorded as a full song… at least to begin with. I definitely felt it’d be an anthem-y thing for the girls who’d hear it at the club and go wild for it, but, never thought people’d be asking where the full version was… and it became that.
Do you know when you’re making a hit?
TD … I guess, there’s a sense that there’s something I’m doing, and I’ve done it so long that I don’t even realize I’m doing it. It would probably take someone like you, outside of me, to tell me what makes my songs hits. I wouldn’t even know it. I definitely don’t have a regimen—I’ve written songs on buses, airplanes, Vegas—I do, though, like to put myself in some sort of pressure. I thrive when it’s 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 you’ll see its more women than men… why do you think you capture the female scope so well?
TD In the end, I guess, it’s kind of like the unexplained truth for me… I think my relationship with my mom has a lot to do with it. When you’re dealing with that sort of thing, your sensitivity goes up. I also think my imagination of people feeds into it—I just like being around different people. I like watching them and watching their psyche. It’s 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, that’s when shit started to go awry. You can’t compete with pop or hip-hop numbers when you’re 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 stripped… for instance, with “Rockin’ That Shit,” they put on all these rappers and it became another thing. I didn’t want anybody on that record. I wanted an R&B record. Once shit starts to compete with pop and hip-hop numbers, it’s like people don’t realize that you should be doing 50-60k sales… that’s 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 isn’t ‘fast and right now’ like pop is. It’s 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 haven’t made it yet. I think this “Nikki” album is going to be interesting and I’m kind of prematurely calling the fifth installment of the Love series, Phantom. I also want to do a 12” record called Sade’s Son… like six straight songs of “Fancy(s).”
I discovered last night at your listening party that IV Play features no tracks produced by your formerly frequent collaborator, Tricky Stewart. How come?
TD Trick, where you at? [Laughs] Tricky’s at Epic [Records] now. It was more a political thing than any… that’s still my homie. He’s just over there with my good friend, L.A. Reid, for a minute… in a good way, though. But don’t worry—we’ve got a whole month blocked off in August to work together.