Not since R. Kelly has an R&B artist emerged with a complete package – a signature sound, voice and a mighty pen – the way that The-Dream has managed to do. Coming out of Atlanta as a songwriter for B2K and ex-wife Nivea, Terius Nash solidified his pop songwriting prowess when he penned the smash hit “Umbrella” for Rihanna. The brass at Def Jam subsequently allowed The-Dream to shine through as a solo artist, and he delivered with his 2007 debut Love Hate via his Radio Killa imprint, as “Shawty Is Da Sh*t,” “Falsetto” and “I Luv Your Girl” all charted and introduced an innovative sound that is influenced by New Jack Swing as much as crunk and Atlanta’s infamous strip clubs.
With his fifth album IV Play, The-Dream hasn’t changed up the formula. If anything, he reclaims his throne as the king of ratchet-and-blues. The-Dream fuses influences of 90s R&B and even blues on the record, and his lyrics range from cheeky to seductive and sexually blunt, a range that is all part of his repertoire that has endeared him to strippers, their patrons and the general public. There is no shortage of songs for the bedroom, with “Equestrian” being a standout in that department. Needless to say, The-Dream is not talking about riding horses here, and the double-entendre down-tempo joint reminds equally of Devante Swing and Prince’s work. Still, it’s The-Dream’s voice that makes his music unmistakably original. There’s nothing subtle about “P**sy”, and verses from Big Sean and Pusha T further add to song that is guaranteed to accompany many an exotic dancer while on stage.
Beyonce takes her turn harmonizing in ratchet-speak on “Turnt” (for the uninitiated, ratchet refers to a certain, less than classy kind of behavior by women) and 2 Chainz tacks on verse for good measure. The standout track, however, is “Too Early,” which features guitarist Gary Clark Jr., who provides a bluesy guitar riff. The song reverberates with raw emotion more than any other track on IV Play. The Michael Jackson ode “Michael,” meanwhile, is a grooving mid-tempo track with a multitude of piano riffs and harmonies over which The-Dream proclaims “this ain’t a love song, but I can love you/don’t waste the time.”
IV Play is an enjoyable album overall that falls in place with The-Dream’s previous releases and showcases Nash’s penchant for fusing New Jack Swing, bits of crunk and blues. While it’s not clear if it will spawn successful radio singles, IV Play will surely make its presence in felt in strip clubs and bedrooms this summer.