The songwriter and R ’n’ B singer Terius Nash has worn US$2,000 worth of rolled-up bills on a chain around his neck, but he would like to cultivate a much more expensive habit.
“Mariah Carey took me up in her private jet last week,” said Nash, who records under the name The-Dream. “It was like: Ooooooh! I’ve got to get me one of these. Because now that I’ve got a taste, I’m never going back. I’m going to fly this thing everywhere — to LA, to Atlanta, to New York. I’m going to fly this thing down the street and park it outside your apartment.”
Nash, 30, was sprawled on a couch at Power 105.1, a radio station in New York, dressed in limited-edition neon sneakers and a new black Armani jacket so crisp that it would probably crunch if you touched it. But Love vs Money, his second album as The-Dream, which is out tomorrow on Island Def Jam, explores the ways luxury living can destroy a man’s relationships, like his marriage to the R ’n’ B singer Nivea.
“Money affects everything, from who I’m with to what label I’m on, so everything I do now is about protecting it,” he said. “But I didn’t understand how powerfully that would affect my home life.”
He and his songwriting partner, Christopher Stewart, known as Tricky, are one of pop’s most inventive and in-demand hit-making teams. (Stewart writes the music, Nash the lyrics.) After scoring their first major break in 2003 with Britney Spears’ Me Against the Music, Billboard’s best-selling dance single that year, the duo churned out a string of number one smashes, including Beyonce’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), Carey’s Touch My Body, J Holiday’s Bed and, most famously, Rihanna’s Umbrella, which earned a Grammy nomination for record of the year in 2008. Nash has often said they wrote the song in 15 minutes.
Over the past year they have composed more than 200 songs, working with artists as diverse as Usher, Jesse McCartney, Sting and Celine Dion, at a rate of US$110,000 to US$165,000 per track, Stewart said.
But while Nash is one of pop’s most reliable hit makers, he’s not yet a pop star. As The-Dream he had hit singles with Falsetto and Shawty Is a Ten, and his acclaimed, Prince-inspired 2007 debut album, Love/Hate, sold 537,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. He has been criticized for an uncharismatic stage presence, however, and when he opened for Mary J Blige and Jay-Z on their blockbuster Heart of the City tour, his set was largely ignored by critics. When the Grammy nominations for this year were announced, he was upset that his solo work was overlooked.
“Even though in my mind I know I should have beat everyone, I also know that some people missed the first album,” he said. “So now it’s about marketing. Now I’ve got the Mariahs and the Kanyes and the Jamie Foxxes of the world saying, ‘I’ve seen The-Dream write four hit songs in 40 minutes.’ Soon the pop world will be like, ‘OK, we see you now.’”
‘LOVE VS MONEY’
With Love vs Money he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make himself a boldface name. He has been showing up at parties with the R ’n’ B singer Christina Milian, sparking rumors that they are dating — gossip conveniently timed to mesh with the release of Us Against the World, the new single he wrote for her. He also upped the star power on the new album with cameos by Kanye West, Lil Jon and Carey, who also appears in the video for My Love.
Antonio Reid, known as LA, chairman of Island Def Jam Music Group, said he believed that Love vs Money would be a bigger hit than its predecessor because it showcased Nash’s crossover appeal. “He’s that rare combination of high art like Kanye West, but also ghetto-friendly like R Kelly,” he said. “That’s part of what makes
him one of the great undiscovered talents of our time.”
Written during Nash’s divorce from Nivea in 2008, Love vs Money offers an emotional, confessional take on the ways wealth can make personal relationships feel empty. The interlocked, three-song mini-epic that anchors the album — Love vs. Money, Love vs Money Part 2 and Fancy — finds Nash admitting that all the Bentleys and trips to Paris he bought to show his affection ended up just making him feel used.
He sings sadly on Fancy:
They say you can’t buy love
Man, they lyin’
If Christian LaCroix brings a smile
I’ll buy it
It’s as if he’s having trouble convincing himself it’s all true. With music written by Stewart, Nash has made a lush headphones album, pulsing with new wave and funk melodies, synth-fueled ballads, thundering 808 drum machine beats and little electronic details that occasionally sound like R ’n’ B’s answer to Radiohead.
“Love vs Money is music as theater, and no one does that better than The-Dream,” said Stephen Hill, president for music programming and specials for BET. “But he also knows how to give a young, black audience what they want.” Hill pointed to Sweat It Out, a song about a woman who has just perfected a slick hairstyle, only to see it frizz up when things get steamy.
If for some reason the new album isn’t a hit, Nash’s day job isn’t too shabby. He’s currently working with Carey on her next album, and he has just finished an album for the new R ’n’ B girl group Electrik Red, which will be released on his Radio Killa imprint this month. And Nash said he and West had talked about doing a collaborative album in the spirit of R Kelly and Jay-Z’s Best of Both Worlds.
Essentially Nash is always working. “I call my attorney three times a day,” he said. “The other day I came up with this phrase, ‘That’s Jesus!’ That’s a combination of saying something’s hot and it’s also a blessing. So I called my attorney and asked him, ‘Can we get “That’s Jesus!” copyrighted just in case it shows up on a T-shirt?”’
He credits his grandfather, who was a concrete mason, with his work ethic. “He basically built the city I grew up in,” he said. “He came out of a bad time for blacks in the South, but even though we lived in the hood, we had a boat, some cars and a house that was paid for. So I’ve always had a different outlook on life. There’s nothing I can’t do. My uncle used to say, ‘You’ll go on and become the dream of the family.’ That’s how I got my name.”
Nash shook his head, smiling. “He was probably thinking that I’d become a doctor or something. But if he was here right now, I think he’d say I’ve done all right.”
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