The lines, “Always with you, baby / I’ll never sell out,” found in first single “Slow It Down,” is tantamount to bullshit.
What does IV Play—clever title for The-Dream’s fourth album and sort-of-clever-album-art—sound like? It sounds like any other The-Dream album with one obvious difference: he overloads it with a lot of big name guest features—from people who should probably be taking care of their ridiculously named newborn (Jay-Z and Beyonce) to flavor of the month artists (2 Chainz)—that read to me as a desperate attempt to pull in more listeners.
However, that move is vaguely understandable since his claim to fame has long since been overdue. His most well-known songs—“All the Single Ladies,” “Baby,” “Umbrella,” etc.—are known amongst legions (upon legions) of fans to belong to Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Rihanna (respectively), because everyone remembers the singer, but no one remembers the ghostwriter. Furthermore, it’s been a rough couple of years for The-Dream. There was real name Terius Nash’s recent public divorce, while IV Play itself underwent gestational problems including pushbacks and ironically, absolutely zero radio foreplay; initial lead singles “Roc” and “Dope Bitch” both fail to appear on the album. But most importantly, The-Dream watched as his name cropped up all over the internet, but only in passing form through (more critically successful) reviews of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. Even though The-Dream had been on the cusp of the recent re-emergence of contemporary R&B, he was quickly overshadowed by them.
So yes, I understand why IV Play has more guests spots than any preceding The-Dream album, but the guest spots do little more than provide a fresh voice to listen to if you think that The-Dream’s one-range (power mode: all falsetto activated) voice gets monotonous after a while (it certainly does). Unfortunately, at their worst, certain guests foul up the tracks they appear on; Big Sean drops the lovely “I tell her—slob—on my—knob / Like its corn—on the—cob” couplet (not that the surrounding lines are much better, but the fact that my added hyphens are practically heard in the delivery add its insipidity). Meanwhile, Fabolous clogs up “Slow It Down,” one of the few redeemable tracks, “Everybody know slow money way better than no money” and “I’m so funny / All of a sudden Im Winnie the Pooh / All up in your honey,” not to mention the unnecessary repeat of “Pants on her slim fit / Lights in the room dim lit / And I’m feeling on your booty on some R Kelly and Lil Kim shit.” That’s not to say The-Dream’s rapped verses on “Slow It Down” are much better, half-singing them as if he were Drake but unlike Drake, he constantly uses the same word to rhyme with themselves, “But the white girls still gon’ ride it like a rodeo / And I’ma stay ridin’ this beat like a rodeo” and “I’ma keep it real with you baby you bad / Kinda like Michael Jackson you bad.” Jay-Z’s verse on opener “High Art” is equally unneeded, whose grindworthy beat is one of the few times that the music is ever worth talking about. It’s not like there’s a particularly bad line in Jay-Z’s verse, but it seems that he’s given up on rhyming completely.
But the guest features are only half the problem. Unlike the Weeknd, The-Dream doesn’t benefit from interesting and immaculate production—even if he did produce most of IV Play by himself, that would only be worth mentioning if the production worth talking about at all, and it’s not. But there’s also the fact that both artists have about the same voice and same subject matter, but The-Dream tackles his with the maturity of a high schooler who just had sex and needs to tell his friends so that they may qualify him; “I can give a fuck about IV play” is the hook and opening line of the title track, but it’s immediately downplayed by “I want it now / I’m talking about straight sex” and obviously he repeats it to make it clear. Elsewhere, he tells us over and over, “Got my left hand on that booty, got my right hand on that pussy” on “Pussy,” as if Big Sean didn’t fuck the track up enough. He strives for vulnerability in “New Orleans” in the same way Frank Ocean did on “Thinkin’ Bout You” or Drake did on “Marvin’s Room,” but it’s hard to sympathize when every line ends in “Bitch,” and the track adopts the emotional resonance of OutKast’s “Roses” (that is to say, no emotional resonance at all). In a piss poor decision, he decides to end “Equestrian”—one of the few songs with a hook worth mentioning—with “Are you ready to put it in your mouth” before giving us an absolutely worthless coda. The interlude “Outro” is equally pointless, twenty seconds of an A$AP Rocky imitation (I have a deep voice because of the amount of weed I smoke – yawwwwwn).
Just last year, Frank Ocean came out to be one of the most important artists—pun not intended. It wasn’t because it was one of the bravest “coming out”’s in recent memory, but rather because his music was easy to identify with; he was trying—and mostly succeeding—in being the voice to his generation, of super rich kids whose problems included parents who weren’t around to raise them, fake friends, and when things got sexual, they were still identifiable problems like running out of Trojans. The-Dream seeks to alienate his audience at every turn; the reason why I can’t sympathize with him on “New Orleans” because he constantly jumps from misogyny to vulnerable, and on every other track, his constant and triumphant ways of shouting “I just had sex” are banal and sometimes even unbelievable, without the humour of “I Just Had Sex.” I mean, the oft-talked about and most poignant line on the album in “Slow It Down”’s bridge, “DJ you know you wrong / Enough with the motherfucking dance songs” might be the only lyric worth keeping here, but it would mean so much more poignant if he made a record of more than just “motherfucking dance songs.”
“I know they aint gon play this on top 40 radio,” is the opening line of “Slow It Down.” At The-Dream, it’s not because the song makes a brief stab at DJ’s. It might be because your songs just aren’t that good. Or it’s maybe because you don’t know how to use your hyphens properly. You’re not fucking Spider-Man.