Better Than: Waiting until May 28th
The-Dream is having one hell of a year. First, he was embarrassingly zinged by Jay-Z for his “swap meet” sartorial choices during the 2013 Grammys and then last night, what was supposed to be a perfunctory album preview for the forthcoming IV Play (to be released May 28th) turned into an antagonistic and painfully awkward tête-à-tête between the singer/producer and his guests.
For those of you who haven’t been to a hip-hop album listening session, it’s typically an asynchronous process: The artist plays selected tracks, intermittently injecting anecdotes or annotations, while journalists passively nod their heads to the beat and type away iPhone notes to turn into something cohesive before the next day’s deadline. Questions, if allowed, are reserved until the end and subject to approval by the artist’s flack.
The-Dream’s session at Jungle City Studios started innocuously enough. Clad in a sparkling gold Roc-A-Fella chain (which he unearthed from a large Louis Vuitton suitcase), he kicked off with the album’s title track, a lusty play on words about skipping foreplay and going straight to sex. Most of the songs continued along the synthy, mid-tempo soundscape that The-Dream has made his signature, inundated with Auto-Tune trills and screwed vocals. The lofty “Fire” featuring Beyoncé proved underwhelming (unless you want to hear Beyoncé name-check her husband’s D’USSÉ cognac) and “High Art” and “Pussy” felt unfinished with their respective finished guest verses from Jay-Z and Big Sean. The gorgeously harmonic “Where Have You Been” with Kelly Rowland (which harkens back to her underappreciated duet “The Show” with Tank) was a standout, as was “Too Early in the Morning,” which revamps the same old love song into a bluesy delight featuring a killer bassline.
During “Michael,” a loose homage to Michael Jackson, Timbaland suddenly walked into the room unannounced and began to dance to the song. The producer, who was distractingly wearing socks with no shoes, then instructed us to turn off our “two-way pagers” and pay attention to the music. “We need full attention on these records,” he said.
The night only got stranger from there.
Brian “B. Dot” Miller of rap blog RapRadar used the tangent as an opportunity to ask The-Dream if one of his songs was a thinly-veiled attack on fellow crooner The Weekend, with whom he has had alleged beef with. “It’s about my music, not another n*gga!” The-Dream snapped, clearly annoyed by the unscheduled outburst. “That’s why n*ggas’ albums is fucked up!” B. Dot, apparently not satisfied by the response, continued to goad The-Dream for the remainder of the night and demanded to know what famous names he was lashing out against in his songs, including if ex-wife Christina Milian was the target on “Y’all.”
Bringing up someone’s estranged ex-wife? Bad idea.
The-Dream blasted B. Dot and then Bonsu Thompson of Vibe (the latter was more of an innocent casualty) for asking questions out of context. The-Dream denied that he was hurling subliminal disses and censured critics in general, for focusing on sensationalism instead of on his music. This incited a few more hangers-on to jump in and throw in their two cents. “I get it. I haven’t hung around you enough. I was raised by an old man though. Sometimes when I say things, they can be layered, but it’s so much deeper than that,” The-Dream explained about his lyrics. Then he and Timbaland embarked on a dialogue about being in love with music and that sort of just meandered into nowhere.
Why was The-Dream yelling at us? Did B. Dot know his proverbial horse was dead? I wish I had brought a snack. Confused and annoyed, some of us non-combative types exchanged clandestine texts during the melee. A few choice messages I received: “I AM UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THIS,” “Dis be weird” and “I hope he doesn’t go all CHRIS BROWN ON US” (Too soon?)
In the end, we were saved by a deus ex machina, or a deux ex Timbaland to be exact. The producer diluted the tension with a combination of funny non sequiturs (ramblings fueled no doubt, by his inebriated state) and diplomatic know-how. “I’m human, I go through shit,” said Timbaland, “but I’m all about explaining.”
Critical Bias: There’s a fine line between being a hard-hitting journalist and being just an asshole.
Overheard: “I just want them to take away the musicality and how great that is. [Music] used to be respected. It was a feeling that everything else in the culture stood on instead of being stepped on or stepped over.”-The Dream describing to me what he wanted us to take away from the session.
Random Notebook Dump: Did this really happen?
1. “IV Play”
2. “Fire” featuring Beyonce
3. “Where Have You Been” featuring Kelly Rowland
4. “Too Early in the Morning”
6. “High Art” featuring Jay-Z
7. “Divine” with Mary J. Blige (not credited)
8. “Self Conscious”
10. “Pussy” featuring Big. Sean