Why isn't The-Dream a bigger star? It's a question music critics who've elevated him to darling status often wonder. Simply put, he's the best lyricist in R&B right now. No one else comes close. His songwriting talents have generated dozens of radio hits for Justin Bieber ("Baby") Mariah Carey ("Obsessed") and many others, as well as five Grammy Awards, most recently for contributing to Kanye West and Jay-Z's "No Church in the Wild."
The-Dream's most popular solo album was his 2007 gold-selling debut, LoveHate, and each new effort has sold progressively less. Since his breakup with wife Christina Milian, his recordings have grown deeply cynical; coincidentally, he hasn't had a Top 40 solo hit since 2009's Love vs. Money. Even relatively light-hearted songs like "Make-Up Bag," where he mollifies a girlfriend upset at his cheating by taking her shopping, bear a disturbing misanthropic perspective. His morally complex songs may be too much for an urban radio audience that just wants sex in the bedroom or in the club, much less a pop-radio landscape overrun by EDM-pop histrionics.
A contrarian might argue that every Dream song tends to sound the same. True, his innovations aren't in his musical arrangements, but in his wildly creative vocal melodies. On "Florida University," he turns the chorus into a ribald fraternity chant: "FU! FU! FU! FU!" (Use your imagination.) On "Michael" from his latest gem, IV Play, he simply coos, "La, la yi yi, la da da da di-yi, la da da da di / Sound like Michael don't it?" Then there are those wonderfully descriptive and often perverse lyrics that expose the frailties of modern romance. It's brilliant stuff, and if you've ignored The-Dream since he blew up the charts with "I Luv Your Girl," then here's your chance to catch up.