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The-Dream - IV Play

 6.5/10

When I first heard Love King, I imagined The-Dream, aka Terius Nash, was some kind of sexual god, a Mr Universe type character who could literally have any girl in the entire world. I mean, his Lil Wayne levels of sexual bragging were enough to convince even the most stubborn of listeners that he was, truly, the Love King. He was married to Christina Milian.. Surely that's enough said? Imagine my surprise recently when I discovered this picture. Terius Nash is no Nelly, he's no Ja Rule. He's a bit on the chubby side.. You might, then, assume that he is a dapper, well dressed, expensive, stylish man, the sort that Jay-Z has evolved in to. Unfortunately, at the 2013 Grammy's, he rocked up looking like Jay had just driven the Maybach down to Marcy Projects and picked him up straight off the courts.

This has absolutely no bearing on his music, except for me to say that god it is refreshing to see one of these 'super hunks' that picks up women for fun is in fact a regular guy with regular appetites and a perfectly regular affliction to the gym. Now that we've deemed his body and dress sense to be completely unimportant to his career and his music, we can move on to his more tangible achievements. It's highly likely you've never heard one of his singles before, none of them made it to number one. But if you've ever heard Single Ladies, Run The World (Girls), Justin Bieber's Baby, Mariah Carey's Touch My Body, Rihanna's Umbrella, Mary J Blige's Grown Woman, or Usher's This Ain't Sex then you are familiar with The-Dream's writing. He also picked up a credit on the stunning No Church In The Wild with Jay-Z and Kanye West.

His solo career has not gone poorly by anyones standards. Love Hate sold 600,000 in the US, and Love vs Money sold 400,000. Huge numbers, believe me. Whilst he may have saved his catchiest work for the artists paying ridiculous sums of money for chart topping hits, he has still managed to carve out a reputation as an enigmatic solo artist who consistently pushes the boundaries of R&B music in to uncharted and pioneering places. 2010's Love King was a brilliant album, a futuristic clash of old soul and contemporary sounds that struck that perfect blend. One of those records, like LCD Soundsystem's Sounds Of Silver or Maximo Park's A Certain Trigger that just feels as though it's had magic dust sprinkled on it. Everything came together wonderfully, and the whole album reads like a vivid picture novel with no discernable chapters or page breaks, each song bleeds in to the next like the perfect DJ set.

Unfortunately, label troubles killed off Terius Nash: 1977, and he released it for free online in 2011 before it was finally released commercially in December 2012. The record is coloured by his divorce from Christian Milian, and houses some serious pop moments but lacks the finish and polish of previous work.

IV Play was always going to be a big album. Buoyed by the success of his production career, Nash needed to make a solo statement. The record is laced with big names. Jay-Z (appearing on the first track!), Big Sean, Pusha-T, Beyonce, 2 Chainz, Kelly Rowland, Gary Clark Jr. and Fabolous all drop by to lend their support. It is the opening track, High Art, that slides smoothly in and begins the spectacle. A soulful, rasping groove as Nash extols two of his favourite things, making love to his girl and getting high with his friends. Using Jay-Z in these hit-man roles is becoming extremely common, and whilst his verse is nothing ground-breaking, he lends such weight and power that it lifts the song to a special level.

The first half of the album has been criticised by some, yet it feels strong and expensive. It's a movement away from his traditional bread and butter of smooth, seductive choruses that swirl around futuristic and inventive production. This new direction is more of a hit and run approach, throw huge choruses backed by club-laden beats in amongst deeper, longer verses. The initial response is to reject it, this feels more like an R&B super record in the vein of Usher or Rihanna, a collection of 'hits' so to speak, rather than the blend of toned down love ballads that Nash usually deals in. It takes getting used to, but it is nonetheless effective. Equestrian is a stunner, that halting beat merges with Nash's falsetto to deliver Yamaha levels of catchiness, and his penchant for larger than life choruses explodes out of the speakers at you. This is immediately followed by Pussy, quite possibly the best track on the record if you delete Big Sean's pedestrian verse. Nash mimmicks Future's flow on Karate Chop, but it works perfectly, giving it a low-down gutter mouth exterior. Again the chorus excites with insane catchiness, it's a mystery how The-Dream can't cop a number 1 hit.

The way Nash utilises his two Destiny's Child diva's is starkly different, and a tribute to Beyonce's diversity as a performer. "I'm ready to go, ready to blow like grammy night in the back of that limousine" is ratchet, a term used in the bridge that sounds seductive only because Nash sweetly sings it so sugary. Contrast this with the very next track, Where Have You Been with Kelly Rowland, who's message is starkly different. 'Can you love me for what I am / And love me for what I can be'. A soulful love song utilising a minimal beat with a delicate piano riff. He injects a level of vulnerability in to his performance to draw the women in, it's a deadly form of seduction that he is so adept at that even after a track like Pussy it's sincerity isn't questioned.

Once we emerge from the star studded first half, things begin to settle down. Surprisingly, although Nash now relaxes back in to his traditional rhythm, things feel slightly disjointed, as if you came home to find your house had been broken in to. Nothing was stolen, but everything was moved slightly to the left or right, very unsettling. It just lacks the spit-shine polish of his previous work, the marriage between the production and the message is slightly off, each track doesn't quite blend in to the next with the same silkiness, rather it all feels muddled and mushed together. Loving You/Crazy is his Lovestoned moment, Crazy binds the choppy production of Loving You in to a spacey, foggy mist that Nash cuts through with his falsetto, delivering a seducing love song. The smoothest transition of the record occurs here, as the spacey feeling continues in to New Orleans, a track that feels like an elongated chorus, Nash's comfort zone. Self-Conscious drags this mood out further, so essentially we've had 12 minutes of very similar music, until Holy Love, an uninspiring attempt at a love song that falls dangerously flat, especially with lines like 'Now no fancy car / Can replace my love / Not even a million women / Could help me feel that love'.

We come to the crux of the problem on this record. The content. Now it is called IV play, a play on words of course meaning foreplay, defined as sexual activity that precedes intercourse. For half the record Nash sticks to this rhetoric, the desperation of Where Have You Been, 'Can you love me for what I am / And love me for what I can be', the sincerity and honesty of Holy Love, 'Holy love, holy love / The first and only love / You can't compete with her', to the strong, confident ghetto superstar anthem Self-Conscious 'You don't have to be self-conscious / I love everything about you baby I promise'. This is where The-Dream traditionally thrived. On IV Play, however, these soft moments are juxtaposed with hard-edged player-from-the-streets. Check out the videos for High Art and Pussy. Graphic. 'Left hand on that booty / got my right hand on that pussy'. The second song of the record, the title track, he whispers 'I can give a fuck about the foreplay, I want it now / I'm talking straight sex / stop fucking around'. Tracks like Equestrian and Turnt continue in this vein.

The man who wrote those painfully tinged love songs about the famous Nikki, who proclaimed to be the Love King,  who wrote F.I.L.A, is now gutter. There's an explanation for this. Terius Nash: 1977 was a record filled with remorse and regret. The first track was a living, breathing manifestation of the breakdown of his marriage. Love King was primarily written and recorded whilst he was still married, and is a confident man at the absolute peak of his powers and confidence. IV Play see's Nash bitter. Out for revenge, on the rebound. He's drunk dialling his ex whilst he's sleeping with another girl, letting her listen. He seems angry, but also anxious and self-conscious. His confidence has been shaken and it shows in his music and his lyrics. I'd say he can't stand to write an entire record of love songs because he is still experiencing break up pain. Unfortunately it's led to the creation of songs as starkly different as gospel and Eminem. Nash tries to play 2 persona's and they just don't mesh. I say it is unfortunate because there is a lot of great music on this record, in isolation. Put it together and it pushes and pulls in too many conflicting directions to be ranked with his best work.

6.5/10
I hate to give it such a low mark, but it can't climb any higher. Unlike most others, I enjoyed the first half more than the second, however I just wish he'd pick a lane. If he wanted to release a spiteful diss record he should've stuck to his guns and not thrown what he feels are obligatory love songs in there. Conversely, if he wanted to smooth it out and make a true record for the women, akin to his earlier work, he should've bitten the bullet and done it, sprinkling the odd dusting of misogyny over a track or two as he has done in the past. Still, it's an enjoyable listen that houses a couple of the best tracks of the year.
Best Tracks: Pussy, Equestrian, Slow It Down



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