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When a song is played on the radio it is accompanied by the name of the artist. Sometimes, if the producer is popular, he or she will also be mentioned. However, when is the last time the name of the songs’ writer(s) was announced? I can’t remember, can you? Everyone knows the 2007 smash hit Umbrella is sang by dashing Barbadian singer, Rihanna; but can you name the writer? If you said Rihanna, you should have phoned a friend. The song, along with countless others by Usher, Chris Brown, and J. Holiday, were all written by singer-songwriter The-Dream. In an interview with DJBooth’s DJ “Z,” The-Dream discusses the lack of credit writers receive, why his behind the scenes work lead him to become an artist, and why Jay-Z doesn’t want him giving away hits so easily.
Listen to the Interview
The-Dream Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on ya’ll? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a man who hopes to hold the crown as the “King of Music.” The writer behind Rihanna‘s number one smash hit, “Umbrella,” and his own current hit, “Shawty is a Ten,” please welcome The-Dream. How you doin’?
The-Dream: I’m doin’ all right, Z-Man. How you doin’?
DJ Booth: I’m doin’ great. You’re in New York City, I’m sure, getting ready for your promotional push. The album hopefully will be dropping in September. A lot has happened in a short amount of time – you’ve got to be excited.
The-Dream: Oh man, I’m very excited. I’m ready, excited, and willing!
DJ Booth: That’s what it takes. I wanna know: what’s up with the name? Did you deem yourself, “The-Dream,” or was that a stage name coined for you by someone else?
The-Dream: That was coined, actually, by an uncle of mine, from a long time ago. I grew up in Atlanta on the West Side. A lot of my family was kind of like into this and into that so it’s basically – the name came from me just tryin’ to be the dream of the family, and he though that I needed to be that. I’m quite sure he was probably thinking about college, and being a lawyer or something, not really in the music business. But either way, this is what I’m doin’ and I’m livin’ it.
DJ Booth: Well, you’re gonna make him proud either way, so that works out well.
DJ Booth: You’ve written hits for Rihanna, Madonna, R. Kelly, Usher, Chris Brown. Have you ever finished a song, handed it over, only later to second-guess yourself and think, “Man, I should’ve kept that for myself.”?
The-Dream: No. I’ve never done that. Somebody was just asking me about the J. Holiday record “Bed,” that I wrote– actually it was Jay-Z, we was talkin’ to each other yesterday, he said “You gave him a hit, man. You gave him a career. Do you got those to just hand out?” I was like, “Well, you know, he was lucky.Yeah, I got ‘em.” He told me not to make that a habit.
DJ Booth: Yeah, seriously. When you’re writing material, do you have in mind an artist who you think can take your words and sing them at a whole new level.
The-Dream: Yeah. Usher, did it lately. Sting just did it lately. I just did a record with Nicole and Sting – of course you know Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls, and Sting. Sting took my record to a [whole new level] –because I didn’t have time to make the trip over to see him. He was in Boston recording last week – I think the Police had a show out there. I couldn’t really get in town, so I stayed out in Vegas just finishing the mix on my album. But my friend, my partner in crime, Tricky, who actually produced and co-wrote the, “Umbrella,” record with me, actually went out there with him. And when they sent the record back, man, I was like, “Wow.” Just to hear Sting’s voice on my record was crazy.
DJ Booth: Beyonce‘s smash hit, “Irreplaceable,” was penned by Ne-Yo, and when the song climbed the charts, Beyonce loved the success but it didn’t seem like Ne-Yo got much of the credit until he sang the song himself on a radio interview. Do you think writers get enough credit for their work?
The-Dream: No. I definitely don’t think so. It probably has a lot to do with me actually, tryin’ to branch over and tryin’ to take more control of what it is that I do. So to me, I don’t think we get enough credit, and everybody thinks they’re supposed to be just this background thing or whatever that you’re supposed to do, but that’s not the point. You put your heart into those records and you hand them over to a label or to a person to kind of do with, hopefully, what you would want them to do with it. So no, I don’t think we get enough credit at all.
DJ Booth: Dream, do you consider yourself a quote unquote, “real artist,” considering you are behind every phase of the musical creation?
The-Dream: Of course. Everybody started out, in this business, wanting to be in front of a mirror, or doin’ something – like, I was in a singing group before, like back in ‘98. Think I was sixteen, seventeen then. And to me, that’s what I was tryin’ to do. I was tryin’ to get in the business of the artist. I wasn’t trying to get in as a writer. I didn’t try my talent at writing actually until, five years ago. I had no idea what type of talent I had as far as writing and producing records. I just found that out lately. Everybody starts out wanting to be in front of that camera, no matter what they say. You could have the hardest rapper, but they started out looking at Michael or looking at somebody, like, “Oh my God! Let me get my red jacket on and let me do this!”
DJ Booth: Well, it’s certainly gonna make you a lot more money, considering you don’t have to spend checks for the writers, and the producers, and the mixers, and the engineers – you just do it all yourself.
The-Dream: Right, exactly.
DJ Booth: In your current single, “Shorty is a Ten,” you name-drop six females. How many of those lovely ladies are more than just names in that song?
The-Dream: Um, all of them.
DJ Booth: Okay.
The-Dream: All of them. And actually, it’s funny because I don’t really talk to them anymore, but they reached out – you know, they’ve called the studio and tried to get my number and called me, like, “Yeah man, I see what you did, uh-huh,” and I’m like, “Oh, what? What are you talkin’ about?” They’s like, “Yeah, you put my name in the song – you know you was talkin’ about me, cause I’m the only one that you know,” and I was like, “Yeah, probably.” But, yeah, it’s definitely more than that. Any one of my songs, there’s probably gonna be some type of truth behind something.
DJ Booth: Have you had to change your cell phone at all?
The-Dream: I have three cell phones, now. Two of them are new.
DJ Booth: For someone like yourself, who is so familiar with what works well on the radio, just out of curiosity, why did you choose to title the original version of the song, “Shawty is the Sh*t?”
The-Dream: Oh, because that’s how I sing it. That was the original song, and I usually go right into the booth and do these songs, so I say what comes out. And I couldn’t express enough to say how beautiful the girl was, other than to say that she is the sh*t, so that’s how it came out.
DJ Booth: Well hey, it works as a radio edit just the same, so no worries there…
DJ Booth: We’re gonna play a game now. It’s gonna be called, “Shawty is a…” I’m gonna name-drop some ladies and I want you to tell me where they rank on your scale, one to ten, and if they’d make it to a remix of the song.
The-Dream: All right, okay.
DJ Booth: First girl: Christina Milian?
The-Dream: Shawty is a ten.
DJ Booth: Fergie?
DJ Booth: Nicole of the Pussycat Dolls?
DJ Booth: [laughter] Eva Mendes?
DJ Booth: Meghan Good?
DJ Booth: Nicole Richie?
The-Dream: Hm…. seven.
DJ Booth: Okay. So, out of all those girls, I’m assuming Nicole might make the remix?
The-Dream: Yeah. You didn’t name Rhianna, though!
DJ Booth: Okay, Rihanna?
DJ Booth: Okay. What about Beyonce?
DJ Booth: I had a feeling you might say that about Rihanna – that’s why I didn’t throw her in the game…
The-Dream: A-ha…. Your feeling was correct, my friend.
DJ Booth: Go ahead give everybody a website or a Myspace address so they can find out more about what you got goin’ on and the new album that’s gonna be dropping this September.
DJ Booth: The-Dream, I wish you nothing but the best of luck with your debut album off of Def Jam, and success into the future, my man.
The-Dream: Good lookin’, Z. Appreciate it, man.