The-Dream is not just R&B personified, but one of music’s unsung heroes. Throughout his 12-year career, the singer/songwriter/producer has earned more notoriety for his behind-the-scenes work, such as crafting megahits for superstars like Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Beyoncé, than his own solo offerings. But that’s evolved into more of a gift than a curse for the multi-talented musician, whose fifth studio album, IV Play, experienced delays after a few big-name friends (Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West) enlisted his songwriting and production services for their solo full-lengths—hardly the worst of problems to have. Here, The-Dream speaks on his recent album, his A&R role at Def Jam and working with Pusha T.—Ralph Bristout

On IV Play, it’s clear that you’re focused on restoring a certain feeling back to R&B.
Yeah, it’s just that feeling. It feels like I’m fighting against a machine—I swear. It feels like I’m fighting against a well-oiled machine and I definitely can’t do it without the people that want to feel that way. People have to want to feel like you wanna take your girl out and hold her hand and go post, grab a beer, do whatever y’all do and then take it to the crib after that, but it being all love. But not senseless, not stupid. Just how we used to do it.

You’ve recently been appointed VP of A&R at Def Jam. How is the new venture treating you?
Being an artist is one thing but being an executive is a whole different thing. You know I’ve been in that position, on the Island Def Jam side, for a couple of years. The whole top, executive level was being changed with L.A. [Reid] stepping away to go do X-Factor. Just getting back in the swing of things—and of course I picked up on the Pusha T project (My Name is My Name) and I just took that under my belt and started working on it. Then his stuff started coming out great and we developed great chemistry with that. 

When it was announced that you were executive producing Pusha’s solo debut, the reception seemed mixed up until “Exodus 23:1” and “Dope Bitch” dropped. What do you say to that?
First off, what I sing in my genre is what I sing because I can’t talk that shit on that record. It don’t matter that that person doesn’t exist inside me. I’m from Bankhead [a neighborhood in Atlanta], I know exactly what it is. I know what it’s supposed to sound like and I know what it’s supposed to feel like. I’m not out here doing it every day and I’m not pretending to but I ain’t no punk. I know where I’m from; I know what it is. It just happens that the cookie crumbled another way. Two days of starvation could’ve easily made me a drug dealer. It’s not that far-fetched. Luckily I didn’t have to become that. But I know what it feels like and I know exactly how Pusha feels. I know exactly who that nigga is immediately. I know who’s he’s talking to and I know who is fuckin’ with him. Period.

With the amount of success you’ve garnered behind the scenes with Beyonce, Rihanna and just about everyone else, does mainstream and commercial success even matter to you at this point?
Mainstream and commercial success matters when it’s authentic. When I can get you on my shit in the same way that hip-hop did what it did in the 1990’s when the scene first got big—it wasn’t mainstream at first. They was trying their best to keep the shit off. In the NWA days they were like, ‘What the fuck is going on? What are these niggas talking about?’ Next thing you know, you’ve got Snoop—it became commercial. It became commercial around Snoop and that’s why Snoop is still around. I’m gonna get on being me and by not changing or I’m just not gonna be on. And I’ve been on before, so it doesn’t matter to me. I know that it just comes back.

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