By Laura Cooper and Najib Aminy
On May 12, both The Dream and Nas, two hip-hop artists, performed at Stony Brook’s annual concert event, Brookfest. In front of a capacity crowd, both artists performed for about an hour. Despite the long wait for the closing acts, many left the concert pleased after both The Dream’s and Nas’ performance.
The Dream is best known for writing Rihanna’s summer-hit “Umbrella” and J Holiday’s “Bed.” After the The Dream’s performance, Stony Brook Press editors Najib Aminy and Laura Cooper interviewed The Dream.
The Press: Who and what are your biggest inspirations?
The Dream: My main inspiration would have to be owning things that are my inspiration. Maintaining wealth and growth, that is what I think about, but who it comes to Prince and Michael Jackson. I have been in the band since I was in third grade, I have been in music for a long, long time and I think what happens is… the who’s run into, now you have to make a career around it, it kind of changes your focus a little bit, I am very passionate about music but I do understand that it’s the business that I am in and I have to make money to survive.
The Press: When did you get into the hip-hop business?
The Dream: I got into the business around ’98 ’99, around eleventh, twelfth grade, and some guy some friend of mine put me in the singing group and at the time I was in the band, I was a drum major. [My band mates said] ‘We need you to get showmanship,’ but I had no idea they were doing the band to get girls. I was taking it seriously, unfortunately, I started to get on their nerves and they kicked me out.
The Press: When you think of hip-hop, you think of the sex, drugs, violence and money. What is your view on that?
The Dream: I have this question kind of, I am kind of what would you say, not just mainly a hip hop guy, I am probably affected by the clothing as far as the stereotype goes, but as far as it concerns music I do so much variety of it that it doesn’t really come in to my every day type of thing. Like I have records with Celine Dion, just did a record with Sting. So I have different type of people that I run to that are not a part of Hip hop at all and hip hop, just as far I guess as what is in with the culture I am a part of it that way, but musically I am just above it. But I do think about all the things and all the pressures that hip hop people put on themselves, the girls and over glamorizing drugs and weapons and its actually a shame because it has nothing to do with music at all, which is why all music sounds kind of bad, and now more things like the UK more of their stuff is bleeding onto us, and we are in the clubs bopping to there stuff saying ‘Oh my god where is this stuff coming from?’ They kind of caught up and went past us because we have stayed in this rugged hip hop era for so long that we kind of forgot about the basics of music and I think it has a lot to do with schools because they took music out and now everybody isn’t picking up a trumpet or trombone.
The Press: What artists are you working with?
The Dream: Beyonce, I just got out with Beyonce, not finished with her yet, Ciara, Ludacris, Gym Class Heroes, who else am I working with? So many people. I have this protégé, Karina Pasian, she is from the Dominican Republic, she has this record “Sixteen at War.” Really good record. I am pretty much kind of working with everybody, I am kind of just going down the list.
The Press: What do you when you work with artists?
The Dream: Usually I already have a record deal, in terms of Gym Class Heroes, they have certain influences of their own so its certain points that I do write, maybe a hook or a beat section. I usually record the whole record and send it to the artist. I just did a record with Beyonce, it’s a crazy, phenomenal record. She was in another room, and I wrote it in a different room. She came in and sang it and I wrote the other and she came in, that’s usually how it goes.
The Press: Can you explain your so-call feud with Chris Brown?
The Dream: I don’t think it is more of a feud. There is a big disconnect now with the producer and writers as it contrasts with the artist. And sometimes when you are not on the artist side of understanding their psyche or how they view a certain thing or whatever you can get caught up in that little window. Because what we as producers are, we are basically blue collar workers like we are nine to fivers. Even though we don’t work nine to five that is kind of like how our job is, it is mostly everything other than the flashing lights. Like I am artist now but I wasn’t then at that particular time. I was just starting but I have been a producer and writer for so long I only know its one way to do something. If somebody said something this way or that way I would only know how to take it in a producer writer sense, not in us artists just acting crazy. You know me and Chris, we cool, we had two records on this last album. It wasn’t really a feud, it was more of a misunderstanding, there was I record I wrote, “Bed,” it was considered for him and his label wanted me to change some of the lyrics in it because it was a little too edgy and I was like I refuse to basically take the record apart. If it’s talking about sex, it’s talking about sex, that’s why the record is so good. He didn’t get the memo, ‘oh we wanted him to change the record that’s why you didn’t get the record.’ He [Chris Brown] thought it was like me just like ‘give me my record back.’ He [Chris Brown] was like (jokingly) ‘man forget you I don’t like you.’ Once we chopped it up he [Chris Brown] was like ‘oh I didn’t know that.‘
The Press: What other music do you listen to besides hip-hop?
The Dream: Everything, endless. I mean basically when I am in the car with my driver, I am actually probably listening to classical. Like I don’t listen to anything but classical in the car because you are trying to get away from it, you want the break. I just recently re-downloaded Coldplay’s album with “Clocks” on it.
The Press: Who is an artist that you would like to work with?
The Dream: Working with Mike [Michael Jackson] right now, probably just Prince. I think by the end of this year, it just depends on schedules, and it was just one of those things where if I have gained his respect or not. If I haven’t then I’ll keep working. If I have, then I have a record.
The Press: Does writing successful songs, such as “Umbrella” for Rihanna, bother you where you it could be you having all that success?
The Dream: It wasn’t a problem for certain artists; it’s getting harder now because of the successes. I require a certain type of songs for myself. I wouldn’t necessarily probably do an “Umbrella” record or like Usher has a new record that I did which is a second single called “Moving Mountains.” I wouldn’t put “Moving Mountains” on me but now, probably going into the next phase of things, I probably would. So now it’s kind of hard to nitpick me from records because this is a Dream record. The next single is “Fast Cars” so it kind of opens my lane up to do whatever I want to do. If I got a big hit, I can sing that myself. You ask me this question five months, I would be like, oh no, I wouldn’t do “Umbrella,” but now I should probably do a record called “Raincoat.”
The Press: Where did the name, The Dream, come from?
The Dream: Came from an uncle of mine, he was actually just making a statement, he just said he wanted me to be the dream of the family. Don’t do the same things that we do, even the same successes, not just the failures. My grandfather was a cement mason and probably worked on every building in Atlanta. They had stuff but didn’t have the next chapter. It’s kind of like an oldies baseball player telling a new baseball guy it’s like, just looking at the contracts, it’s all relative. You [the old school players] made 300k but now these [new] guys are making 300 million. It’s kind of like the same thing in my case because that music is something that grows, but in our lives it kind of changes [in comparison with my uncles] I wont be doing no cement work. My uncle said ‘whatever it is be the dream and make sure you make those millions when we made those thousands.’
The Press: How fabulous was it working with Fabulous?
The Dream: I will never forget Fabulous for that particular thing, he is basically one of the outside artists to kind of endorse what I did other than Jay [Z] himself. Jay Z was the first one that got on “Shawty is a 10” with nobody on it, and played it at the 40/40 club, playing it 20 times back-to-back saying, ‘Y’all better get up on this, y’all better get up on this. This Dream, this Dream,’ everybody was like man, Jay is crazy, and he is like ‘yeah this my shit.’ And people were calling me telling me Jay is playing your song at the club and I was like, ‘what? How? We just sent him the demo.’ But other than Jay, Fab, I’ll never forget that he didn’t have to show up to the video shoot. He didn’t have to do a lot of the things he did especially as a new artist, he knows a lot of the things I do now about being a writer, but he didn’t know at that particular time it was just a record he liked.
The Press: How do you value your success?
The Dream: I value that I can move the needle in music. The real value is whether you are able to impact music. That’s a writer, producer, and the artist. What do you change once you do something or do you not change anything? Can you put a record out and even though it doesn’t go number one it changes how producers think about their record or how they do abridge now, how they say “ay ay.” Nice. That’s my value, it’s how I can move the needle, until I stop doing that I will have to reinvest or reinvent myself to move it once again. That is everything to me. Moving music like landing and exploding in a particular spot.
The Press: Is there anything you want to close off with?
The Dream: Yeah I mean at the end of the day we are basically close to a depression last time we had a recession was ’92. Knowledge is power, I was blessed enough to get certain things in my mind without having to go to school or taking those four years and investing in music. If you are going down a certain road, just stay that course. If you stay that course something will come out of it. You can’t do nothing moving side to side or deciding and undeciding about something. I hear so many stories about how I went to school to this and then I went to do that and it’s like, ok, just make that decision quick don’t wait its your junior year and ‘hey mom I don’t want to study law anymore.’ Like what are you talking about? Whether you want to do it or not now you are gonna do it. Be real decisive.