It’s been a rocky few years for The-Dream. Technically speaking, one would assume IV Play is the album Dream so earnestly sang he would released on June 7th, 2011 before experiencing numerous delays through to May of this year. During that period his presence behind the scenes of major radio jams became less frequent as well, and his frustrations eventually spilled onto the internet for free in the form of 1977 that same fall. It was a more introspective side of the artist that he billed under his birth name, Terius Nash, and the response was so positive that when it became clear 2012 would come and go without a Dream album as well, Island Def Jam cut their losses and released the digital album on retail shelves.
With an ever-shifting tracklist and apparent direction, it was never easy to get excited about what was once know as Love IV: Diary of a Mad Man, though. The-Dream’s sugar-coated track record speaks for itself, but the Weeknds and Frank Oceans of the world—not to mention Miguel and BJ the Chicago Kid among others—have caused a bit of a shift in the R&B scene, and attentive listeners knew Dream was a little frustrated the former two were getting so much attention in 2011. IV Play particularly homes in directly on the narcissism and social anxiety that pervades so much of the Weeknd’s music… unfortunately, marrying Dream’s legendarily crass and/or juvenile lyrics to such a moody, mid-tempo landscape rather than the high-octane pop of past releases is incredibly bland.
There are some things about IV Play that grasp what made The-Dream such a captivating pop personality three summers ago. “Slow It Down” might have a despicably corny Fabolous verse (“We hangin’ out and I’m so funny / All of a sudden I’m Winnie the Pooh / All up in your honey”) but the rest of the track is vintage Nash, berating club DJs for refusing to play any slow or mid-tempo jams so girls can dance on him (very specifically, on him) more precisely in the midst of some playful allusions to Michael Jackson’s vocal ticks.
“IV Play” is the first of many songs that bring to mind the mid-to-late ‘90s, as The-Dream raps like he has bronchitis before breaking into his usual pitch-corrected tenor/falsetto hybrid. The song threatens to become a little melodramatic (despite sounding casual on the surface, the sex in “IV Play” is well-rubbed in aggression), and just as it does the pitch correction goes into overdrive, “Runaway” style, atop The-Dream’s interpretation of late-Super Nintendo backgrounds. If Nash had been able to keep up with those kinds of surprises—as the second half of all his retail albums have been known to do—IV Play likely wouldn’t be as boring as it is.
I feel like I’m being kind when I say the stunt casting of guests is one of the least valuable thing that’s happened to an R&B album in a while. Jay-Z basically just does a wealthy 45 year old’s impersonation of 2 Chainz—he’ll show up later alongside Beyoncé, whose demands of rachetness appear in service of the more vulnerable moments of her HBO documentary—and Fabolous is the anti-serum that defeats whatever positive lasting impression “Slow It Down” hoped of having (sadly, without him the song’s pretty damn good).
But the guests aren’t the only one dragging this album down. Depending on your taste, plenty of these songs can start out with interesting ideas before failing to capitalize on them, whether through repetitive natures or childish lyrics. “Pussy” is a song that attempts to raise the stakes from “Equestrian” (a song that’s about the way you ride, and can’t help but be inferior to Ciara’s own Dream song, “Ride”) by riding the chorus “Got my left hand on her booty / Got my right hand on her pussy” into the ground. Somewhere, that’s probably totally interesting as a one-off ad-lib from Cam’ron or Riff Raff, but do I want to listen to The-Dream sing about it for two minutes interrupted by a neat Pusha T verse and an annoying Big Sean one?
I love “New Orleans” and “IV Play”; “Y’all” from the deluxe edition is a goofy example of The-Dream’s R. Kelly fanaticism as he yells for nearly six minutes about how much his fans mean to him; think “Real Talk”. There are a lot of moments here that are growers if for no other reason than Dream’s ability for cramming songs full of mini-hooks, but again, thanks to the constantly dreary atmosphere The-Dream’s lyrics often come off as totally absurd. His status in the hallways of record labels has been of the utmost for the longest time strictly because of his ability to lead the charge. Here, The-Dream’s just following others’ lead, and not the ones you’d expect like Miguel.
He sounds bored. So am I.
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