The Dream: Love/Hate

Drew Hinshaw

Somewhere in the runaway life cycle of capitalism, empathy becomes the great need of the hour, and with that in mind, The-Dream has something few hitmakers can claim: a wide-angle lens.

The Dream

Love Hate

Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2007-12-11
UK Release Date: 2008-01-21

At this stage in the information age, with Hip-Hop and Hollywood stretched around the globe from the International Dateline to the Prime Meridian, you'd think that humankind would be largely inoculated against the venom packed into f- and n-bombs, respectively. But on "Luv Your Girl", a sparse, rhodes-decorated lament, 26-year-old R&B crooner The-Dream enunciates both words back-to-back, with a cruel, jarring precision that defies that history. The story goes, he's bumping and grinding up against some other man's woman in the club, less interested in the standing lap dance she's giving him than in the tragic picture unfolding. Everytime the girl's boyfriend calls, she taps "ignore" on her cell phone. "F--- that n----," she says, and The-Dream echos those devastating words over a blue and lonely snap beat. He and she head out from the club to his place -- score! -- but her boyfriend calls her back, and she says it again: Three heartbreaking words, with so much to say about race and romance.

That brackish mix between one man's pleasure and another's pain is agonizing, and The-Dream's ability to empathize with all three parties involved sets him apart from his R&B peers -- many of whom glorify clubbing as some sort of zero-sum bloodsport, played for sex. Somewhere during R&B's gilded age, success insulated the hearts of hitmakers from the plight of lames; in R. Kelly's worldview, if you're struggling financially or experiencing girl turbulence, then that's just one more woman on the market/dancefloor for him. Yum yum eat 'em up. On the Rap side, Field Mob might empathize with you, but Young Jeezy and Ludacris are going to look at you and your woman the way an alpha cougar would watch an old goat limp to a watering hole. You don't have to major in sociology to see how this kind of dog-eat-dog attitude towards club-going lends itself to more after-hours shootings than your wildest Three 6 Mafia record.

It was into a cold climate like such that Rihanna popped open The-Dream's "Umbrella", a song he wrote for her that became an instant cultural touchstone. You may have heard it. With houses foreclosing coast-to-coast and hard times boomeranging back after eight years of feckless federal governance, Rihanna's record celebrated the type of friendship America's going to need a lot more of -- the type where life's winners and losers "shine together." Love/Hate, the Umbrella-man's debut is just as dark as "Umbrella", if not darker, and it's moral compass points in the same direction. Over gloomy, spacious snap beats, he engages in the same brand of improvident hedonism as everybody else these days -- snatching woman from their long-term relationships, cheating indiscriminately, brandishing dollars and the things they buy -- but his nagging conscience and his ear for tragedy steal centerstage.

Take "She Needs My Love", for instance. Like most every song on Love Hate, it's about guys and girls trying to take each other's bfs and gfs, and in this case, it's some other dude trying to eat off The-Dream's plate. (The nerve.) The-Dream goes ape-poop, of course, explaining in an apoplectic falsetto how, if this girl isn't able to get his love, she will die. "Call 9-1-1," he wails over a raging, furious sea of synthesizers. This would of course be another high-water mark in boastful R&B arrogance, except that the beat is too serious, the hook too similar to a cry for help. More than a selfish, possessive rant, "She Needs My Love" is a song about an emergency, which means it's applicable to all kinds of real-life crises that have nothing to do with guys and girls, at least not the guys and girls in the song. Home foreclosures and after-hours shootings could both apply. In this way, the track recalls Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blidge's "9-1-1", an ostensible love song that also perfectly captured the eery, desperate calm that hovers above a murder scene.

"She Needs My Love" is a good example of how The-Dream's imagination rarely wanders too far from his tragic intuition, and almost never gets bogged down in the trappings of his own success. A few months back, the New York Times' Kaleefa Sanneh wrote about how the shrinking revenues from record sales are bound to eventually dampen the celebratory mood of Rap and R&B, and "Love Hate" may mark the first glum record in a genre bound for gloominess. However much money The-Dream made off his record advance, it wasn't enough to buy happiness, or even temporarily distract him from the plight of lames. Even the bubbly hook of his single "Shawty is a Ten" has a meloncholy pace, as chords rise incrementally, then collapse in resign.

On "Nikki" he nabs himself a sexually cooperative dime piece of the same name, but is still so fixated on the acrimonious conclusion to his last romance that his words bristle with ire and regret. His Tracy Chapman nod, "Fast Cars", is as unspecified an escape route as hers -- more of a running-from-everything than a running-to-something matter. And on "Living a Lie", he and Rihanna pry tears from each other's eyes, ready to scrap their hollow, unsatisfying lives in the name of love. Two years ago, A&R agents would have looked at The-Dream as a guy who had it all: fetching melodies, beat sense, style, and allure. But somewhere in the runaway life cycle of capitalism, empathy becomes the great need of the hour, and with that in mind, The-Dream has something few hitmakers can claim: a wide-angle lens.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.