Your enjoyment of the fifth album from Terius Nash, the R&B singer songwriter better known as The-Dream, will probably depend on your appetite for directness. Do you enjoy when people comment publicly on your privates? Do you strip down to nothing even before foreplay? Do you like to hear or say come-ons like, "And we gon' fuck all day / We gon' fuck all night," or "I need to fuck you / All day / All night," or "I can give a fuck about the foreplay / I want it now / I’m talkin’ straight sex"? If so, IV Play will speak to you like no R&B album ever has before.
The unambiguously filthy talk that defines IV Play is a logical step for Nash, whose solo career is based in part on a profane sort of bubblegum—sprightly little pop songs with nimble keyboards or regal horn sections over beats that purr and snap while he praises shawty for being the shit, or for rocking that shit, or for being the kind of girl worth stealing. He has come as close to living without euphemism as a pop-music architect can get.
The-Dream often brags like a rapper when he sings. On IV Play, he sings of driving a million dollar Benz, of the $50 million he received for writing Rihanna’s "Umbrella." Though he’s never scraped the Top 10 of the Hot 100 with his solo work, he has sent many a diva to No. 1 —Ri, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey, most prominently.
His material success isn't particularly inspirational, but his expressive ability is. He uses a miniature teddy-bear voice that's more tone than technique, a la Janet Jackson, allowing him an awing vulnerability. “F.I.L.A.," a stunner from 2010’s Love King, begins: “You the shit I couldn't leave you alone / Lil mama I just wanna give whatchu want / Girl you need somebody, up in your life / That can hold you all through the mothafuckin night / After the sex / After the show I'll be the one that loves you the most…” His persona in this song is either one of a man who’s letting his object of desire speak for him (“Then she took my hand, and after that she said / I just wanna fall in luck again, ca-can you make me fall in love again?”) or a submissive.
Much of IV Play is not that tender. The production is in jagged metallic textures; the emotions blare rather than whispering. Over the course of its 18 tracks, it spans the contradictory gamut of feelings that arise from a hookup lifestyle: euphoria (“Self-Conscious”), affection (“Loving You”), relief at its possible conclusion (in the duet “Where Have You Been,” he and Kelly Rowland sing to each other, “It’s all fucked up now, I’m all fucked up now, and I’m so destroyed”), lust (on just about everything), and confusion. Check the opening verse to the career highlight “New Orleans”:
How can I love this bitch?
And at the same time scream, "Fuck this bitch"
And at the same time while I fuck this bitch
And at the same time had enough of this bitch
How can I hold this bitch?
And at the same time I don't know this bitch
And at the same time I would cry over this bitch
And at the same time I would die over this bitch
His resolution is she put “that that New Orleans” on him, which probably refers to some kind of voodoo. And while his narrator is conflicted, his track is more so—"New Orleans" is the most fuck-to-able song on an extremely fuck-to-able album, but its mood is killed by the repeated use of the word “bitch.” The issue is deeper than misogyny, it’s misanthropy, the voice of a world in which people are like MP3s to flip past on your phone before settling on one to fuck. The contradictory emotion that sometimes surfaces is either an epiphany or a disease—the act of catching feelings has never been so messily expressed in a pop song. It’s perfect.
A song about anonymous sex you probably couldn’t get away with playing for a stranger if you were in a similar situation, “New Orleans” is an exercise in subversion. It’s along the lines of the song “IV Play,” which is about not being interested in foreplay (“Stop fuckin’ around,” The-Dream hisses). A transparent devotee of the likes of Prince, R. Kelly ,and Jodeci (he covers “Come & Talk to Me” live), The-Dream tailors his songs within and against the context of the overall R&B genre.
The album's poppiest songs—“Michael” and “Slow Down”—rage against pop (“Enough with the motherfuckin’ dance songs!” he pleads in the latter). Its most reverent song, “Holy Love,” isn’t about a woman but the love of his life, music (“Not even a million women / Could help me feel that love”). “Holy Love” is also IV Play's vaguest, as if there are some things too important to speak about directly.
“Self-Conscious” replicates the loving metallic clank of early Jam & Lewis productions for the likes of the S.O.S. Band. “Loving You/Crazy” starts out as a propulsive drum-kit workout like Usher’s “Caught Up,” but after only two minutes, the synths surge and the song oozes into a slow jam. Like he can’t keep his hands off an ass, The-Dream’s music can’t keep its mind off sex. It makes the case for the slow jam’s supreme intensity—these songs hit harder than most club tracks.
This is R&B without its gentle seduction and patient doublespeak—the artlessness is its artistry. "Fuck a love song / I need to fuck you," Nash sings in "Michael." In its uniform coarseness, IV Play is the sort of sexual coming-of-age event album traditionally released by females (Janet Jackson’s janet., and Madonna’s Erotica spring to mind). Again, it’s a logical step: The-Dream’s last album, 2011's 1977, detailed a breakup, presumably that of Nash and his ex-wife Christina Milian. Nasty relationship residue clings to this album.
The-Dream’s depiction of single life, its shortcomings and contradictions, will alienate people. But there is an unobstructed honesty here that doesn’t give a fuck what you think of its creator. This album is not advocacy, but exploration. It is an act of selfishness that is radical for pop music, even by today’s egocentric standards. If The-Dream isn’t the god of fuck, no one is.