The Evolution of The Dream
As we gather in what is known as the JET War Room at the Johnson Publishing headquarters, The Dream exudes an aura of chill. He’s been traveling for the past few weeks and is quite tired, like anyone with a demanding schedule would be. Dressed in all black with a Contra hat tucked to the back, he casually takes a seat right in front of the JET archives. He seems ready. Ready for the “standard interview.” Ready for the gossip questions. Ready for whatever. Ready. After a few authentic exchanges of words, we get down the why we’re here. We talk about the evolution of The Dream. As an artist, as a producer, as a man. And what fans can expect from his sixth LP, “Crown and Jewel.”
JET: It’s been a minute. What have you been up to?
The Dream: Just doing my same ole thing. You know writing. Producing. Sangin’.
JET: So how does it feel to be in the JET/EBONY archives?
The Dream: It feels great. Feels like a lot of people got my back right now.
JET: I ask that question because I feel like every black person has a memory of the publications. I can’t think of a time when I visited my grandmother and it wasn’t a copy of EBONY and/or JET on her coffee table.
The Dream: Yeah. Even when the JET had like dried up Jheri Curl juice on it back in the ’80s (laughs).
JET: From Rihanna’s “Umbrella” to Justin Beiber’s “Baby,” you’ve pretty much had a hand in shaping not just the sound of R&B, but pop during the first quarter of the millennium. How did the dream become The Dream?
The Dream: I think it started somewhere around third or fourth grade when I first got into the band. And I know that kids now aren’t introduced to instruments like back in the day. You know they’ve taken instruments out of schools. So for me, I’d have to say that the journey started somewhere in the latter part of the ’80s. You know when I was able to just grab my instrument and just have music as my friend without it being any political gain or any business interests in the music business at all.
JET: “Music as your friend.” That kind of sounds like you have more of an adult relationship with the craft. It isn’t as innocent. How has being in the industry shaped your perspective on what appears to be a passion of yours?
The Dream: I still put music first. I don’t sell out. I don’t try to change anything that I don’t love. I don’t chase records that don’t sound like me. Being from the South, the church has a lot to do with music period. You have the chittlin’ circuit that used to be like gospel singers that went over to R&B and started singing. Whether it’s Sam Cooke, Otis Redding…it’s like a southern thing to be a part of the church when you’re young and growing up so it’s like a backdrop. I think it was around ’89 or ’90 when we started to understand that [music] was a business other than just showing up on Sundays and being part of the choir. So in the ’90s, I kinda just used what was around me. Atlanta became Motown at that point in time. We were able to kind of be more authentic about the music business per say.
JET: What do you mean by that?
The Dream: Just to have a hand in on the culture. I mean Atlanta was overlooked. It was New York with this hip-hop thing, it was LA, it was the Midwest because of Motown. The South was just the south nobody said, “Hey I’m from Atlanta. I do music.” But now, most of the writers and all of the trends especially from a hip-hop standpoint, come from Atlanta and in the ’90s you had L.A. Reid move there and then you had TLC that came after that. You had the Dungeon Family. You had all of these things that were going on while I was a teenager that made it authentic. We had real people who went and got Grammys from that stage that was from Atlanta during a time when it was just overlooked.
JET: I’ve been doing a bit of stalking on your Twitter page and I found something interesting. Your bio says, “The most important artist of the 21st century.” What is it that you bring to the music industry that a lot of artists don’t?
The Dream: From start to finish, every part of a song is me. I think that’s where that comment came from. An artist in most people’s eyes is the one that is on the stage doing the biggest thing at that particular point in time. I want to be viewed more like how Basquiat is. A lot of different canvases with a lot of different images on them and then bringing them together in the end and so me saying that I will be one of the most important artists is because all of these factors and all of these people that I’ve helped and even on my own, will be a bigger picture that’s being painted by everybody else.
JET: As many love songs that you write, would I be accurate in guessing that you are a hopeless romantic?
The Dream: Well of course.
JET: What do you find so intriguing about love?
The Dream: Love itself. It’s always what somebody else thinks. It’s their idea of what love is. The idea of love moves from person to person. If me and you are in a relationship, your idea of love and what I would have to respect about what you love would be different than what you’d have to respect in my life and about what I love and that’s just how it is. From man to woman, woman to woman, man to man it’s the same thing. We come from different upbringings. We view things [differently]. It’s not like the king in this place is marrying the queen over here and you both have the same things in tact. Now, it could be you can grow up in the suburbs, I could grow up in the inner city and we already have two different ideas about life. You may be easy-going. I may feel like I can never go back to Bankhead. You would have to respect where I’m coming from to love me the right way and I would have to respect you from where you come from.
JET: It sounds like your definition of love is respect and appreciation.
The Dream: O yeah, for the other person’s love.
JET: That probably goes into my next question. You recently got married for the third time, (hopefully it’s the charm). What’s the most useful lesson that you learned from previous relationships?
The Dream: Most useful lesson. Wow. I think the most useful lesson that I’ve learned is that the things that I care about, I have to assume that most people don’t care about them. That’s kind of why I said what I said in the previous answer because my grandfather raised me to care about things and put an importance on them like how I see the world. For instance, legacy and how you want to be remembered, taking care of your kids, making sure your ethic is right. Like all of these things that like line up that I have to do as a man. And assuming that somebody knows that about me. What I’ve learned is to be more patient with people and understanding that I can’t assume that they know what it means to have [certain things] in my life. Just be okay with it and be ready to walk away because I don’t have the patience to deal with it.
JET: What can we expect from your sixth studio album, “Crown and Jewel?”
The Dream: GREATNESS EVERYBODY! (laughs) Ummm…I think you just can expect me. The first song “Prime,” is moreso about how I see a man’s life and a woman’s life that differs at the top. I think a woman can peak early, and they can sustain, but the peaking for a man isn’t as early because you guys are born with something. It’s a natural attraction to a woman. Regardless of how we want to break the world down. That’s just how it is. Men aren’t born with the same attraction. We have to gain it through hard work and through like ethic. It’s not a hobby, we have to put work in. When you hear an older woman talking about men as they get older becoming better looking or whatever it is, it’s not literally that they’re saying they’re better looking. What they’re trying to say is that their life encompasses all of those things that they worked towards. So in my 20s, I spent all of that time not going to the clubs with all of my friends or doing whatever. That had a lot to do with why I’m 37 and I am where I am. But I didn’t look this way when I was 21, and I remember the girls that were 21 and were great looking and were probably on their way to every island they could be on, on somebody else’s dime though. Nobody’s going to take a man anywhere. But most of the women, if you’re in your 20s we just watch you flex like “Byyyeeee!!!! Going to Cancun with my boyfriend!” Another boyfriend in two years and they’re going to Paris. I didn’t go to Paris until I worked my ass off to go to Paris. Our peaks are different. It’s what this album is about. It’s kinda about me being more progressive in my writing and in my singing abilities and just showmanship.
Crown and Jewel hits stands April 14th.