"It's kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out," The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR. Even more than the mega-hits he's written for the likes of Beyoncé ("Single Ladies") and Rihanna ("Umbrella"), the self-styled radio killa's early solo oeuvre — known as the Love trio — helped cement the songwriter's saucy way with words.
It's a love language that finds The-Dream speaking directly to the streets, even as he aims to heat things up between the sheets. That metaphorical wink was on full display when he came to the Tiny Desk to share a couple of joints from his latest release, Ménage à Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3.
"I know all the trappers, I know all the rappers / They who you see in the club and I'm who you love after," he sang in the opening verse of "Bedroom." Backed by keys, drums, bass and a three-piece horn section, The-Dream delivered his lyrics with that signature high-pitched whisper, just shy of a falsetto. Never one to be confused with a powerhouse vocalist, he's always been about setting the proper tone. "I definitely wouldn't give Beyoncé a run for her money, at all. Not even on my best day," he told Frannie Kelley back in 2013. "It's more emotion and feeling when it comes to me."
R&B hasn't sounded the same since The-Dream changed the game. Maybe growing up off Bankhead on Atlanta's west side gifted him with a hip-hop swag native to the soil. Indeed, it's worth remembering that he preceded the current era of melodic, sing-songy rappers who disregard traditional lyricism for raw, heart-rending delivery. And long before young MCs became obsessed with stealing your girl, The-Dream was on that, too. So it was only right that he close his set with his infidelity classic, "I Luv Your Girl": "Call it envy, I want her on me / All up in my head, now she in my bed."
And all the shawties said, aye-aye, aye-yi-yi.
- "Back In Love"
- "I Luv Your Girl"
The-Dream: vocals; Carlos McKinney: keys; Larone "Skeeter" McMillian: drums; Justin Raines: bass; DeAndre Shaifer: trumpet; Theljon Allen: trumpet; Elijah Jamal Balbed: saxophone
Producers: Rodney Carmichael, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Nick Michael, Kara Frame; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR