NEW YORK — Terius Nash says he was the most nonconfrontational credit-collections agent in the history of the job.
"My thing was, at the end of the day, if I call you and you say you ain't got it, you just ain't got it," Nash, known to the world today as The-Dream, said while sitting in a quiet area during a listening party for his recently released debut LP, Love/Hate. "I went through six years in this business messing my credit up."
The Def Jam singer/songwriter, who's been in the industry for nine years, said he finally stopped harassing people about their debt in 2003, when he decided to make a detour to the greens.
"I was on my way to work and stopped to play golf, and I was like, 'Man, [making music] is what I really want to do full time,' " he remembered. "So I just had to let God step in and kind of balance out what I could not cover. I played golf that day, called into work and said, 'I'm out.' "
Six months later, one of his songs was used on B2K's "You Got Served" soundtrack, and he got his first recording-industry check.
"My mama died when she was 35 years old. ... That is, like, eight years from where I am right now, so nothing is promised," he said about how he has stayed levelheaded. "When it popped off, I just got harder at it and made sure I understood that things that I can't control, I just can't control. I can't control when somebody likes my song or they don't. I just need to write it, and that's what I did control."
The ball started to roll when Dream got what looked to be his breakthrough opportunity: Madonna and Britney Spears' highly hyped post-VMA-kiss duet, "Me Against the Music." Tricky Stewart, who produced that song and The-Dream's new album, gave him the news.
"I was going down [Atlanta highway] 285 in a '92 Cadillac DeVille," Dream said. "He called me and was like, 'Man, you got a record on [Spears' album].' I was like, 'What?' I was so happy, because at the end of the day, there is a lot of things we can say about Britney, but what we can't take away is that she is a pop icon and so is Madonna. You got two of the biggest pop stars on the record — like, that's crazy for anybody. I don't care if you 'hood [or] you not, that was crazy to me. I was just fortunate and blessed that that happened to me."
Understandably, though, the star power on the song overshadowed the newcomer's writing contribution. So he honed his craft, working on less-publicized songs with his wife, Nivea; Lil Jon; and fellow A-towners the Youngbloodz.
"I learned the craft and I got it down," he said. "And now that I got that, I can wake up and [a hit] just happens. I know what not to put in a record."
His writing prowess was proved in the spring with a string of hits, including Rihanna's "Umbrella," his own hit record "Shawty Is a 10" and J. Holiday's "Bed." The combination was a loud introduction.
"It was actually kind of a plan by [Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman] L.A. [Reid]," The-Dream said of the man who signed him. "Because L.A. didn't want it to look like they were signing me based off of 'Umbrella.' Like, 'OK, this guy wrote "Umbrella," so he's getting a look.' "
With "Shawty Is a 10" climbing to its peak, Dream jumped into a Las Vegas studio with Tricky Stewart for a week-plus stint. Stewart came up with some of his hottest beats, while Dream had to deliver his own magnificent words and catchy melodies to carry the records.
"Some of the time, I am competing with myself," The-Dream said of his work ethic. "I got this J. Holiday record. ... It's going crazy, and now I also have his second single, which is 'Suffocate,' and then I am on my second single, which is 'Falsetto.' But you just kind of take what God's going to give you. If [J. Holiday] goes #1, then, you know, that's great. That's great for me and it's great for him. Hopefully I will just stick around and get my #1, whenever that comes."
Love/Hate was released last week, and if you listen closely, you'll hear that the CD runs continuously, almost like a mixtape. The album is a love story, in which he finds the girl of his dreams, loses her and may or may not find another one. There's a strong Prince influence on songs like "Fast Car," "Falsetto" and "Nikki," while The-Dream — a.k.a. the "Radio Killer" — injects his own wit on records like "I Luv Your Girl."