Monarchs can’t achieve universal praise. But history can preserve them. Public opinion can transform them. They can be warlords or figureheads, tyrants or saints. They come in various ages, tempers and styles. And despite the complex demands of our “global village,” one aspect of kingship remains: preserving the legacy of their name.
The-Dream’s Love King won’t let you forget. The third outing from North Carolina-born producer-songwriter Terius Nash has all the pomp and polish of a royal decree. Each of its twelve songs builds on the-Dream’s already impressive credentials; co-production on Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” songwriting credits from Jamie Foxx to Katy Perry and a grand-slam solo success with 2009’s Love Vs. Money. Nash’s Atlanta snap pop is detailed, high-gloss and tailor-made for decimating car stereos. And with a mere two cameos, Love King is a slick, focused collection of chest-thumping, ego-driven cocksmanship. The end result is filled with delirious highlights even when songs drag, hooks fail to impress and the occasional lyrical face-plant adds a little jank to Nash’s smooth mid-tempo sex thump.
The-Dream wastes no time in spelling things out for you. The leadoff title track recites every girl, every continent and every ass Nash has touched or wanted to. Over soaring, skipping piano stabs, Nash chants, “You don’t know me like that,” as if the song didn’t make it impossible not to. On this and most of the songs, he’s the invincibly wealthy Casanova — commanding shorties like soldiers and continuing his quest to make “Patronin’” a standard verb. The sun never sets on the-Dream’s empire. His kingly advice on pacifying an upset boo? “Drop five stacks on the makeup bag.” He’s humbly “sex intelligent,” making other brothas “irrelevant.”
Following “Sex Intelligent?” A remix of the same song. The-Dream’s ego bows to none.
When he’s not sculpting his image in marble, Nash makes the toughest move a king can make: He shows vulnerability. There is a subdued sense of anguish in songs like “Nikki, Pt. 2” and “February Love,” where boasting gives way to simple confessions of longing and loss. “Me and my new girl is cool / But now I’m having doubts,” Nash croons, pulling out of the rhyme before a sludgy, filtered keyboard hook leads to some cathartic electric guitar. Old relationships, voicemails and tweets haunt him like the Ides of March. Even while lashing out in “Abyss,” Nash seems unsure — “Cry ’til you drown your face / And bitch, I give a damn how harsh this may… seem” pausing a few beats, as if regret stops him in his tracks.
Aside from Nash’s sometimes gripping, sometimes vacuous presence, Love King’s asset is its production. Layered harmonies, syrupy keyboard arrangements, drum-line percussion — the polish and command of these tunes intoxicate. “Make Up Bag” pounds on bass and keyboards that bristle and bounce. “Turnt Out” rides a paisley guitar loop and pillows Nash’s smoothest falsetto to maximum panty-wetting effect. And while the grace of each track’s detail lends itself to repeat listens, extended vamps and uninspired spots spoil the fun. For every brilliant hook, a mediocre one may follow. For every charming couplet, you’re treated to a stinker like, “It’s like trying to rob me with a BB gun / but my love gets it poppin’ like the Taliban.”
Love King finds its crown jewel in “Yamaha,” which finds Nash updating Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Beginning as a simmering ode to ass, “Yamaha” builds into so much more. It’s about the girl he can never forget, the shorty that broke his mold. He’s still got her name tattooed on his back. R&B’s crown monarch defined himself by writing sex jams that were also vulnerable.
Where Nash’s royal backing tracks meet his humility and bombast, they soar. Otherwise, they’ll continue to serve the talents of brighter stars. When the-Dream finds his balance, history (and the charts) should smile upon his name. But even until then, all hail.