There’s plenty to like about singer/hired-gun songwriter, producer, and Radio Killa Records head Terius Nash, better known as The-Dream. Nash is one of Atlanta’s true pop-music craftsmen, much like Dallas Austin (of TLC production fame) before him. After three records, it’s tempting to say that it’s impossible for him to release a bad beat or song. He’s also bringing in the slinky sounds of Prince/R. Kelly baby-makin’ jams into modern-day, Atlanta-as-Motown rap/R&B. Nash takes these legends’ sounds apart and puts the pieces back together in some funky, compelling ways.
But here’s the thing: Nash comes off like an asshole on the first three songs of 1977. As The-Dream, he’s a flawless, cocky playboy who pulls ladies and gets money. With this record under his real name (which Nash made available for free online in defiance of Def Jam), Nash more than ever shares his vulnerabilities and imperfections. It’s not pretty. But unlike another deeply imperfect and confessional producer-performer (his name rhymes with “Blanye Jest”), he neglects to take himself to task for it.
Take the lyrics on lead-off track “Wake Me When It’s Over,” which ostensibly addresses Nash’s romance with and subsequent Internet-documented cheating on singer/actress Christina Milian, baby mama and collaborator of Nash’s: “Life on the internet/I look like a devil/But you wearing the red dress/Holding a shovel.” Nash sounds like a two-timer deflecting his shitty behavior with insults and accusations of his own. His ex- and you, the listener, aren’t perfect, so don’t you judge him.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he did a shitty thing. “Now Im fucking somebody else,” Nash sings on the records second track, “Used to Be”. “But go ahead and blame me if it helps/Im just being honest/ I know, I know, I know, I know sometimes Im wrong/But am I really the only one?”
If this review is starting to sound like moral judgment of Nash and his actions, it’s only by circumstance. As with R. Kelly, Michael Jackson, and other public figures with publicly aired personal flaws, it’s possible separate the artist and his or her art. But as a listener/critic, it’s a tougher needle to thread in this age of oversharing. When the artist’s nearly flawless music is centered very honestly on his or her flawed personal life, as with Kanye West or Drake, it makes me wish Nash would quit oversharing so that I wouldn’t be in that uncomfortable position. Still, my artist-art separation stands, which Dave Chappelle summed up on Chappelle’s Show when he said about Jackson, “He made ‘Thriller.’ ‘Thriller.'”
Dirty laundry aside, it’s really about the music on 1977. And the clicky, ATL crunk beat (with a nice, fat acoustic guitar sound) on ”Long Gone” is still compulsively listenable. The chopped-and-screwed vocal intro, giant swag, and big ol’ synths on “Ghetto”, featuring G.O.O.D. Music rapper Big Sean, sound like pure triumph and braggadocio, a refreshing break from the oversharing that plagues the first 15 minutes of 1977.
Halfway through the record and killer stuntin’ anthem “Rolex”, Nash is largely done exorcising relationship demons and ready to party. Radio Killa up-and-comer Casha is notable on the track, too, throwing in a nice little flow. OMD-influenced synth banger “Wish You Were Mine” is the record’s best example of why Nash’s production rivals many of his producer-performers contemporaries in rap and R&B (like Kanye, T-Pain, and Pharrell, who guests on the excellent, rock guitar-infused “This Shit Real Nigga”).
Nash, like Kanye, deserves praise for showing continual artistic and personal depth. Unlike Kanye, though, Nash doesn’t seem like he’s willing to fully own up to his shortcomings and take a full and deep-enough personal-via-lyrical inventory. It works against him on 1977, but the music, as usual, is on point.