One hardly needs more proof that Terius Nash, the writer-producer behind The-Dream, stands at or near the top of the contemporary R&B heap. After helping Rihanna own 2007 by co-writing the ubiquitous “Umbrella,” Nash had a hand in the creation of Beyoncé‘s smash “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” and while the ascendant artist may not yet have the cache or price tag of super-producers like Pharrell and Timbaland, he’s already finding success at something those guys have been trying and failing at for years: gaining credibility as a solo act.
Nash’s 2007 debut, Love/Hate, was a flawed but wholly entertaining collection of sleek synthesizer ballads and Auto-Tuned excesses. In addition to significant filler, there were moments of both pop brilliance (“Shawty Is a 10”) and auteurist bravado (“Ditch That…”). The artist’s follow-up, Love vs. Money, keeps to the same aesthetic touchstones of broad synthesizer lines, punchy drumbeats, and computerized vocals while cranking up the gears of ambition. From the propulsive gleam of first single and album-opener “Rockin’ That Shit” to cameos by Kanye West and Mariah Carey, Love vs. Money hardly shies away from the attitude that The-Dream has entered the realm of pop royalty.
More than anything, this album sounds busy. It seems that Nash and frequent collaborator Christopher “Tricky” Stewart have absorbed nearly every musical meme flittering across the landscape of urban radio, excised the ones they hate and exaggerated the ones they love, added their own idiosyncratic flourishes, and recast the whole concoction as their own personal present-tense. Thus “Take You Home 2 Mama” treads through stacks of synthesizer chords and drops in the multi-tracked “Hey!” (a note made famous in T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life”) as an exclamatory punctuation. “Fancy” begins as a familiar piano-only ballad before building in accordion farts, chopped-and-screwed samples, and harp-plucked arpeggios. “Walking on the Moon” displays both adulation for Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson and tinny, Kala-esque beats; fittingly, Nash adlibs in the song’s opening bars that the song’s setting is the year 2085. What keeps all this over-production from being distracting is Nash’s intelligent arrangements and a keen avoidance of clutter. The seemingly incongruous elements rarely fail to complement each other or Nash’s vocals.
For all the album’s behind-the-boards wizardry and hook-laden songcraft, though, only a few of these cuts have the feel of future hits. “Rockin That Shit,” which is already all over the airwaves, is admittedly irresistible. Ditto “My Love,” a ballad featuring a surprisingly restrained Carey jumping through Nash’s hoops with all the docility of a tamed lion. But instead of begging to be repeated, the rest of the album’s songs are best savored as a whole—a weird assessment of an R&B album, which usually sink or swim on their ability to capture you right away. Love vs. Money, however, is a bit of a grower. One is inclined to believe that Nash saved his next chart-topper for a born star like Beyoncé and decided to make this album a cohesive, front-to-back artistic statement. Which it is.