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However, over the last two years, the outspoken Atlanta native has grabbed more attention for his personal life than for his music. Following his ill-fated marriage to R&B singer Nivea, he hooked up with actress-singer Christina Milian. They initially downplayed their budding relationship, but within a few months of being outed by bloggers, they finally admitted they were an item. They eloped to Las Vegas in 2009, but after the couple welcomed their first child, Violet, what appeared to be a fairytale romance began to unravel. Photos surfaced of Dream frolicking with his assistant in Hawaii, and Milian announced their separation in June of last year. While he maintains that he was never unfaithful, the 34-year-old felt the pressure of the bad press and revealed on his website that he'd contemplated suicide. When the mudslinging finally subsided, they reached an undisclosed divorce settlement and turned their energy towards their respective careers.
Around the same time, Dream became an executive vice president at Island Def Jam, and while he still holds that position, he hasn't lost sight of his solo career. In September, he released the free album '1977,' and he's working his fourth studio album, 'The Love IV: Diary of a Mad Man,' due out next year. He's also involved in top-secret projects with just about every big name in the business. The BoomBox caught up with the self-proclaimed "radio killah" to discuss his new projects and get his explanation on why his marriage to Milian fell apart.
Why did you release your album '1977' for free?
People are more disconnected to music. It seems like we should be more connected because of the Internet and how fast it is to get records. Now, we don't digest it much, and I believe that certain things take time. Sometimes, when you include the label, every idea seems to be too big. They're basing it on first-week sales and a whole bunch of s--- that I don't really deal with in my life, so I wanted to make sure it's free, so there's no pressure on anyone, other than trying to make people feel great when they listen to music and my new ideas. Because it's always been free for me to do it. I don't really make money off my own albums anyway.
Being that you're on both sides of the music game -- an executive at Def Jam and an artist -- what is your relationship with your label?
They see me as an asset, because I'm able to tell them both sides. I'm able to say, "This artist is disgruntled because of this," and then also, because I am an executive at Def Jam, I'm able to look at it from another side and say, "OK, maybe I need to put '1977' out to show you from an executive capacity how I, as The-Dream, should be worked." There's not only one way to do it, and that's a part of my asset in the company. Everything [at a label] goes out the same way, but everything doesn't work the same way. Not only that, but to understand that the label isn't s--- without the artists, and that's a part of what Def Jam has started to lose, that part of understanding the importance of these people that we have signed, and their dreams.
Was it cathartic to create '1977' when things in your personal life became public and the response was negative?
Not at all, because how I see the world work is that everybody is either going through something positive or negative in their life. I'm able to write from both sides -- and with pure honesty. You almost don't want to be around me, because you're probably going to get in a song some kind of way. That's what my gift is. Whether people hate me or not, I write from a real place. If I don't know it, I don't speak on it. It's elements about my relationships throughout [my music], but not only me. You know how many men come up to me and say, "I'm glad you said that?" I kind of hate that for Christina [Milian], bless her heart, because the next person that hears anything that I do automatically -- because she's the public figure -- assumes that it's about her.
Todd Williamson, WireImage
You're 34, and you've been through two divorces. Are you still optimistic about love?
I'm definitely optimistic. I'm a hopeless romantic, of course. The people in relationships are the reason why relationships don't work; it isn't the idea of it. The idea of it is an idea, which means that it takes a certain type of way of thinking in order to make it work. Personally, for me to grow up [in] a male-dominated home with a guy in it, which was my grandfather, it's probably not good for me to be with a woman that hasn't had a father figure around, because it's just hard to get that respect, period. You can't respect something that you never had.
Has your relationship with Christina Milian changed because time has allowed you to see where you went wrong?
I think we're in a better place, publicly. I'm in a better place, because there's a freedom that comes along with it -- not in a good way, because nobody wants to fail at anything, especially me. But another part that people don't understand is it's different when you have a private life and you get to go through your problems. If there's a problem in a relationship that's in the public eye, and [the public] just found out today, that means that it was probably a problem 180 days ago. You're late. You're not going to find out that day, so unfortunately, when you're in relationship in the public eye, it's just deemed as whatever the last thing [you saw] was. It's like, "Oh, OK, this is the last thing I saw." Yeah, I get what you're saying, but that ain't what it is. But because I'm so dope, I'ma go ahead and take that [blame].
So is it safe to say that you're not really friends behind closed doors?
No, we're friends. We just don't agree at this point. I went through it in my life, and I've lost certain thing that other people at my age haven't lost yet, [like my] mother. Automatically, my feeling about life is going to be [different]. We can argue the point, but the truth is I'm going to feel a certain way because of my mom. I feel a certain way about making sure I appreciate certain things in people because nobody lives forever. If I make it to 35 next year, I would have lived longer than my mom, so these are things that go through my mind constantly, which are things that you may have not started to think about unless you already went through it. It's certain things in my life that I've had to grow an appreciation for really quick. I have a song on my album that says, "I don't care how you feel, because I can pat myself on the back." That's not me patting myself on the back. It's my parent,s because they have instilled in me [things] that make me feel that way. I'm here because of what I've already been through.
Watch The-Dream's Video for 'Rockin' That Thang'
Getting back to the music, do you have a release date for your forthcoming 'Love IV' album?
It's tentatively dated right now for March 20. I can't tell you who's on the album, but I think the difference on this album is that I'm definitely more mature about how I go about things in my writing. It's getting to a point now that's it's automatic for me, but I think people can feel the growth in certain lyrics that I've been penning as of late. It's one '90s-influenced record [on the 'Love IV' album] called 'Rock Your Body.' It's a really good record. I got another record called 'Talk That S---.' It's f---ing dynamite! I was actually going to put it out [early] just to do it, but everybody called me and were like, "You gotta do it properly!" Basically, label talk, when they say you have to do something "properly," is they want to make money off of it.
You also worked with Rihanna on 'Talk That Talk.' Can you tell me about the 'Birthday Cake' track that was released online?
I was just talking to Rihanna about that, because she [originally] made an [just an] interlude. I was like, "Your fans are going to be so mad at you." As soon as I said that, I got back, and I guess she released a piece of it, and they saw how long it is. Man, they tore me up on Twitter! So I hit her on the phone. I was like, "Yo, your fans, they're going crazy on me right now, like I could make you do something." So 'Birthday Cake' is on there. It's going to turn into a whole song because the fans are ganging up on me, and I don't want to be murdered by the Rihanna Navy!
There's another record I did with her called 'Red Lipstick,' and another song called 'Do Your Thing,' which is probably [one of] the more lighter records on there. I was more called in to fill in the blanks. She's just so great at putting her records in. She did a great job utilizing what [songwriter] Ester Dean does, who is like my little sister, for this album. I think she has six or seven records on that album. Dean is locked in to what Rihanna's doing at this particular moment, which is great. I'm at a place where you can call me in as a songwriter, but Ri calls me in as a friend that's going to make an unbiased decision, not just because I'm trying to get on the record. If it doesn't need me on the record, I'm not going to get on the record.
Going into the new year, what else do you have in the works?
I got another album I'm working on called '1984 Persona of Love.' I got this movie that me and Big Sean are going to try to do next summer. [My other album] 'Love IV' should be out before Christmas next year. It's a lot of stuff.
Can you tell me about the Big Sean movie?
Not yet. I will, though. It's too far away. You know people be trying to steal stuff [laughs].