Of the many adjectives one would use to describe me—some might even be positive—sexy would not be one of them. I have one or two flourishes that may seem surprising and impressive at first, but like a scripted moment in a videogame (videogame reference = not sex) they are unimpressive upon replay. Sexy, sadly, is not cumulative: in many cases it is something that is possessed or is not possessed, and no matter how much time I spend at the gym (a good hour-and-a-half for those curious) nor how well I write (I’m kind of okay) nor my obsession with cologne (currently Creed Aventus) I cannot achieve whatever it is that exudes the right perception of myself as an object of erotic desire. Sure, one might read about my dedication to physical fitness, my choice in a cologne with a strong bergamot topnote, my use of the parenthetical, my bravado in writing this ridiculous sentence and perceive me as attractive, but do not be fooled. Additionally, I make a very modest salary.
The-Dream, otherwise known as Terius Nash, like me, is not very sexy. He’s a little chubby. He dresses in multiple layers, almost to comedic effect. He has a few dance moves that he relies on: a quick flick of the foot and then a grab of the microphone stand, a basic spin-move, an occasional punch towards the ground. They are flashes of sexy that benefit from quick edits: one senses that if the shot lingers too long it gets awkward. He is a workaholic, as illustrated by the fact that he has production credits on every Rihanna and Beyonce megahit over the past three years, and as we know, working all of the time is not sexy. However, his delightful bravado is what makes him incredibly endearing, and, apparently, quite good at fucking. Take nothing away from the fact that he is a pretty spectacular songwriter: there are amazing layers to each song and a building crescendo throughout the album (like sex? Maybe?) where every song seamlessly melds into the previous one: smooth, so smooth—but one gets the sense that he would rather “play doctor on your body” as he so eloquently puts it in “Sweat It Out.” When The-Dream suggests to me that in order to get my girl back I should “drop five stacks on a make-up bag” and lists some very nice brands in case I am unfamiliar with the hierarchy of high-end handbags, I am rather certain that this would not work with the women that I know—at least that’s what I tell myself considering I don’t have $5000 in regular income, let alone disposable income. Love vs. Money is not for me. Love vs. Money is for sexy rich people, specifically people who are having sex. I am not sure who these people having sex are because I am not one of them and therefore cannot imagine having sex to this album. In fact, I believe that the only person having sex to this album might actually be The-Dream, the maestro behind these songs, our musical tour guide through what it means to love like he loves: sloppy yet passionately, incredibly innovative and constantly evolving.
And yet Mr. Nash is incredibly aware of his audience: the ol’ “this goes out to all the women who want to be with me, and all the men who want to be me” boast applies here. The album is part love and lovemaking letter (e.g. Call Luticia, your beautician, because your hair is going to need fixin’ and your body’s the cup, my body’s the coffee, and I’m brewin’ it while we doin’ it and I’m all up on you like a monster truck, I’m all up on you like shorty what’s up) and part instructional self-help (e.g. they say you can’t buy love, man, they lying and no matter what you’ve got, anybody can leave you), suggestions to not necessarily make us better human beings, but certainly make us better lovers, better than what we are or what we might be.
It is an album to be shared, but with whom? I do not know who to share these boasts of love, these deep bellowing drums that you can actually feel in your, well, your sex, and so I listen to it in my car. I drive faster than one should around this town, past houses that I used to live in, used to love in. I avoid neighborhoods that bring back memories of couches, sheets, pillows propped up behind heads. I listen to it with the windows rolled all the way up—it is not a windows down album, it is not meant for just anyone to hear: trucks much larger than mine that pull up beside me at stop lights, students crossing the street on their cell phones both incredibly aware and unaware of traffic patterns, friends dragging French fries through ketchup on outdoor patios. I listen to this album on headphones while I am at the gym. The album is dark red, the color of blood, the color of underwear that I have seen in photographs but cannot picture on anyone except fast blurs and amalgamations of body parts: fancy fantasies that take the place of the fact that I wish to be anywhere but on a machine that is making my body work, making me more attractive, more vital, and shows a commitment to myself instead of letting myself be glanced over, to let my name dry to dirt. The energy here is self-contained: instead of acting out what The-Dream tells me to do, instead of finding ways to make enough money to realize that money isn’t the answer to everything, I am alone—a Mobius strip, a motor with nothing attached to it, running for the sake of running, the scent of my cologne multiplied by sweat in a place where only I can smell, hyper aware of how my body works instead of how her body works, whomever that her might be, if she even exists. A version of me understands it when he says he is “Mr. Yeah,” and for a moment I am him as well: the smirking playboy in the layers of expensive clothing, the ability to make every person fill up with jealousy and/or regret. But the version here, bright red on a treadmill or singing in a mid-sized SUV, the version that you see, she sees, understands the rare moments of weakness—the cracks in the sexual armor, the bugs in the system.
This moment in Love vs. Money comes during the titular track. One moment The-Dream is joyously exclaiming “I wanna take you home to my mama,” and in the next it all becomes past-tense: “I wanted to take you home to my mama,” followed by a mumbled ad-lib of “Stars get their hearts broke too.” The beat swirls like a dust storm: glitchy, dark, and sinister, and the confident snarl turns angry. At this point, The-Dream is Terius Nash: instead of wanting his listeners to be like him, he desires to be like his listeners. One of the fascinating things about writing is that it is an incredibly private act that needs to be made public in order to have success. Our memories and experiences channel words that are made into stories in order to make sense of what has happened to us: to take these things and make art—on pieces of paper within an arms’ reach, in documents saved on password protected hard drives. Writers are then expected to publish these works: in journals, in blogs, on the Internet, in books, in order to be perceived of as a writer so that our voice can be heard so we can shake others, that we can be recognized as talented, that we can get what we want. The result is clumsy and sticky: admitting things that we aren’t quite ready to admit, our chests open to the elements. And it is at this point, where Terius warns us “no matter what you got, anybody can leave you,” that everything before and everything after seems to make sense: these dirty things are meant to be aired to the world—that this is how we relate to one another, that if we know about how the other fears and how the other loves we can identify with the other unfamiliars: the messy hair, the Prada-ing it up. While The-Dream fashions himself as a poet, he is actually an essayist in the true sense of the word: he documents a series of attempts to try and encompass all that he is and all that he desires to be—a lover, a superhero, a victim of his own devices. This is an attempt at an ars poetica that we can get our grind on to. This is about essais: trials, attempts at finding love, and what better way to try to find love than by fucking and fucking up? Because someone is paying attention to our attempts. Because you and I speak in layers: in sweat, in scent, in words that mean more than what they spell. Because stars get their hearts broke too.