The-Dream — “Rockin’ That Shit”

Released: 12.08.08

Peak: #22

Tricky Stewart and Terius Nash don’t exactly have a “sound,” not in the way Timbaland and the Neptunes did. There’s no core of definitive rhythms that your body already recognizes before your ears alert your brain. The upside-down stagger-funk of “Umbrella,” the pillowed low-end insistence of “Touch My Body,” the front-stoop dancehall of “Single Ladies” – these tracks may share certain traits, but they’re foremost the work of sympathetic craftsmen catering to the requirements of a specific performer’s voice and persona. What the premier R&B production team of the late ’00s offers instead of a sound is an approach: Set some nifty rhythmic parameters, then allow sometimes discordant but always lush synthesizers to crest in waves of pleasure that fluctuate in intensity rather than building to a sole climax.

Significantly, given this chameleonic quality, Nash-Stewart have primarily serviced established artists, often major celebrities, rather than cultivating their own stable of collaborators, and most of these have been women. The main exception on both counts is Terius “The-Dream” Nash himself, who specifically articulates the promise of well-heeled comfort and pleasingly varied sensations the tracks offer. “Rockin’ That Shit” caters to the listener — lazy chords drift in from behind, their layered flow simulating sexual rhythms more directly than old-timey slow jams ever did, with a reverbed Prince drum that pops-and-ebbs rather than pounding – and Terius, aware he’s fucking out of his league, caters no less diligently.

No less diligently, but much more crassly. The-Dream’s singles thrive on the contrast between plush sonics and earthy come-ons. The lead single from each of his first two LPs lodged FCC-disapproved naughty words (OK, one word in particular) right smack in the titles: “Rockin’ That Thing” may be a better censored title than “Shawty Is a 10,” but “Rockin’ That Shit” is what he means and you know it. I’d regret that he blows the mood with “Aint just tryna get in your clothes/ Okay, I’m lyin’/ Damn you fine,” if a certain self-awareness of how duplicitous pillow-talk can be is a big part of that mood. But just when Dream’s patter threatens to overwhelm the cut, the chick renders him speechless and grasping futilely for a metaphor, rocking that shit like … oh.

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