It is probably odd, at first, to understand that someone else can be artistically indebted to R. Kelly. R. What? The man who wrote “Feelin’ on Yo Booty” and “Sex in the Kitchen”? That R. Kelly? I know, R. Kelly is more frequently viewed as the Court Jester of Pop than the Pied-Piper of R&B, but what people tend to forget when they’re squatting safely in the trenches of critical dismissiveness is that Kelly is a consistently interesting producer and songwriter, who, even as his aesthetic stays the same, has been fascinatingly himself for about two decades at this point. Terius “The Dream” Nash could certainly be taking cues from lesser artists.
That is, not to say that Love Vs. Money rips off of R. Kelly. The Dream’s thematic preoccupation with seeing girls from the other side of the club and preceding to “put it down” is definitely informed by Kelly’s lascivious, tang-obsessed jocularity, but it’s definitely not confined to that. Much like Kanye West, The Dream is a much more introspective artist than most of those who currently make it to B.E.T.
Love vs. Money isn’t just a seemingly obtuse, tacked-on album title; it’s the main thrust of the work. The middle of the album spends four tracks examining a failed relationship, including the album’s two-part title-suite. “Instead of lovin’ you I was makin’ it rain,” the singer exclaims on “Love Vs. Money.” Nash is probably aware of the fact that that’s a funny line, but it’s clear on record that he sings it with all of the weight of an indelible mistake. Brighter, slightly more ear-catching tracks may surround this section of the album, but it’s clear that that’s the case because this is the album’s heart.
Apart from his notable outings with Rihanna (“Umbrella”), Mariah Carey (“Touch My Body”), and Beyonce (“Single Ladies”), The Dream’s solo work has to further establish himself as one of the most talented pop-songwriters wielding a pen and a keyboard today. Except for the intense, melodramatic middle mentioned above, every other track on this album could be a successful single. Additionally, the instrumentation on Love Vs. Money is just more proof that the marriage of R&B with electronics is the most powerful union in pop music today. They’re the dominant instrumentation on essentially every track (except for album standout “Mr. Yeah”) and in each instance they lend The Dream’s earnest insinuations and promises some air of reality; the spacious synths on “Put It Down,” the bridge in “Sweat It Out.” Why did it take so long for people to do this? Oh, what Al Green could’ve done if someone had given him a Moog.
Love Vs. Money closes with “Kellys 12 Play” a track where The Dream searches for the right CD to soundtrack his sexual advances and shouts out the record’s most obvious influence. R. Kelly’s 12 Play features songs with titles like “Your Body’s Callin’,” “Bump n Grind,” and “I Like The Crotch On You,” and is thus an appropriate choice for the occasion. Love Vs. Money has too much angst to be a modern 12 Play, but I’d be surprised if The Dream didn’t give us that record sometime in the future.