Before there was "Alt R&B," or even its knew-it-before-it-was-famous precursor "PBR&B," there was The-Dream. Self-aware, salacious, and prolifically ambitious, Terius "Umbrella"/"Single Ladies" Nash stands as the evolutionary missing link between the knowing meta-R&B of R. Kelly since "Ignition (Remix)," the Auto-Tune avant-garde of T-Pain (trust us, it's been too long since you listened to "Can't Believe It"), and this year's sometimes less-radio-friendly excursions by Frank Ocean, Miguel, and the Weeknd. With last year's then-free 1977, SPIN's No. 4 R&B album of 2011, the Radio Killa showed that he, like Ocean and Miguel, could also be a Mixtape Killa.
All that's a long way of saying "Used to Be" makes more sense in context, where its strummy, sleek L.A.-style storytelling could be just one sulky chapter in a larger work with multiple facets, sort of like how Drake's Take Care couldn't possibly work if every song was "Marvins Room." As The-Dream gets set to reissue 1977 on December 18, he has shared a video for this "stop fucking with me, if you ain't fucking with me" downer of an anthem. Unfortunately, what might on the record sound like real talk as a standalone video comes across as weirdly old-fashioned, Nash complaining about how his romantic interest won't make herself pretty for him. The addition of a female part, sung by frequent recent Nash collaborator Casha, addreses this problem somewhat, as the woman's list of complaints shows the man is at fault, too. But what both appear to be most concerned about is, weirdly, the 21st century. Twitter and blogs come up unhealthily often.
Visually, too, the clip is a bit of a letdown, mostly just two people berating each other by a couch. Don't worry, we're still fucking with The-Dream, and the "Used to Be" video thankfully lacks the WTF-NSFWness of last week's misogynistic "Wake Me When It's Over" clip. But if Nash wants to get back out in front of contemporary R&B, there has to be a better alternative. (Too bad Love IV MMXII still looks as far away as ever.)