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The-Dream Finds His Message on Inclusive Anthem ‘Black’

the-dream, black, video

The-Dream may have finally noticed another meaning for his stage name. Terius Nash wrote “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies” on the way to masterful solo albums like Love Vs. Money and Love King, and the man who unfortunately must share responsibility for giving us Justin Bieber still has a credit on Beyoncé’s stunning Beyoncé, among other superstar pop projects. But after a couple of years between official albums, his 2013 IV Play somewhat undercut the good will warranted by songs like DJ-baiting “Slow It Down” with a Kenny Winker-style anti-foreplay ode and endless procession of porn-y videos.

Like Marvin Gaye, referenced in The-Dream’s new song, Nash might’ve found that all he needed was to turn his gifted songwriter’s eye from sex to social unrest. “Black” is an elegant, piano-centered ballad, with just enough snapping snares to fit next to trap-minded radio songs. And, at a time when it’s all too easy to celebrate our superiority over Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy without acknowleding the systemic unfairness that causes our social ills, Nash refreshingly transcends, as a great pop craftsman can: The song’s accompanying video, above, juxtaposes images of the red-shirted Los Angeles Clippers beside footage of that iconic 1968 Olympics black power salute, but it also shows Pussy Riot, Harvey Milk, and anti-war activists. Of course, no non-black person can truly claim to be “feeling real black right now,” as The-Dream sings on the hook — that way lies Brad Paisley — but the poignant generosity of the idea suggests Nash isn’t just name-dropping when he shouts out Madiba.

A SPIN roundtable last year pointed out that The-Dream is an artist, not an activist; maybe the lesson from recent years — or recent days (you heard about Oklahoma, right?) — is there’s a time again to be both. As The-Dream notes here, his mother “said never be impressed with / A man with no message.” Martin had a dream…