Music News & Reviews

CD review: ‘Crown’

TenderlyThe-Dream wins tenderly as a happy underdog

The-Dream knows that the better part of seduction is vulnerability. In his world, humbling yourself gets the prize. It may also explain why when he writes songs for others, like Beyoncé or Rihanna, he paints those women as conquering heroes.

On “Crown,” The-Dream is a happy underdog from the start. The opening song, “Prime,” is a swampy digital soul number; he sings in a voice that connotes weakness, but not desperation. “Do you believe in me like I believe in you?” he asks, and not rhetorically. His target is a sunbeam; he’s just a mortal.

Though he’s an often astounding songwriter, The-Dream doesn’t have the carnality of Trey Songz or the athleticism of Usher or Chris Brown; he’s a singer who benefits from all the gifts that modern recording technology has to offer. But like the competition, he’s capable of bluster. On the EP’s first single, the full title of which can’t be published, he sounds like Ralph Tresvant, cooing not at a woman, but at the man whose trust she’s violating. And on “Cedes Benz,” he’s rapping like the lost fourth member of Travis Porter.

For someone who has made tenderness so central, The-Dream has been haunted by real-life friction. Last year, he was arrested on charges of assaulting his pregnant ex-girlfriend. (He has denied the accusation.) “Crown” is the first of two EPs planned for release this year; the second will be “Jewel,” which The-Dream has said will be more reflective of his songwriter side. Perhaps he hopes that singing those words himself might cleanse him.

Jon Caramanica/New York Times