Terius "The Dream" Nash is the Atlanta R&B songwriter behind hits like J. Holiday's "Bed" and Rihanna's "Umbrella," which means he's the guy who got everybody singing "ella ella ay ay ay" all summer. "That's the part that sticks to your brain and pulls up your antenna and makes you notice," he says, "I call it the dumb part. I have to put the dumb part in every song I write. I have my reasons."
The dumb part has worked smartly for the Dream. He co-wrote the 2003 Britney-Madonna duet "Me Against the Music," and he's written R&B hits for his wife, Nivea, but he's on fire now, with the summer single "Shawty Is da Shit" and his solo debut, Love Hate, dropping in December. The sex jam "Falsetto" is his most undeniable song yet – and, yes, he sings his trademark "ay ay ay" hook: "That's definitely my trademark. I start with the 'ay' and let the whole song come out of that. But I'm from Atlanta, so the 'ay' comes from there. Atlanta's in all of my music."
The Dream prides himself on his soul roots. "The new-schoolers, they don't know anything going back deeper than Ne-Yo," he says. "Back in the day, writing your own songs was part of being an artist. It's like a missing art. Prince could write 'Darling Nikki' because he knew he was the one who was gonna sing it, so when he sings about masturbating with a magazine, you take it as artistry. He sings it because he's feeling it."
These days Dream is working with everybody from Sting to Celine Dion. But as for his most famous song, he freely admits it took only twelve minutes to write. "I knew 'Umbrella' was a hit, it didn't matter who sang it. But I think it ended up in the best situation it could have been in. Before that song, Rihanna was just a pop-single girl. Now she got paparazzi following her around." But the Dream gets inspired writing from a female perspective. "That comes from my relationship with my mother, man. She passed from cancer in 1992, but she's with me, and I know that." No doubt she'd be proud now. "She'd be shopping. That's what she'd be doing. I guarantee you that!"
This story is from the October 18, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.