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Why Timbaland is OVERKILL


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Well you know it's important, and egotistical, presumptious me is gonna follow, cuz it's the New yorker!!!!

They actually say a lot of good here

The Timbaland Era

How the most important producer of the decade changed the rules.

by Sasha Frere-Jones

October 6, 2008 Text Size:

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Large Text Print E-Mail Feeds Single Page Cross-rhythms, pops, clicks, mouth noises, a gurgling baby—you’re hearing Timbaland, or school thereof. Photograph by Platon.


Timbaland (a.k.a. Timothy Mosley); Cornell, Chris; Producers; “Scream”; Elliott, Missy; Timberlake, Justin; Furtado, Nelly At first, in the late eighties, he was DJ Timmy Tim—a kid named Timothy Mosley, from Virginia Beach, who liked creating beats in his bedroom. Then, in the nineties, he renamed himself Timbaland and began the stretch of work that has made him, against considerable competition, the most important producer of the past decade. A duo called the Neptunes, childhood friends of Mosley’s from Virginia Beach, gave Timbaland a run for his money at the beginning of the aughts but have been harder to find in the past few years, when Timbaland scored his two biggest successes, Nelly Furtado’s “Loose” and Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” The Michael Jordan to Timbaland’s Kobe Bryant, Dr. Dre, is the producer who recast hip-hop in the nineties, and whose crisp, high-resolution beats found their way into the larger pop world. Dre has had several sizable hits since 2000—50 Cent’s strangely stern but addictive “In Da Club” is at the top of this list—but since 1996, when Mosley showed up on the charts with a young singer named Aaliyah, the sound of pop music has drifted toward Timbaland. When you hear a rhythm that is being played by an instrument you can’t identify but wish you owned, when you hear a song that refuses to make up its mind about its genre but compels you to move, or when you hear noises that you thought couldn’t find a comfortable place in a pop song, you are hearing Timbaland, or school thereof.

Timbaland started out by changing the beat of R. & B. What had swung before began to stutter and syncopate in ways that felt both ancient and completely new. Listen to the hi-hat in a song like Aaliyah’s “One in a Million”—the patterns pause, and come back doubled and tripled, closer to tap dancing than to any dull timekeeping. Then the innovations began to bloom in size and style. Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” is among the most significant singles of the nineties: the beat refuses to fully engage, using more dead space than you would have thought possible in a hit. And it wasn’t just because Timbaland performed a cross-rhythm of mouth noises—pops and clicks. (Oh, and there’s a baby gurgling.) He was obviously heading somewhere else.

When, in 1997, Mosley produced a song called “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” for his old friend Missy Elliott, it was the beginning of one of the most fruitful collaborations in recent memory. (Sadly, many of Elliott’s latest singles have not been produced by Timbaland.) Singles like “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It” didn’t seem to operate by any of the rules. Where other producers were starting to rely heavily on vintage synthesizer sounds, Timbaland added tabla drums. When other producers began to copy his chattering hi-hats, Timbaland shrank his beats to almost nothing, as if to prove that he could make a dance-floor hit with the cheapest drum machine he could find. While his peers were still looking for old soul records to sample, Timbaland sampled Björk’s “Jóga” for an Elliott remix.

Rock musicians and pop singers began to cite Timbaland’s work as an inspiration, and soon the big-name collaborations started happening, including two tracks on Björk’s “Volta.” The Furtado and Timberlake albums were enormously popular—after Timbaland had taken almost two years off (as one must), to focus on losing weight and bodybuilding—and he shifted the focus of his productions from rhythm and sound to full-fledged pop, a transition that few hip-hop producers have made. Perhaps it isn’t such a shock that these two albums worked—both Furtado and Timberlake are familiar with the sharp turns and swing of the R. & B. genre. Though the albums aren’t strictly R. & B., they live at its edges. Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” the biggest hit that she and Timbaland have made together, is like a playful update of the PG-rated flirting of such eighties dance music as Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” with a heavier and darker rhythmic bed. Timberlake’s “My Love” is a silvery, weightless marriage proposal, completely digital in sound but so traditional in theme that it encompasses both Boyz II Men—the most successful harmony vocal act of the nineties—and fifties doo-wop romancers like the Moonglows.

This year, Timbaland decided to produce an entire album by an artist with no roots in R. & B. or hip-hop. Chris Cornell is a lithe, goateed musician first known as the singer of the Seattle band Soundgarden, whose members were loud contemporaries of Nirvana and were good at working within the bounds of hard rock established by Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses and pushing them ever so slightly. (The band’s best song, “Black Hole Sun,” is one of its least heavy-handed.) Cornell, a belter with a strong, velvety tone, is a cagey, controlled singer; in a genre full of shriekers, he rarely shrieks. Since leaving Soundgarden, Cornell has made several less amped-up rock records, none remarkable, all tasteful. If he has a flaw, it is his sincerity: he sings big and Means What He Sings. He needs a little weirdness and danger to set off his handsome vocals; working with Timbaland seemed, in every way, like a smart move.

So how come so much of their new collaboration, “Scream,” is so awkward? (The album is technically a Chris Cornell record, even though Timbaland’s production dominates.) Some of the mismatch feels purely formal. Timbaland’s métier is the mosaic: points of sound arrayed on digital black. It is literally digital music—sounds that turn on and off, like ones and zeros. (If he’s looking for a rock partner, it seems as though a speed-metal act might best fit Timbaland’s aesthetic.) Cornell works well against a big, unruly band—waves of guitar noise crusted with overtones, bass lines that resonate so heavily that they blur—but against Timbaland’s beats things get confusing.

“Part of Me” is an averaging out of the two styles, though not in any felicitous way. The backing track is bleepy and attractive, the kind of futuristic effect that Timbaland can achieve without thinking. There are some distorted guitars audible, fairly low in the mix. Cornell sounds fine, but the lyrics are like something imported from an R. & B. record by a teen-ager. There is a woman on the scene, a “little girl,” and Cornell is “loving the dress she wears,” though “not what she’s going through.” A bit heartless, but maybe that’s what happens when our shirtless rock god ends up in the club. Then there’s the chorus—“No, that bitch ain’t a part of me,” over and over. Aside from being icky, it doesn’t make the ill fit of the R. & B. syntax any more sensible. Why do we need to hear the word “bitch” again and again? (It’s more graceless than offensive.) Then there’s a “rock” interlude that seems to have been lifted from a video game about people with swords.

Neither Cornell nor Timbaland sounds much like himself. When I first heard “Scream,” several months ago in Florida, Mosley’s wife, who is also his publicist, warned me against asking who played on the record. Unpacking the credits for “Scream” might be done best in the company of a lawyer. Here’s one line: “All songs written by Chris Cornell.” There is, however, an average of 4.77 songwriting credits for each song, and mentions of vocal production by Jim Beanz and instruments by Jerome Harmon. Um. “Songs.” O.K.

“Sweet Revenge” gets closer to a happy average. Cornell’s voice is strong, straining at its limits, and there is a sweetly multi-tracked bridge that works well against the rhythm, which percolates. The energy is up. But then comes the chorus, which includes a long Auto-Tuned warbling of the words “sweet revenge.” The robotic sound, aside from being past its sell-by date, could be anybody singing. “Never Far Away” could be one of the worst songs of the year, a rock ballad with all the bombast of Soundgarden yet with none of the heft or the force. The lyrics are like Bon Jovi with the fun sucked out, and could be moonlighting for an e-greeting-card site: “You are the road that I will travel, you are the words I write. You are the ocean I will swallow, you are the wind I ride.” Timbaland rarely puts sounds together in an infelicitous way: so why the swooping synth arpeggios? What we love about Timbaland is that so much of his music evades known templates, but figuring out what is happening on “Scream” is not, in large part, a pleasant hunt.

Thus it is all the more wonderful that there is an unmitigated success on the record. “Ground Zero” ditches all the cinematic foofaraw and imitation rock guitars. It is one of the album’s sparest tracks, and it bobs beautifully, anchored by the sound of a live drumbeat that sits exactly between rock and uptempo funk. Cornell restrains himself, nodding slightly toward the blues. “When it all falls down, and the law don’t count, and it don’t seem fair, and the people don’t care—where in the world you gonna go?” A small, nagging sound echoes a guitar without necessarily being one, and Timbaland’s signature details and yelps decorate the track without interfering. Stripped of their grandiose tendencies, Cornell and Mosley are a good fit. If they decide to do this again, “Ground Zero” is where they should start. ♦

if you read this far then I have a HUGE cookie for you and it's in my pants. alongside Edith Wharton's last novel :(

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Yeah--I actually think that Danja, his co producer on many tracks, is doing more interesting stuff right now (though still nothign too mindblowing). I think the article has a good point tho at how well Timbaland managed to move things into a pop direction from R&B (I didn't realize he dropped out of the scene for a year or two to shape up lol)

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