Tim “Timbaland” Mosley has admit ted that using the Spiderman theme to frame his current single, “Here We Come,” is a corny device. But he argues that the silly cartoon riff functions the same way the equally corny “Hard Knock Life” hook works for Jay-Z. For Timbaland, there’s a type of streetwise goof that transcends goofiness, particularly if you’re dealing with what black Southerners consider dry wit. It’s a Brer Rabbit kinda thing. Let people think you’re not serious, crack a joke in their face, and all the while you’re hiding your Uzi in plain sight. By the time most folks understand what you’ve done you’ll be long gone and past any possible negative feedback. Being fast, loud, and obvious is the reckless city slicker’s game. Being slow, soft-spoken, and ever so slightly indirect is how Southern blacks lived to be old in the bad old days behind the Cotton Curtain. Is Spiderman corny? What does a spider do? Eat flies. What does “Here We Come” really critique in between its party rhymes? Style-stealing biters who are all over Timbaland’s sound like flies on shit. To paraphrase a well-known ghetto children’s rhyme: biters and flies we do despise.
That said, Tim’s Bio, the avowed soundtrack of an imaginary motion picture hypothetically titled Life From da Basement, salutes every regional rap trend Timbaland figures he can market, without sacrificing his own indisputably individual production style. As the oft quoted couplet from “Here We Come” puts it, “He said that Timbaland can’t rap/But I don’t care ’cause I make dope tracks.” In “Lobster & Scrimp,” Mosley helps Jay-Z reprise the player persona featured in “Money Ain’t a Thing.” “To My” shakes Nas out of his gloomy ghetto fever-dream for some gritty freestyle kicking with underground MC Mad Skillz. An Atlanta-based con tender named Ludichris is persuaded to chant like a No Limit soldier on the profoundly lewd “Fat Rabbit.” Chicago’s Twista pummels each measure of “Who Am I?” with the dazzling flow of percussive consonants that typifies midwestern-style speed rap.
Elsewhere, Mosley returns to working with the friends he’s produced in the past, becoming strikingly looser about structure and tempo. On a classic Missy Elliott/Timbaland composition like “John Blaze,” Aaliyah’s lead vocal is allowed to float above the beats virtually a cappella, with no obvious melodic or temporal guideposts. Magoo’s staccato rhymes on “Here We Come” hop and skip around the main pulse as if it were a maypole. And on “Keep It Real,” Ginuwine and Timbaland have perfected a texture-based kind of call and response vaguely reminiscent of the way smooth Jamaican singers and gruff toasting deejays trade leads on a tune.
This is an album far less autobiographical than the title would suggest; Timbaland performs fully or partially on all of seven songs. But it’s delightful how much of the space he takes away from himself is devoted to show casing members of the gentler sex. A female-friendly producer in hip-hop—meaning someone who is willing to tolerate more than one woman in his posse at a time—is enough of a rarity to be cause for celebration. The girl trio One Life To Live, Missy-protégée Mocha, and a Kentucky-bred fem-cee named Yoshamine all get a chance to strut their stuff over some of the best tracks on the album—like Babe Blue from One Life To Live trading bodacious brags with Mocha over the jungly rhythms of “Whatcha Know About This,” in between Xena Warrior Princess yells.
Timbaland says he builds his mixes around the harmonics of the speaking voices of his male and female rappers. He notices the “key” a rapper performs in, then places all his melodic and percussive effects in complementary keys. The technique proves that working up the musicality in rap does not have to result in transforming it into r&b. While Biggie Smalls’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” is virtually a disco record, a song like “Put ‘Em Up” is still rap—as are most of the cuts on Tim’s Bio.
But then Mosley’s also proving himself no slouch at bittersweet, reality-based love songs. “3:30 in the Morning,” as sung by Virgina, is the best relationship tune he didn’t write with Elliott—Spiderman stepping out of costume for a moment, shedding the need to be a masked crusader. His production of it is uncharacteristically sober, even old-fashioned, letting Virgina’s silky vocal arabesques stand alone without what would normally have been layers of Missy’s harmonies. It’s a song of loyalty, counseling a man not to trip out because his woman has things she’s gotta do on her own. It is very different and very beautiful. And it just might be the most autobiographical thing about Tim’s Bio. For as much as Tim misses Missy when she’s not around, he’s still gotta prove he’s not crippled without her.