Gandalf Gets Swivey on the Wheels


The truth is so boring you’ll walk home three blocks out of your way to stop the routine from eating you alive. You want something new under your pillow. You backhand sleep, overvalue insomnia, and get confused. You mistake genre for genius. And you tell me Timbaland fell off.

Everyone is tired. I know I am. Tim and the Neptunes are the best, yada yada. Who wants to hear that crap again? Nobody! So we start digging for the new breed, grabbing nuggets like Jamaican dancehall. Recycling and rewinding and mashing it up is dancehall’s idea, and nobody loves a nutso kick drum more than a guy in Kingston who’s gonna hear it 5 million times before the month is out. So it’s karmically correct to give dancehall extra credit. But producers like Lenky are masters of fine-tuning a barely differentiated set of ideas until nobody wants to hear it again. Syntactical and formal change just isn’t a priority because dancehall is driven by voices, many of whom could dust hip-hop’s power forwards with four bars. As long as people will buy the 15th great MC on the 15th version of the same riddim, there’s no reason to pay for a new one. Dancehall kept the tempo and energy way up at the exact mid-’90s moment hip-hop was getting conservative and losing the motion principle. This was when Timbaland started working. And what was the first thing he ripped off? After he ripped off Prince? Dancehall. And then what did dancehall rip off? Timbaland, a hundred times for every time Tim ripped dancehall off.

Critics also file Tim away by loving grime, which is drum’n’bass all over again: one fantastic rhythm idea that will run out of steam long before the faithful admit it. We’ll get killer compilations and good fruit juice commercials before Dizzee gets a TV gig and his buddies discover Sting. (Wiley, thanks for driving Dizzee to the studio!) More than likely, we’ll yearn for the golden summer of 2003 when pigs were hitting the Quonset hut with contact mics attached to their cousins’ balls.

The hometown crush is crunk, our own version of dancehall: full of fire, committed to staying local, and not all that interested in moving from A to B. Consistency puts trunk salesmen on the red carpet and asses between windows and walls. And yes—I discount your beats if your MC is a jerk who asks a woman to do anything against her will, including but not limited to adjusting her purple Lycra bicycle shorts. Call me uptight, feminist lite, or Dionne Warwick’s water bearer, but people have no right to treat other people like Kleenex. Do Tim and Magoo get a pass here? A thousand times no. “Cold Cutz” is the least appealing sexual metaphor in a pretty bad month, and the video for “Indian Flute,” from Tim and Magoo’s current Under Construction Part II, is a sexist (and racist, bonus beat!) piece of shit, but, hey, they’re not Lil’ Flip, whose work I cannot debase any further than he has himself. And—please lower the neon “get out of jail” sign from the rafters—Tim works with Missy. Tim works with Missy. Add 4,000 points. Not fair? Did I leave the text behind? Go on any hip-hop video set and ask a woman shaking her butt into a fish-eye lens what the fucking text is.

A genius genre can be more fun than a genius genius. Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2003 is better than Under Construction Part II. The two grime comps I got in the mail are better than Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance. The Lil Jon EP with all the remixes is better than Kiley Dean’s EP. But that ain’t the fight. You didn’t ask me what records were good. Y’all told me Timbaland fell off.

I am sitting here listening to Lil’ Kim’s “The Jump Off” and Kiley Dean’s “Make Me a Song” and Cee-Lo’s “I’ll Be Around” and Jay-Z’s “Dirt off Your Shoulder” and Bubba Sparxxx & the Mudd Katz’s New South mix tape, which duplicates none of Deliverance, and Missy Elliott’s This Is Not a Test! and Jacki-O’s “Slow Down,” and I am wondering if maybe I misunderstood the term fell off. Perhaps it means “The fact of Tim’s creative streak is so surprising that simply thinking about it made me fall off my bicycle on the way to the wacknasium today.” Or maybe it means “Timbaland was riding a Segway someone gave him as a gesture of love and respect but the battery ran down and he fell off, gently, without hurting himself.” That was what you meant. And you said that because you’re tired.

I understand crit fatigue, listener fatigue, pointer and clicker fatigue. It sucks in a minor and selfish way. But your mind is your mind, right? Treat it nice and remember what Neil “King of the Beats” Young said: “You’re either the Stones or the Beatles.” We know that (within these crazy parameters) Tim is the Beatles and the Neptunes are the Stones. We’ve established it and can stop talking about it. We can agree to talk only about crunk from Biloxi and sublow turkey basters from East Crinklington for the rest of time. We can trade killer mix tapes and fool ourselves into thinking the mailman can change our lives. But don’t hand me some kack about how Emmitt Rhodes is better than Paul McCartney. You’ll just look stupid.

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