Timbaland Gets Richer


The motion picture?

Nobody talks about this anymore, but Timbaland already released a solo album. It was called Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Bassment, and it came out in 1998. I’m not totally sure about this, but I think it was the last album to feature both Jay-Z and Nas before the two of them started bury the hatchet on Late Registration. On “To My,” both Nas and Mad Skillz sounded totally lost and out of their element, not sure what to do with all the empty spaces and smeared glops of melody that Timbaland was giving them. Jay did better on “Lobster & Scrimp,” but that song was maybe the apex of Jay’s money-cash-hoes phase, and he came off like a sneering asshole: “I hate straight bitches / You gotta wait bitches / I don’t know you, I don’t fuck on the first date bitches.” I wonder if Beyonce ever heard the part about how he had girls saying “‘no no no’ then ‘yeah yeah yeah’ like she Destiny’s Child.” It’s sort of telling that both of them got destroyed by Ludacris, still an Atlanta disc jockey at the time. “Phat Rabbit” was the first time I’d ever heard Luda, who didn’t really say much of anything worth remembering but who wrapped his lightspeed rasp around the huge, undulating beat, doing whatever he could to highlight those hypnotic tambourine swishes and gooey synth blurts instead of trying to stay on top of them. In a lot of ways, Timbaland is the guy who made it possible for rappers like Ludacris to become stars; by making the track the center of attention instead of the rapper, he opened the door for guys who were better at complementing beats than dominating them.

Timbaland’s vocals appear on less than half of the tracks on Tim’s Bio, but it’s still a solo album because Tim’s spaceship beats almost always transcend their vocals. There’s a part on “Here We Come,” where Tim half-raps, “She said that and he said that and he said that Timbaland can’t rap / But I don’t care because I make dope tracks / I make you bounce and wiggle and do this and that.” As a rap lyric, that’s basically as abysmal as you can possibly get, but it also slyly acknowledges its own shittiness; it doesn’t matter if Tim can’t rap as long as the song is great. And “Here We Come” is great, so there you go. Tim is a terrible rapper and an even worse singer, but he knows how to make his own vocals fill the right spaces in his tracks, and so he ends up sounding good more often than he probably should. Something I remembered when I was reviewing the new Cee-Lo best-of cash-in (first-week Soundscan 788; someone’s getting fired): Tim completely destroyed Cee-Lo on “I’ll Be Around” even though Cee-Lo is one of the greatest Southern rappers of all time and Tim is, um, not. But Cee-Lo tries to get fast and slippery with the track, tries to run circles around it and ends up defeated. Tim just bounds out over it with this overblown joviality that’s impossible to hate, and he owns the track.

A month ago, Noz wrote a column about how Timbaland has basically given up on rap except in the rare cases when a major label chump like Diddy or Rich Boy ponies up what must be some huge producer’s fees. He’s spending more of his time these days working with singers like Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, people who actually still sell records and who seem willing to spend lots of time with Timbaland in the studio figuring out just how their voices can best become elements in his whirling electro-symphonies. Noz seems to think it’s a money thing, and maybe it is. But a few years ago, Timbaland gave a bunch of those standard rap interviews about how he was bored with rap and how he was listening to Coldplay and John Mayer instead. That’s what every rap guy was saying a couple of years ago, but I can honestly see how Timbaland might’ve gotten tired of rap. Too often on his rap productions, the voices never quite sunk into the tracks the way I can imagine he wanted them to. Timbaland tracks certainly command huge prices, but he’s supposedly doing a whole lot of work on the new Bjork album, and I can’t imagine he took full price for that. When I interviewed the Rapture, they told me how they’d taken meetings with him and wished they could’ve come to a deal, and I really, really wish something would’ve come of that. They couldn’t afford him, but he probably knew that when he took the meeting, and he was interested in working with them anyway. These days, Timbaland is following his muse, which according to Wikipedia means he might actually be working with Muse. The weird thing about that is that his artistic vision and his bank account seem to be after the same thing most of the time. He wants to make huge, sweeping, disorienting pop music, and it probably doesn’t hurt that people are buying that stuff. Working with Justin Timberlake seems to be both an aesthetic and a financial decision; I can’t imagine he’d get the same thrill out of making tracks for circa-2006 Ludacris or whoever.

Which brings us to “Give It to Me,” a new track that’s supposedly the first single from a Timbaland solo album that’ll be out early next year. The beat is typically great recent-vintage Tim: two lines of busy, rubbery hand-percussion rubbing up against ghostly synth-twinkles. Nobody raps on the song, but all three of the people singing might as well be rapping. Nelly Furtado chirps a few lines about being a supermodel and loving her ass and her abs. Justin Timberlake talks shit at some unnamed rival: “I saw you trying to act cute on TV; just let me clear the air / We missed you on the charts last week; that’s right, you wasn’t there.” And Tim uses his big, goofy singsong voice to smack around other producers: “I get a half a mil for beats; you get a couple grand,” “I’m a real producer, you just a piano man.” I have no idea who he’s talking about; maybe I’d know if I read Scratch. But the three of them carry themselves with the sort of unforced swagger that’s almost completely missing from, say, Kingdom Come. It makes sense. Furtado’s album was mostly crap, but it had a couple of good singles and sold pretty well. Timberlake’s album is both one of the best-selling and one of the best albums of the year. And Timbaland is on top of the world. He can gloat if he wants.