Monday, April 02, 2007


On the eve of Timbaland’s latest ‘solo’ effort we are indeed blessed to recognize the huge catalogue of existing compositions that may comfort us during the ensuing disappointment. The post-JT generation of Timbo fans will likely boost the sales of ‘Shock Value’ enormously and they probably know Timbo’s work even if they didn’t know his name via “Big Pimpin” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” or early Nelly Furtado or Aaliyah’s hits… Well, the dude has been everywhere lately and people still don’t get how important he is to the music dismissing him as Justin’s ‘lame rapper’ (also a slight misjudgment, in my book). A different demographic still enjoys ‘Pony’ and ‘One In A Million.’ And yet another group can pull odd album cuts for days to show off their liner-note skills.

I’m just gonna throw a dozen of tracks that may not be his best or most definitive but some of them are cuts I return to or admire. Maybe they were overlooked or underappreciated. Or maybe the pop R&B stuff needs to be revisited by the rap heads… or the rap stuff needs to be heard by the pop R&B fans. There’s no reason to touch his much heralded (but little bought) work for Bubba Sparxxx or his brilliant tracks for Jay-Z or his watershed classics with Missy and Aaliyah… Some of these tracks are favorites (‘Pony’ ‘Told Y’all’) but many of them are just a testament to Timbo’s skills… Even a throwaway pop cash-in or an odd ad-libbed interlude can hold some of the excitement that Tim can bring to rhythm and/or sound arrangement. And I have a particular fondness for his lower BPM stuff. I’m sure you could find a dozen more tracks that illustrate his talents as well, if not better than, say, a Mad Skillz mixtape joint or a Danity Kane 'classic'… but these tracks are still damn good... and that is the point of this post.

Note: There used to be a dismissal of Timbaland’s beats by folk that had grown tired of hip-hop. They wanted to credit drum&bass beats for Tim’s layering of up- and down-tempo percussion on one track. And to them I would say, “Have you ever heard Doug E. Fresh beatboxing?” As much as beatboxing can be dismissed in most cases as lame (even ‘American Idol’ has it now) Tim’s beats often begin with, or at least pass through, a beat-box phase that includes thump and counter rickytickytempo as complex as any short-lived ‘cutting edge’ derivation of hip-hop that you can play for me. And his beats still contain that elusive element that so much four-on-the-floor dance music lacks: Funk. Timbaland is the true avant-garde of pop rhythm makers. Still. I don’t doubt that Tim listened to and learned from drum&bass but he has also been influenced by Indian music and Trent Reznor and Celtic sounds and Bjork and video games and bluegrass and Elton John and flamenco … And, even when assisted by Missy or Danja or…, all of it comes out sounding like Timbaland gospel.

1. Brandy – Sadiddy : 'Afrodisiac' will be the album pondered over by historians as a missed opportunity. The vocals by Brandy aren’t as charming or lively as they could have been but the layering of vocals, particularly on this song, can send chills up my spine. The number of voices and notes and rhythms often gives the hypnotic feel of a round. The tracks don’t change as much as they should but there great loops all over the album.

2. Kiley Dean – No : A relatively simple light skipping beat gets hit by odd percussive elements here and there but the main feature is the minor key vocals that tumble like a calliope riff in parts and then unexpectedly switches to an odd ad-lib at the end that sounds like a Bollywood sample. The perfect ‘mmm-mmm-mm-mm’ hook is sing-along addictive.

3. Petey Pablo – Told Y’all : One of my go-to party tracks because it sounds like a Daniel Lanois drum circle with a James Brown fan riffing on top of it all. Petey was demonized for some reason after ‘Freak-a-leak’ but his rhythmic declarations fit with Tim’s concept of funk perfectly.

4. Ms. Jade – Interlude : Basically just letting a chilled-out loop run its course, Tim adds his weird Muppet-like falsetto to interact with the sampled voices.

5. Nicole Wray, Missy, Mocha – Make it Hot : Nicole Wray has seemingly been in the right place at the right time twice. Associated with Jay and Dame recently and Missy and Timmy for this track, she has yet to breakout as a soloist but she was lucky to be on this beautiful track. The changes in this song have always fascinated me and it’s kind of amazing how many shifts, additions and edits take up the four-and-a-half minutes.

6. Timbaland – Beep Beep : Just an intro track but the beat patterns are all over the place… and mesmerizing. When the sample of Missy comes in briefly it’s an epiphany and his little collection of ad-libs around 3:35 are better than anything Elton John could play over the same beat.

7. Mad Skillz – Jump Off : Frequent Superfriend collaborator and alledged ghostwriter, Skillz successfully works around an incomplete sounding loop, notable for its lack of a bass line, punctuated with odd techno sounds and keyboard noodling.

8. Ginuwine – Pony
: The breakthrough that wasn’t the breakthrough of ‘One In A Million.’ A strange sounding track made of prominent high hat, video bleeps and the classic belching robot vocal. The sung vocals are straight R&B which makes it more, not less, avant-garde for its time. It is trumped by Aaliyah’s single only because the beat itself is relatively normal.

9. Danity Kane – Right Now : I’m not sure what inspired what but the acoustic drumming locked in with the minor-key cooing is a match made in… uh, Diddy’s head. Are the sounds Middle Eastern or Celtic… or just contemporary pop? The adlibbed “Right there..” vocals that end the song end up sounding like Timbo’s squealing sound effects.

10. Aaliyah - Ladies In Da House
: Not the watershed ‘One In A Million’ track but on the same album. It is really just one of those filler tracks that usually annoys but in Tim’s hands the play between rhythms is hypnotizing and headnod inducing. That little skipped beat and the unexpected thump-thump-thump-thump are simply incredible. Missy, on point, hits the skips as only she can (“You damn-damn skip-skippy”).

11. Total – Trippin’
: Part of Tim’s first wave bringing futuristic bleepy sounds to black-radio-oriented R&B. The stuttery synths and classic soul harmonizing over the slow beat was a Timbo breakthrough.

12. Playa - Your Dress : One of the most straightforward tracks you are likely to hear... and it works. A nod towards doo-wop but you can almost hear the wheels spinning in Tim's brain that would lead to the hypnotizing flip of vocal sounds on Tweet's classic 'Oops.'