Timbaland: Bringing Sexy Back

In hip hop, more than any other genre of music, the producer is the difference between a smash hit and a total flop. While other genres like rock, country and blues have a band to back up the lead singer, when it comes to hip hop, there’s just one man, or woman, in the background – the producer. He is the drummer, the guitarist, the bassist, the dude working the keyboards, and he’s occasionally doing hype man/backup vocal duties as well. So when it comes to your producer, you better choose wisely.

Few producers in hip hop have been as influential or as successful as Timbaland, aka Tim Mosley, a native of Norfolk, Va. And few producers have as distinctive a sound as Timbo, known for his heavy, swooning synthesizers, stilted and oddly syncopated beats, strange effects (remember the baby crying in Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?”) and his deep, booming voice that usually makes at least a few appearances on the track. Interestingly, unlike many producers, Timbaland doesn’t sample other work to create his beats, so it’s all original.

Timbo has crafted hits for a number of artists, namely those within his own circle like Missy Elliot, Aaliyah and Ginuwine, as well as other artists including Jay-Z, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. His hitmaking ability is so finely tuned that Justin Timberlake commissioned him to produce all but two tracks on Timberlake’s latest release, “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” the follow-up to “Justified.”

Though there are way too many to choose from, here are the Top Ten songs that Timbaland helped to create:

Are You That Somebody?

No discussion of Timbaland’s work would be complete without a mention of this song. Performed by Aaliyah, with Timbaland on the beat and providing a rap verse as well, this 1998 hit broke ground in a sense just because it was so unusual (see the sound of the crying baby mentioned above). The song definitely fit into the R&B /rap format yet showed what was possible with its experimental style. This became a Timbaland classic.

We Need a Resolution

This is another song Timbaland did for Aaliyah and made an appearance on to spit a rap verse. Actually, Timbaland has done dozens of songs for Aaliyah and any of them would be worthy of making this list. I chose this song, released in 2001, because like “Are You That Somebody?” it’s unusual, experimental and in this case, slightly haunting. The song is defined by a creeping synthesizer track and shaken-not-stirred backing beat. The indecisiveness of the track fits perfectly with the theme of the song, as defined by its title.

Work It

Timbaland did this one for Missy Elliot in 2002. He’s done a lot of tracks for Missy, and most of them are amazing. This one in particular is tops because of its fun pop appeal but interesting bordering on strange vocal effects – several times Missy’s vocals are reversed and played backwards, but it works.

What About Us

Timbaland prodced this song for Total in 1997, and it’s just a great, great R&B track. Tim manages to make his music fit into the genre’s formula while simultaneously moving beyond it. This song is far from boring.

Jigga What, Jigga Who

Timbaland produced this song for Jay-Z in 1999. This is another great, unusual, hyper-speed track that finds Jay doing double-time rhyme. While Jay’s vocals are impressive, the beat has plenty to offer as well.

Cry Me A River

You know you love this song. Justin Timberlake pouring his heart out about being cheated on, Timbaland serving up the drama on a brilliant track. It’s no wonder Timberlake hired Timbaland to produce most of his follow-up album. Besides the similar names, the pair has a lot in common musically and works well together.

Headsprung

A great, great, get-off-your-ass-and-move type of beat. Plenty going on behind LL Cool J’s vocals. This song was released in 2004. The elastic, uptempo beat is infectious.

Promiscuous

Nelly Furtado should thank Timbaland for almost single-handedly reviving her career. Before this song no one cared what she was up to. Now she’s part of any discussion about pop music. This song features Tim on vocals as well. This is a great club track.

SexyBack

You know it had to be here. This song is ridiculous. It took a little while to grow on me, what with Justin TImberlake’s distorted vocals and all. But eventually I realized the beat was so good, the chorus was so catchy and Timbaland’s little affirmations throughout the song were so perfect that I didn’t care that it sounded like Timberlake was speaking through a megaphone during the verses. This is definitely Timbalad 2006, an updated version of his signature sound.

Luv 2 Luv U

I don’t know if this is one of Tim’s best beats, but I had to add it in this list. This is from back in the Timbaland & Magoo days, and it’s an oldie but goodie.

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