For more than a decade, Timbaland has dominated the pop charts by producing an endless stream of hits for the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, 50 Cent, and Nelly Furtado. So prolific a hitmaker is he that in the span of a single year — 2006 to 2007 — Timbaland produced more than 10 international chart-toppers, including Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” Timberlake’s “Sexy Back,” and 50 Cent’s “Ayo Technology.” “2006 to 2007 marked a rebirth in my career”, says Timbaland. “I was so blessed to have had so many of my personal and professional endeavors come to fruition at once. I came back more determined than ever and I my fans accepted me with open arms; the connection my fans felt to my music was a result of the renewed sense of confidence I had in myself.”
Timbaland’s touch extends to his own solo work — he scored three Top 10 singles alone from his 2007 solo album Shock Value. As he racked up the hits, Timbaland re-defined the possibilities of what pop music could sound like, from the bhangra-infused hip-hop of Missy Elliott’s smash “Get Ur Freak On,” to Furtado’s eerie, yet soulful “Say it Right,” to the orchestral R&B of Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Unsurprisingly, he has been hailed by musicians and music critics alike as a sonic auteur in the tradition of such iconic, history-making producers as Brian Eno, Gamble and Huff, and Phil Spector. In fact the music industry’s praise for Timbaland has been so persistent for the past decade that the Village Voice remarked that “it gets boring, doesn’t it, acclaiming Timbaland’s genius for the tenth year in a row.”
“Genius” is an overheated adjective when used to describe the talents of most producers, but it is appropriate for Timbaland, who has an impressive career dating back to his teenage years in Virginia Beach. When Timbaland — born Timothy Mosley in 1971 — acquired his first drum machine at age 13, he immediately began crafting beats and DJing at Virginia Beach clubs under the name “DJ Timmy Tim.” In high school, he approached a fellow aspiring producer named Pharrell Williams about forming a group, which the pair dubbed “Surrounded by Idiots” (SBI). The experience of making music under the SBI moniker proved critical to the careers of both Timbaland and Williams, who each went on to become the most sought-after producers in the music business. When SBI dissolved, Timbaland began making music for an R&B group from nearby Portsmouth, VA, called Sista, which was led by a young singer and rapper named Melissa “Missy” Elliott, with whom Tim had an instant chemistry. In 1995, his work with Sista attracted the attention of Elektra Records, which hired Timbaland to work with the teenage R&B singer Aaliyah who had just begun recording her second album for the label. Timbaland and Aaliyah re-mapped pop and R&B’s sonic landscape with 1996’s One in a Million, on which Timbaland set fluttering high hats moving in sensuous slow motion against the sound of chirping birds — an outré sound that yielded four hits and led to two million in sales. “I’m drawn to artists who are willing to work outside of their comfort zone”, says Timbaland. “Music, for me, is instinctive. I draw upon my natural environment for inspiration; what the average person sees as noise or distraction, I see as music. My style and passion for music inspires the artist to give everything they have inside. True artistry lies not only in creativity but in having the confidence to execute your vision and be a true forecaster of music.”
That wide-screen sonic adventurousness would define Timbaland’s sound — and the sound of pop, hip-hop, and R&B — for the next decade. He refined it even further upon reuniting with Missy Elliott for her 1997 solo debut, Supa Dupa Fly — the first in a series of albums from Timbaland and Elliott that altered hip-hop’s rhythmic compass. Along the way, Timbaland established his own record label, Mosley Music, and crafted Justin Timberlake’s epic “Cry Me A River” from his 2002 solo debut, Justified. Like Aaliyah and Elliott before him, Timberlake proved to be a strong creative partner for Timbaland. In 2005, the pair teamed up for Timberlake’s second album, 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, which spawned a slew of hit singles, including “My Love” and “Sexy Back,” which pushed the album past quadruple platinum status. At the same time, Timbaland re-invigorated the career of onetime Canadian folksinger Nelly Furtado with an album of shockingly futuristic R&B called Loose. By the spring of 2007, Timbaland had become so successful with Timberlake and Furtado that he had a staggering five singles in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in a single week.
Yet even as Timbaland conquered the pop charts and joined Timberlake on a sold-out tour of the United States and Europe, he never ceased making his own music. He released a multi-platinum solo album, Shock Value, which featured the likes of Timberlake, Dr. Dre, and Fall Out Boy. He also produced albums for Björk and Duran Duran, and served as the Music Director for MTV’s Video Music Awards in the fall of 2007. In 2008, Timbaland continued his streak of creative and commercial successes by producing four songs on Madonna’s Hard Candy, including its first single, “4 Minutes.” Just before he embarked on his latest — and perhaps greatest —collaborations with Timberlake and Furtado, Timbaland vowed that he would “conquer the whole world.” Now, more than a decade after he launched his career as a DJ and beat-maker in Virginia Beach, he has done just that. “I’ve had amazing success in this business and will continue to be successful as long as my fans remain open to my innovation. I’m always looking to challenge myself and my listeners. That’s why I’ve had such longevity. Right now, we’ve moved into this new era of change across the globe. From politics to music we’re constantly evolving. As long as people are looking for something new, they’ll be looking for a Timbaland beat.”