Timbaland’s ’Between The Lines: The Emperor Of Sound’ Book Signing Promo
Any conversation about the greatest producers of all time must include Timbaland. Timothy Mosley emerged in the Nineties with a series of beguiling records that changed the course of hip-hop and R&B; in short order, he launched a career in pop, helping to create unforgettable hits for Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Jay-Z. The open-minded, genre-hybrid approach that dominates contemporary production would be hard to imagine without Timbaland's example.
The famous beatmaker's memoir, modestly titled The Emperor of Sound, arrived. Somewhat like a Timbaland beat, the volume takes a lot of strange jumps — ignoring, for example, the recording of the classic first Missy Elliott album — but the book still contains a wealth of interesting details. Check out the video above that starts from part 15:15 and here are 10 key revelations.
1. Timbaland loves Rod Stewart.
The producer showed his genre-defying impulses early on: While Rick James, Queen and Prince all played an important role in his musical education, no one receives more praise than Rod Stewart. "The genius of the instrumentation is unparalleled," writes Timbaland of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" "Like every truly great pop song, it's got all the elements you've heard before, lined up in a way that you've never quite heard before. ... That song picks you up and doesn't let you go until the very last guitar lick." He adds later that "trying to chart my influences is like trying to pinpoint the origin of a cell-phone signal in those movies when the bad guy is using a scrambler."
2. In high school, he was in a group with Pharrell.
In his teens, Timbaland put together the wonderfully named band Surrounded by Idiots. Timbaland was the DJ and Pharrell served as one of several rappers. (Pharrell also had his own group, Dead Poets Society, at the time.) Magoo, who would eventually release several albums with Mosley, was also a member. Mosley believes Surrounded by Idiots were ahead of their time: "We even had a few songs that I think would still be up to the standards of today."
3. He has a bullet lodged in his arm.
While working at Red Lobster in high school, Mosley was accidentally shot — someone was attempting to deliver a gun to another kitchen employee, but it went off and hit Timbaland, causing him to lose the use of his left arm for seven months. He DJ'd anyway, using his shoulder to scratch despite the pain.
4. Timbaland spent several torturous years as a producer for DeVante Swing of Jodeci.
Initially, Timbaland and Missy Elliott thought that earning the attention of Jodeci — an R&B group at the peak of its commercial powers — would be their big break. According to Timbaland's description, working under DeVante Swing was more like being under house arrest. "We would go for days without eating," he remembers. "We would be woken up in the middle of the night to run crazy errands. We were knocked around, kicked around, and beat down." In addition, Timbaland suggests that he was barely paid royalties for work he did on various songs during this time period.
5. Mosley's unique approach to sound was partially inspired by physically distorted records.
Around the time Timbaland was making the beat that would ultimately become Ginuwine's "Pony" — a modern R&B classic — he developed an interest in degraded records. "If you leave a a record out in the sun, it will warp," he notes. "[I]t's going to have a strange, distorted sound. I love that sound and I started making beats with that vibe. I was thinking, Warp it a little, when I added belching synthesizers to the beat I was working on."
6. After Aaliyah's death, Timbaland went through a serious bout of depression.
Timbaland and his partner in rhyme, Missy Elliott, played a crucial role on Aaliyah's second and third albums — Timbo produced roughly half of 1996's One in a Million, which went triple platinum, and three songs from 2001's Aaliyah, which won a Grammy for Best R&B Album. He was very close to the singer, and when she died in a plane crash in 2001, he went into a downward spiral. "I drank, as early as seemed social acceptable," he recalls. "Then I drank until the finish, to pass out. ... I kept the shades drawn and banned all guests. I gave up on grooming myself."
7. He disagrees with Jay Z about "Big Pimpin'."
In his own memoir, Decoded, Jay Z disavowed "Big Pimpin'" due to its lyrical content. "Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing," the MC explained. "Not 'Big Pimpin'.'" It was like, I can't believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing?" Timbo does not share his regrets. "Making records is all about the moment," he counters. "You capture that moment in time and it's a letter in a bottle. Sometimes, years later, you go back and you play a track and it's like reading the diary of a you that you can barely remember. Doesn't mean that the old you was bad or something to be ashamed of."
8. Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around ... Comes Around" came out of a "Cry Me a River"–inspired jam.
When Timberlake headed back into the studio with Timbaland to craft the follow-up to his breakout album, Justified, the singer was creatively frustrated, crippled by the pressure of matching his solo debut's impressive commercial performance. In an attempt to break out of the gridlock, Timbaland and his partner Nate "Danja" Hill started "fooling around and freestyling with some of the sounds from 'Cry Me a River,'" the Timbaland-crafted hit from Justified. The result became "What Goes Around ... Comes Around," yet another Number One smash for Timberlake. Another interesting tidbit: The singer was apparently bumping INXS and Bowie constantly during the FutureSex recording process, though you wouldn't be able to tell that from listening to the finished product.
9. Timbaland actively reads his own press.
At least the good press. He gleefully quotes The New York Times' Kelefa Sanneh on two separate occasions, touting his bold production on Aaliyah's "Try Me" single and the success of Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds album.
10. He's just getting started.
Timbaland isn't interested in resting on his laurels. "Do I feel like I've hit my ceiling yet?" he asks. "By no means." He holds himself to a high standard: "My goal is to achieve a body of work that can sit in comparison with the work of the one and only Quincy Jones."
Here is a Sneak Peek what you can get in the new book:
Bob Marley once said, “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” I would paraphrase that to say, “Some people just hear noise, but for me the world is a catalog of sound.” Rain, in particular, has been a constant for me. I was three years old when Ann Peebles recorded her classic R & B hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” But that song has always been a cornerstone for me. As the story goes, it was 1973 and a stormy day in Memphis. Ann, who was then twenty-six, was on her way to a concert with her producing partner Don Bryant. Ann spat out, “I can’t stand the rain,” and Bryant, who was at the time a staff writer at Hi Records, knew immediately that the simple words—uttered with such force and frustration—could be a powerful metaphor about love gone wrong. The two musicians skipped the concert and went back to the studio to work on the song. They were joined there by a DJ named Bernie Miller and by midnight, the trio had written what they felt in their bones to be a hit song:
I can’t stand the rain against my window
Bringing back sweet memories
I can’t stand the rain against my window ’
Cause he ain’t here with me
Hey, window pane, tell me, do you remember
How sweet it used to be?
When we were together
Everything was so grand
Now that we’ve parted
There’s just a one sound that I just can’t stand
I can’t stand the rain . . .
The “rain” in that song is a riff created on what, at the time, was a brand-new instrument: the electric timbale. That timbale, the love child of salsa music and the electric guitar of the modern era, gave the song a distinct opening. Before Ann even sings a word, we are there with her: sitting by a window in Memphis, listening to the rain, each drop a reminder of how lonely we are.
I used that song and a sample of rain in one of my early hits, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” the debut single of my sister from another mother, Missy Elliott. The rain in my song was different. It was the soft rain of a summer afternoon in Virginia Beach. Ann Peebles is in the hook, singing about how she can’t stand the rain, but Missy doesn’t really mind it. She’s in her car, smoking spliffs, styling and profiling. Rain or shine, she’s supa dupa fly:
Beep beep, who got the keys to the Jeep?
I’m drivin’ to the beach
Top down, loud sounds, see my peeps
Give them pounds, now look who it be It be me.
Me, me and Timothy
Look like it’s bout to rain, what a shame
Like the original “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” the rain symbolizes a breakup, but Missy is not crying about it. She’s got an umbrella, and she knows that in this and every relationship, Missy is the prize:
I feel the wind
Five six seven, eight nine ten
Begin, I sit on Hill’s like Lauryn
Until the rain starts, comin’ down, pourin’
Chill, I got my umbrella
My finger waves be dazed, they fall like Humpty
Chumpy, I break up with him before he dump me
To have me yes you lucky
Quincy Jones said, “Soon as it rains, get wet.” While “Supa Dupa Fly” was a dance song, “Cry Me a River,” which I wrote for Justin Timberlake, was a ballad. Justin was going through some things, some heartbreak, so we put our umbrellas down and let ourselves get drenched by it. The rain in that song comes down in sheets; it’s water hitting water, like the rain you hear in California when the heavens open and it pours down into the Pacific Ocean. In the video, we emphasized this by opening with the rain pouring down into a pool, so you could see it and hear it—water hitting water. The lyrics rose, like a river, to match the rain in the song. Without the rushing force of all that water, these would have been just empty, sentimental words:
You don’t have to say, what you did.
I already know, I found out from him.
Now there’s no chance, for you and me. There’ll never be.
And don’t it make you sad about it?
In a business where people do a lot of talking and more than talking—a lot of bragging—I have distinguished myself by my ability to listen. Like most musicians, I live a very nocturnal life. Once I heard late-night talk show host Larry King say, “I remind myself each morning. Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” I listen to the artists: who they’ve been, who they hope to be, how they’ve lived, and how it comes out in their music.
I listen to the way people talk—in the club on Saturday night and in the church on Sunday morning, in the elevator of big office buildings and in the line at food trucks when it’s lunchtime on a busy summer afternoon. But perhaps most importantly, I listen to the world around me: the music that begins when the sun rises and the rhythms that don’t make themselves known until after dark. Anyone who has argued with someone they love knows the limits of language: twenty-six letters in the alphabet and you can only rearrange them in so many ways.
But sound is infinite and anyone who has ever been soothed by a bar of music, felt their heart leap when a pianist plays a dozen notes, felt themselves smile at a guitar riff or tapped along to a drumbeat knows that there is a direct line between the acoustic universe and our hearts, a line that bypasses the brain and transmits truth, wisdom and meaning. The catalog of sound in my brain is my own creative Fort Knox. Each beat, each riff, each raindrop, each moan, each gurgle is priceless—a painter’s palette of possibility, a fortune beyond measure.