Timbaland x Entrepreneur.com Interview
Timbaland wore something unusual when I met him at a swanky hotel in Beverly Hills last week. The Grammy-winning rapper-producer was strapped into a human turtle shell of sorts -- a silent mini-backpack that intensely vibrates all over, pumping throbbing beats through your insides like you swallowed a bass cannon. Jiggling organs aside, I was dispatched to the Viceroy L’Ermitage to pick Timbaland’s, aka Timothy Zachery Mosley’s, brain for entrepreneurial lessons and advice our readers can relate to.
He was there to promote SubPac’s new Bluetooth wearable, the M2 Tactile Audio System, that funky thing the star donned over his gray shirt. While giving the SubPac a spin, I surprised (and embarrassed) myself. I blushed and spit out some salty expletives as the contraption reverberated through my core. Blasting, bass-heavy rap rattled my eardrums from a set of bulky headphones. SubPac's Toronto-based co-founder and CEO, John Alexiou, seated next to Timbaland, wasn’t kidding when he told me that “Feeling is believing.”
Mind you, I’m not one who’s easily sold on trendy wearable tech, but the thing damn near knocked me out of my chair. All the while, I shuddered in my leather-backed perch, beats hammering at my upper body and belly. Alexiou and Timbaland looked on with what came off as genuine anticipation, watching my head bob to the beat, heeding my requests to crank it up, “louder, louder!” I probably made a fool of myself, completely letting go and deeply, internally feeling the beat, dancing in place. But the ride was so much fun that I didn’t care. The music took control.
Alexiou wasn’t at all surprised at my reaction. He’s seen similar responses before (probably minus the choice words) when demoing his gear, he says, pointing to a time when he invited a group of hearing-imparied individuals try SubPac's wares. The former financial industry executive connected with Timbaland in the recording studio. He got very lucky: Having heard of SupPac through word of mouth, Timbaland made the first move and reached out to Alexiou.
“You’re not going to buy your way into working with an innovator and influencer like Tim,” says Alexiou. “To do that, entrepreneurs have to surround themselves with the right people, persevere and follow their hearts. Not to sound cliche, but that’s what it takes to get your idea through in the world.” Timbaland says he came aboard Alexiou's team as a SubPac strategic partner because the "innovative device" gave him back something he felt he’d lost touch with recently -- creative inspiration.
“That feeling, I had lost it at one point,” he says. “When you do music and it’s in you, you have to find something to inspire you. It can’t be an act. I’ve worked with everybody, so it was like, ‘What is next to do? How can I get back to what I loved about music as a kid?’”As cool as the tactile bass delivery contraption that brought Timbaland and Alexiou together is (Vice says it “could be the future of music listening for serious producers.”), especially when paired with virtual reality goggles and earphones, I wasn’t there expressly to see and feel it.
Like I said, I had another axe to grind: to find out how Timbaland, a multimillionaire hip-hop legend, went from growing up in the projects of Norfolk, VA., squeezing music out of an inexpensive Casio keyboard his mom bought him, to churning out chart-topping songs with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Aaliyah, Drake and Missy Elliott. I wanted to know how the 44-year-old icon rose to the top of the cutthroat music industry -- and keeps rising -- and what entrepreneurs can learn from his unlikely ascent. But the clock was ticking, other journalists were lining up outside the small room we were in, and I was only allowed time to ask three quick questions:
What’s your best piece of advice to entrepreneurs who want to make it big?
“There’s no advice on that because it’s about your heart and your drive. Some men are men. Some women are women. Some people are girls. Some girls are girls who don’t graduate to being women. Some men are boys that don’t graduate to be men. It’s all about your determination and being un-prideful about a lot things and going after what you believe in. You’re gonna’ get the door slammed in your face, but do you stop there or do you persevere? There’s no advice to follow because it’s really about what’s in you, and just being good at what you do. Follow you, believe in you and don’t let hard times harden you."
With so many hit songs under your belt, how do you stay fresh, stay passionate and keep innovating?
“Once you find something that you love and that connects to you, you don’t think about innovating. You just do what you do. It’s the same thing as when I got my first hit. I didn’t think about all the music coming from the '90s. It was, ‘How am I gonna’ be this kid from Virginia who’s gonna get his music heard and to the masses?’ You just do what God gave you. You work with the gifts that you were given. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to innovate and be creative.’ You don’t talk about it. You do it. I just love the music and then the music oozes out of me.”
What’s your top success tip for entrepreneurs?
“My success tip is teamwork, building the right team. Always staying prayed-up and persevering, and follow your heart. Never let nobody tell you can or can’t. 'Can’t' should not be in your vocabulary. 'Do' should always be in your vocabulary. I will do. I will.”