Timbaland - Biography

By David Downs


Active super-producer and solo artist Timbaland is one of the most prolific, well-paid and highly regarded musicians of the 21st century. He came out of the Southern rap scene of the mid-1990s with Missy Elliot, and has earned a global reputation for his midas touch with dozens of platinum credits behind Aaliyah, Jodeci, Ginuwine, Missy Elliott, Destiny’s Child, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, and many, many others, peaking with “Sexyback” off Justin Timberlake’s number one charting, multi-platinum FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006-Jive). Timbaland's success lies in his unmistakable yet ever-shifting style. Early on, Timbaland digested the lessons of mid '80s to early 90s new jack swing, or "swingbeat" -- with its fusion of rhythm, samples and effects underneath soulful solo or harmonizing vocals about urban issues. Drum machines, hardware samplers and a philosophy that stressed a genre-free search for pure, unique sounds helped Timbaland change the beat of R&B. His stylistic stutters and syncopations began to hit big with with Aaliyah’s “One in a Million" which sold eleven million units and eventually lead to pop crossovers with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake like Furtado’s “Promiscuous" and Timberlake's "Sexyback". Timbaland has released two solo albums: Tim's Bio: Life from da Bassment (1998-Blackground) and Shock Value (2007-Mosley Music Group), which went to number five on The Billboard 200. He's been nominated for thirteen Grammys, winning two for Best Dance Recording (2007 "Sexyback") and Best Rap Song (2008 "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows"). In October, 2008, Timbaland joined Bono, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, authors Salman Rushdie, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Becket as a recipient of the Trinity College Honorary Patronage Award from the Philosophical Society -- the esteemed Dublin, Ireland university's most prestigious award.


Timothy Z. Mosley was born March 10, 1971 in Norfolk, Virginia, and got turned on to Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (1979) when he was fourteen. He was fascinated by the unique sound of the record and singular vision of Prince that made the artist untouchable. Mosley never had any plans to become a producer. In 1986, he wanted to be a DJ like most other kids at the time. His mother bought him a Casio keyboard and he started sampling sounds he liked. High school Mosley donned the disc jockey title of DJ Tiny Tim, later joining Devante Swing’s Swing Mob crew known as Da Bassment, then later S.B.I. (Surrounded By Idiots), a production ensemble including Pharrell Williams. He also became half of Hip Hop group Timbaland & Magoo. Childhood friend Missy Elliott noticed his beats' unique rhythms and suggested the two work on some tunes together. Foreshadowing the sexual content of future work, Timbaland has said that Rick James' "Super Freak" was the kind of tune he wanted to create back then. He also says the bassline in Queen's 1980 hit "Another One Bites The Dust" made Mosley realise his job as a producer wasn't just to shape songs, but to come up with sounds. Associated with R&B, he has gone on to work with the Hives, Amar, rock group OneRepublic and says his favorite producer is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. After the end of high school in the late 80s, Mosley moved to New York with Elliot and their crew, where Jodeci member Devante Swing dubbed him Timbaland after the popular Timberland boot.


Timbaland's first big break came on Ginuwine’s hit single “Pony” and debut LP Ginuwine…the Bachelor (1996-Epic) produced by him and full of his syncopated rhythmic style mixed with bizarre yet pitch perfect effects held together by complex snare beats. Timbaland raps or ad-libs on the record through the use of a vocoder to make the sound distinctive. His partnership with Elliott then flowered into Aaliyah’s eleven-times platinum One In A Million (1996-Blackground-Atlantic) which went to number eighteen on the Billboard 200 and number two on the Rap charts thanks to tracks like "If Your Girl Only Knew" and "One in a Million". Elliott tracks "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)", "Sock It 2 Me" and "When Doves Cry" by Ginuwine assured Timbaland's success was no fluke that year.


Welcome to Our World (1997-Blackground) with Magoo went to number thrity-three on the Billboard 200. Hit "Up Jumps Da Boogie" went to number one on the Hot Rap Singles chart while hits of 1998 "Same Ol’ G" by Ginuwine and "Are You That Somebody?" by Aaliyah presaged Mosley solo effort Tim's Bio: Life From da Basement (1998-Blackground). The debut solo effort compiles Timbaland production and vocals with Nas and Jay-Z as well as the debut of Ludacris on "Fat Rabbit". The album peaked at forty one on the Billboard 200.


Next year, hits "She's a Bitch" and "Hot Boyz" by Elliott as well as and "So Anxious" by Ginuwine vied for popularity with Timbaland hits "Jigga What, Jigga Who" by Jay-Z and "Big Pimpin’" by Jay-Z. Mosley's use of Asian instrumentation moves to the forefront on "Big Pimpin". The hook is borrowed directly from "Khosara" by Egyptian composer Abdel Halim Hafez and the addictiveness of the sample is only matched by Elliott's 2001 hit single, "Get Ur Freak On" which uses a tabla drumline associatied with Hindu music. In 2000, Mosley struck gold again with "Try Again" by Aaliyah and "Bangin' (Don't Lie)" by Nicole Wray, "Hey Papi" by Jay-Z, "You Owe Me" by Nas and "Snoop Dogg" by Snoop Dogg, only matched by the prestige of his first Grammy nomination for "Get Ur Freak On".


In 2001, hits "Ugly", and "Lovely" by Bubba Sparxxx vied with Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On", and "One Minute Man" as well as "We Need A Resolution" by Aaliyah. The year turned dark however when longtime collaborator Aaliyah died in a plane crash.


Her private twin engine Cessna crashed in August after take-off from Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island, Bahamas en route to Miami, Florida. In a case of gross negligence, the Cessna pilot was found to have traces of cocaine and alcohol in his sytem, had lied about his training, and was on his first day at work. Prompted by Aaliyah's impatience, the plane was overloaded with heavy equipment several times the allowed weight for the plane. It stalled after takeoff and crashed 200 feet from the runway, shattering the singer's skull and killing her, the pilot and seven other passengers. Timbaland said the loss was a huge blow to his creative output, calling Aaliya the blood in his veins.


Timbaland & Magoo released Indecent Proposal (2001-Blackground) in November of 2001 a month after the Muslim extremist attacks of September 11. The album hit number twenty-nine on the Billboard 200 yet was considered a commercial disappointment. 2002 saw Mosley on hit "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake (co-produced by the Roots' Scott Storch), "More Than a Woman" by Aaliyah, "Work It" by Missy Elliott and several others. And In 2003, Under Construction Part II (2003-UMVD) by Timbaland & Magoo, became but footnotes compared to 2003's hit single "Dirt off Your Shoulder" by Jay-Z and produced by Mosley. Numerous hits followed in '04 and '05 for Ludacris, LL Cool J and Xzibit and as well four Grammy nominations. Still, Mosley calls this period a dark time.


Timbaland started Interscope-distributed Mosley Music Group in 2006, delivering another three albums for Elliott, including The Cookbook (2005-Goldmind). Mosley also built a 5,000 square foot studio in Virginia Beach where he does most of his production, regularly traveling between the location, his Miami residence and the West Coast. At the 2006 Teen Choice Awards, Timbaland duetted with Nelly Furtado on her smash single "Promiscuous", then lectured the young audience about the inherent dangers of sleeping around. The Pussycat Dolls and Justin Timberlake also got the midas touch in 2006, with Timberlake's "Sexyback" becoming a monster. That year, Mosley also announced a still-unreleased film project related to much of his songs' content -- a biopic of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.


In 2007, Mosley produced "Give It To Me" by Furtado, and felt back on top after two years of slipping. Second solo album and smash release Shock Value (2007-Blackground/Interscope/Mosley Music Group) featured outsiders 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Elton John, Fall Out Boy and debuted at number five on the U.S. Billboard 200, charting for more than 40 weeks and going triple platinum with singles "Apologize" "Give It To Me" and "The Way I Are" topping charts. Also in '07, "Sexyback" won Best Dance Recording at the Grammy's amid three other nominations. Prior to the record Timbaland and producer Scott Storch had a falling out, and Shock Value single "Give It to Me" calls Storch a mere pianist instead of a producer. In January of '07 Furtado song “Do It” on Loose (2006-Geffen) was flagged for sounding similar to “Acid Jazzed Evening” by Finnish artist Tempest recorded in 2000. Also, in June of that year, Timbaland was arrested by German police who said he and his associates sent a bar patron to the hospital.


Timbaland and his friends allegedly beat a man near Hotel Intercontinental after a Justin Timberlake concert. The argument allegedly started when a man named Robert F called Timbaland the N word, ostensibly because the man's girlfriend was talking to Timbaland. Timbaland was released on bail. And in January of 2008 news wire services reported Timbaland had a connection to steroid and HGH prescription factory. An Albany-based probe found that Timbaland, 50 Cent, Elliott and others may have used or received prescribed shipments of steroids and injectable human growth hormone in recent years from Dr. Gary Brandwein, a South Florida osteopath who has pleaded not guilty in Albany to a felony indictment charging him with various drug-related crimes.


In February of 2008, Timbaland said he would release an album solely for mobile phone markets and he is working with Rockstar Games to produce Beaterator, a music mixing game for the PlayStation Portable to be released in the summer of 2009. Timbaland released Shock Value 2 in 2009, with unlikely collaborators like Madonna, Celine Dion, Lindsay Lohan, and Coldplay.. In 2013 he will unleash Shock Value 3. Timbaland was also nominated for a Producer of the Year Grammy in the Non-Classical category along with three other nominations and a win for "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" as a Best Dance Recording.


On a personal level, Mosley is an avid bodybuilder adhering to a strict diet and training regimen. In June 10, 2008, Timbaland married his long time girlfriend, Monique Idlett. US Magazine, reported the couple wed in their sweats and t-shirts. In September, Timbaland sued an Australian tour company for breach of contract, failing to pay him a $1 million performance fee for the tour. He is reportedly one of the highest paid Hip Hop musicians in history, regularly grossing tens of millions of dollars per year, according to Forbes. Timbaland's brother who goes by the artist name Sebastien is set to release solo album Cruel Intentions (2008-Mosley) featuring Justin Timberlake in December.


In closing, the imposing, intensely dedicated Mosley pushed past the genre lines of urban R&B and Hip Hop, teaming up with an array of unlikely superstars on a path to music history's hall of fame. His relentless collaborations and two solo albums have cut a wide swath through the consumer market earning him credibility with both the mainstream for his hits and the underground press with his almost "musique concrete"-like use of samples. His reception of the same awards bestowed upon Oscar Wilde, Bono and Desmond Tutu only hint at the legacy the larger than life icon will surely leave in his wake.

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