Some producers have a sound so recognizable, so prominent, that the artist who hires him doesn’t just get a producer, but another collaborative artist. And sometimes it’s not simply in the way the producer lends the artist his trademark sounds, but someone such as Timbaland often contributes songwriting and music performances, like beats (especially in hip-hop and pop when the producer is often responsible for the beats) and vocals, even appearing in the videos.
Born Timothy Zachary Mosley, Timbaland is easily one of the most influential producers of the last 20 years, across genres like R&B, pop and electronic/EDM, lending his artistry and iconic sounds to career-defining albums by Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, just to name a few. And he’s been a sound doctor of sorts, on call for the musical facelift requested by other big-name artists like Madonna, Chris Cornell, Britney Spears and Cher, again just to name a few, all the while putting out solo albums of his own. Timbaland has always had his fingers not only on those drum machines, but on the pulse of pop culture, branching out with his own label (Mosley Music Group), music supervision for the Fox drama series Empire, and more recently as a judge for ABC’s talent show Boy Band.
And yet there’s even more happening with the 45-year-old who doesn’t seem to need sleep. We caught up with Tim right after it was announced that he’s inked a deal with Amazon to produce his long-awaited multimedia project, Opera Noir.
Music Connection: You’ve gone from producing music, to producing music for television, to producing TV and now actually appearing on TV as a talent judge. When did you get that TV bug?
Timbaland: I always wanted it, but I had to get ready as a person, to prepare myself for challenges. A lot of people get in comfort zones, but I’m one of those people that flexes outside of my comfort zone and do things that I like. I always loved TV and movies, so why not try to be a part of it?
I’m still producing music, but it’s not just music anymore; it’s producing films, producing music for films and being part of TV is a whole other section of entertainment. For me it’s about evolving as a producer.
MC: We just got word about you developing another album and TV series for Amazon. Can you tell us about your Opera Noir that’s in the works?
Timbaland: First of all, the album is my best work, and it kinda identifies who I was born to be. And that’s why I’ve taken this journey through TV and film. The music of Opera Noir is so incredible, and I don’t like to talk about my own music, but for me, it’s like I found myself and what I’ve been meaning to do all my life. And that’s why I sat on it for like three or four years, until the right thing came around. I didn’t budge, I didn’t sell out. I really think that god had me sit on this project for a while until the right opportunity and now I have the right opportunity to showcase it. I think that this is going to be about a whole other side of Tim.
MC: With so many projects how do you manage your time? Do you rely on your team?
Timbaland: You gotta go through trial and error to get to perfection, and I went through a lot of trial and error. But you’re no good without your team, and I have a great team. It allows me to stay in my space and they understand me as a person. You should have somebody just as hungry as you. You can’t have a LeBron James without a Kyrie Irving. You need to have somebody as hungry as you are. Someone who can create the best business model, because what we create will create the next 20 years, and I wanna go down as, “see that company that Timbaland and blah-blah built?” We need to have some monuments representing what we have done, you know what I’m saying? You build trust as you go along, but you must have the same ambition and the same work ethic. It’s very important, because as a creator you are always creating, but you’re hungry at the same time, and you want somebody always challenging your creative mind, but you want them to also always be on point with everything in the same way you are when trying to make that beat or create that song.
MC: There’s a lot of buzz around some of your recent collaborations with Zayn Malik and Sam Smith, for starters. Presumably for your new solo album, Textbook Timbo, and/or for a Sam Smith album?
Timbaland: You know, I don’t like to talk too much about it; but yeah, I’m with Zayn, and I also worked Wiz Khalifa. As I go along I’m always changing my mind, you know? I’m trying to put together a great body of work. Nothing is that solid because I’m changing, but I only want like five or six artists on it. I want it to be like when I did “Apologize” with One Republic. It felt like a monumental moment, and I’m trying to create those monumental moments again for 2018 and 2019. I’m trying to change up the rhythm of music a little bit, but I need to work with certain people that I feel like they are changing themselves. You know, like an Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, people that are landmark with their own identities; and when you add what they do with my sound we can make a beautiful thing.