Timbaland: Working with the Great Ones, Overcoming Career Obstacles and His Search for the Next Big Thing

MC: How do you decide whom to collaborate with?
Timbaland: I think it’s just about people getting together and collaborating and having an open conversation. Talking about their beliefs and what their likes are and things about music. To make stuff great you have to communicate with a person on a great level, you know what I’m saying? Go out to eat and talk about things that you maybe haven’t said before. Family. We talk about it. Before I approach any project, I like to have a one-on-one meeting with the artist to see where their head is at. Where they at.

MC: You are also working again with Justin Timberlake. Do you feel pressure to top the groundbreaking success of the last album you produced for him?
Timbaland: I mean, there is a lot of pressure because, you know, JT is JT. There’s just a lot of pressure when you [make an album that] opens the door for everyone else to come in. So, people look at us like the gatekeeper, and we’re like “Okay, what’s the next gate we gotta go through?” And it’s a little hard, but we just go by what we feel.

TimbaQuoteMC: Do you see how with your production work you often wind up being a co-artist, by adding vocals/music performances and appearing in the videos?
Timbaland: I’m not really an “artist” like they are. I’m the sound behind the artist. I realize what my art is, and my canvas is my beats. And then I have to find the right artist to portray what I’m trying to paint. What makes me step out into the forefront is because I see a vision, like a painting. So, I step out here and there, but I’m not a Justin and I’m not a Jay-Z. That’s what those guys were born to do. My voice is like another instrument that is added on. And that’s why people love me so much, because I’m just another part of the layer that makes it all complete. Like when you see Steph Curry hit that three-pointer. It’s like “Ah, man!” That’s how it is with my beats. The beats are dope, but it’s like when you hear that part in “Get Your Freak On,” when you hear the guy comes in with “doe, dabba doe, dabba doe,” and then Missy comes on, and you’re like “Oh!” It’s like I do the [vocal] sound effects along with the computer sound effects.

MC: Is there ever a concern that your iconic sound could drown them out as an artist, or that even though they want your hit-making skills, they might not be the right fit for your sound?
Timbaland: My music talks to the artist. And I can’t compromise with the artist if my beats don’t speak to that artist. Now, I could do beats for everybody but my soul won’t let me do it if it’s not compelling for that artist. My beats speak to me, like “no, no, no, no, no. That’s not for that person.” “This person is not going to know how to attack it.”

Music is like a relationship between a girl and a guy, it’s like pheromones. When I saw Amy Winehouse I was like, “That girl’s special.” Because I know music, I know what special is. Certain things you can be like, “That’s dope,” but then you know what’s special, and what complements you.

MC: Speaking of your beats matching the artist. I imagine a lot of people are going to go back and reexamine the Scream album you produced for Chris Cornell. Any thoughts on Chris and your work together?
Timbaland: Chris had the most amazing rock voice. Rest in peace. That album was so beyond its time. He let me be creative. And that’s what I’m saying; he matched [my sound] and whether the world was ready for it at that moment or not, we both lived out our dreams with that album. We just didn’t stop. He tried things, I tried things, and it was monumental.

Sometimes those monumental works are more like those Basquiat paintings, which weren’t popular until after he was dead. Think about the people who say those paintings are amazing now, but do you really get all the props you deserve when you put it out?
Sometimes it could be about having a good time, but with me and Chris Cornell, and Bjork [2007’s Volta], and when I did the Deliverance album with Bubba Sparxxx, I feel everybody will go back and discover those albums, and I’ll be like 55 or something when everybody will be going back to those albums on the Internet, when it will become like something new. And the reason why it’s new is that it was never really born yet. It was premature. My collaboration with Chris was great, and now people appreciate it, but back then it was like 50/50 or 60/40, up in the air. But look at it now.

MC: What are some of the obstacles you’ve overcome or pitfalls to avoid?
Timbaland: Being lied to. You know, it’s all the same stuff that happens in relationships. You get caught up with loyalties and stuff like that. But other than some ups and downs, I really fought me. I just think that my obstacles weren’t so much obstacles it was just me being ego driven and not wanting to learn, and taking things for granted.

Obstacles will happen, but at the same time there shouldn’t be obstacles because people need to be true and honest to what they are and who they are, so you gotta blame yourself instead of blaming others.

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