Apr 082007

So the ubiquitous producer Timbaland has a new solo album, featuring a single with guest stars Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. In the 2 reviews I was hit with this morning, one word sticks out regarding the purported genius of Timbaland, a word that seems to get associated with the key role that any hip-hop producer plays: beats.

Judging by the press I’ve read regarding Timbaland, I take it this guy had developed some fantastic beats for his clients. Of course hip-hop being a dance-oriented music, there’s no reason not to assume that the popularity of his productions must be tied to the effectiveness of the rhythmic bed he sets for artists to do whatever it is they do over, but man, all this talk of beats connotes true innovation! I thought I’d check it out.

YouTube has a whole page dedicated to Timbaland. Pretty cool, huh? Check out what Timba (can I call him that?) has to say:

“My mission is to blow up the boundaries and tear down the limits,” says Timbaland. “I’m taking my music outside of the box. I’m not getting away from what I’m known for; I’m just going to a place where it’s all about the music, not about the labels on the music. That’s why I call it Shock Value–from the artists to the production, it will shock the system.”

Now check out a quote from a corporate leader about a recent business acquisition:

“We’re excited to add a leader in the key pharmaceutical communication area of strategic publication planning to our portfolio of innovative, client focused, business units,” said Bull Malarky, Group President of M.A.N. Industries. “New Acquisition’s focus on combining the highest editorial quality, exceptional service and scientific integrity fits seamlessly with our overall growth philosophy.”

Now let’s check into to some of Timba’s beats!

Here are his beats for Justin’s megaphenomenal “SexyBack” single.

And don’t forget he laid down the heavy, ground-breaking beats on many of Missy Elliott‘s hits, including “The Rain”.

Last year he got Aussie fish-out-of-water Nelly Furtado to drop the hippie-folk-singer routine and sex it up real good. No need to sample any of those beats just now, but trust me: they’re real good.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing particularly lacking in these beats; in fact, much of his work is pretty cool, pretty catchy – and I say this as one with little interest in the hip-hop genre. But is there a drummer in the house?

What exactly does the hip-hop producer-as-beat-maker do? From where does he or she get these beats? Do hip-hop songs really start with the producer rolling out a variety of pre-made beats to see what suits the artist who will rap or sing over them? Does it matter that the beats are canned, sampled, or whatever? Is there an actual drummer in the process? I have a hundred questions, many of them ignorant, I’m sure. But they’re honest. How about you? What do you think of Timbaland and his beats? Do they stack up with innovative beats of the likes of James Brown, Hugo Burnham, whoever it is who plays on The Flowers of Romance album? (Hey, I’m in my Easter best – forgive me for not recalling the most likely uncredited drummer’s name right now.)

I look forward to your responses.


  11 Responses to “Is There a Drummer in the House: Timbaland and His Beats

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about Timbaland. The latest People Mag lying around my house had a review too. It’s weird, but the review was a great one, but then the stars were only like, 3 and a half or something, not that I’m depending on a magazine like People for my reviews of music or anything;) Anyway, in the review, they wrote about how each song featured a different artist and that there were only like one or two songs with Timbaland actually doing something in them rap/singing/whatever (besides the beats), and the rest were collaborations. This reeks of Supernatural (Santana) to me (which I have a seething intense dislike for – please no one make me a Santana compilation), and although I can appreciate the want to collaborate with musicians and release an album, what I cannot appreciate is releasing an album, calling it your own and none of the tracks actually being fully yours. Maybe I’m being bitchy about the collaboration thing. Maybe I just dislike the fact that you can just slide some Hollywood cardboard rock/pop star on some back “beats” and call it a hit. I don’t know. I just know that it annoys me. I guess, how else are you supposed to get your material out if you’re just the guy making “the beats” but is this really a “Timbaland” album? I don’t know.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    I got no problem givin’ mad respeck to Timbaland and other beatmasters. The truth is that assembling phat beatz — even inorganic ones — is not at all easy. Peace out.

  3. I also think that you’re way too focused on the beats being just the drums. Sexyback has that scratchy syncopated synth chording and the Missy Elliott has the synth bass. I think Sexyback grooves along nicely, but it’s the lazy stripped down beat of the Missy Elliott that does it for me. I am a sucker for sparse beats with a well placed sixteenth note anticipation or hesitation on a kick or snare beat. These patterns can suck me in for the length of a song easy. If it’s cool but subtle, I’ll spend the first two minutes trying to match the kick/snare pattern by banging it out of the steering wheel, and when I finally get it right, I’ll spend the rest of the tune banging it out repeatedly reveling in the little tricks.

  4. Last year he got Aussie fish-out-of-water Nelly Furtado to drop the hippie-folk-singer routine and sex it up real good. No need to sample any of those beats just now, but trust me: they’re real good.

    Nelly Furtado is from Canada (Victoria, British Columbia specifically), not Australia.

    whoever it is who plays on The Flowers of Romance album? (Hey, I’m in my Easter best – forgive me for not recalling the most likely uncredited drummer’s name right now.)

    Without checking my copy of The Flowers of Romance or All Music Guide, I’m pretty sure that it’s Martyn Atkins that laid down the “beats” on that album. He’s also played with Killing Joke, Pigface and others I’m not remembering now (oh Damage Manual more recently). Speaking of that album, I got a promo CD from a band called Aa recently and it reminded me a lot of that record as well as The Pop Group’s debut Y. It’s the same kind of hyperactive percussive craziness, though it’s mostly instrumental in this case.

    As for my personal feelings on Timbaland, I haven’t heard his solo album (nor does it interest me all that much), but like the rest of the world (or so it seems) I’m quite fond of some of the work he’s done with Missy Elliott. None of her albums (at least the ones I’ve heard) are all that stellar since they always have tons of filler on them, but I’m sure her singles collection (if one hasn’t already been released) will be more consistent.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Matt, that was some AWESOME Pince Nez action to start off your response:)

    So I’ve got one strong proponent of the man’s beats, one person who sympathizes with some of what Bull Malarky was getting at, one guy giving me the lamest honky patter this side of The Jeffersons, and one guy who generally likes his work with Missy Elliott. Keep it coming, Townspeople. I really want to hear more about these beats of Timba’s, if I may call him that.

  6. I’ve got the record on my desk; I’ll try to get to it in the next day or so. In general, however, as other responses may have hipped you, the term “beats” is really a generic term for musical backings. The role of hip-hop producer is basically that of songwriter – more specifically, “Music By …” Of course, no two producer/performer relationships are exactly the same.

  7. Mr. Moderator

    I will admit complete ignorance to the expanded meaning of “beats” in this context. Thanks for educating me, Townspeople.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    I was just checking out the following hip-hop artist on eMusic, Mo’ Mega:


    His “beats” are pretty cool (although not all the eMusic users who commented agreed – hilarious comments section that’s worth reading), but a third of the 30-second samples included numerous references to “niggers.” Man, that’s a major turn-off as a consumer. I can handle a “nigger” now and then if it’s somehow appropriate to the song, but if the rapper is just filling space with that objectionable term, I can’t make the purchase. Even when the beats are dope, or however I should say it.

  9. BigSteve

    I really want to hear more about these beats of Timba’s, if I may call him that.

    I believe it is not uncommon for producers to hand over completed tracks to rappers, who then supply the vocals, I mean vocalz.

    And, although I prefer to call him Mr. Land, his friends call him Tim (born Timothy Mosely).

  10. BigSteve is entirely correct: in fact, it is not unheard of for some producers to send the same track to several different artists, and whoever bites first gets to keep it.

    I forget the second song, but there was a mild controversy back in ’04 when Usher’s “Yeah!” was ubiquitous: another artist that Lil Jon had passed that track to released a single using it. I’m trying to reconstruct it, but I can’t remember if this artist had actually been given the track first and not used it until after the Usher song was completed, or if they were deliberately ripping it off, or what.

  11. One of the venues here in Providence has a Producers’ Showcase a coupla times a year, where you get up and play your stuff and network with local rappers in the audience.

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