By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Timbaland's at his best on the singles. His commercial breakthrough came with Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?" in 1996, a song so breathtaking in the scheme of things that it's impossible to overestimate its influence. He broke out the next year with Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly, which featured the sturdy "Sock It 2 Me." But he hit his stride, and changed everything, with a little track he recorded with Magoo called "Up Jumps Da Boogie."
The single's buggin', an exclamation point so much at odds with everything else on hip-hop radio at the time--and just so damned weird--that its mere existence was surprising. Inside the little beep and burp beats--no pounding bass drum here--was a sound that seemed to sneak onto the radio straight from 1982; think Newcleus' "Jam on It" or the Jonzun Crew's "Pack Jam," equal parts new wave, rap and electro.
That's his blueprint track, but what's most remarkable about his work is how jarring each new jam sounds as it arrives. He's maybe too prolific--for every wild song there are a few cookie-cutter numbers--but perhaps that's how he works out the glitches. His most important new track is by a female trio called Tweet; the song's called "Oops (Oh My)," and it's relatively humble. He samples a Tweet grunt and loops it quietly, wraps an equally tiny beat around it and rolls it out like a Persian rug. The result suggests both classic '50s doo-wop and the thick Phil Spector rumble of "He's a Rebel," minimized and funneled through a Moog synthesizer. It's classic Timbaland: both angular and simple, a song that jumps out of the speakers and floats in the ears.
What's most curious is that Timbaland and the Dungeon Family are making this music under the intense microscope of the major-label system, a system petrified of anything extreme that's not Extreme (Limp Bizkit's Extreme, but they're not the least bit extreme). But it makes sense: It's simple capitalism at its best. They make it sound so crazy because they have to; as with all art designed to succeed in a commercial atmosphere--and rap is the most capitalistic of musics--stunning originality is necessary as a distinguisher. And their originality is getting them paid: Both producers have tracks on the tempting-to-dismiss-but-not-so-fast-Junior debut by Bubba Sparxxx and the tempting-to-enjoy-but-ultimately-disappointing Ludacris full-length Word of Mouf. The shock of the sound is what gets a producer paid; if his tracks sound like everything else on the radio, his days are numbered from the get-go. The lines extending outside their studios waiting to buy their tracks is proof positive that we're in some sunny days in the world of rap and that the aural hammer that is the new hip-hop, despite its lyrical flaws and occasional lapses into the get-paid-quick mentality, can slam down hard on heads looking for some pounding.