Timothy Mosley, commonly known as Timbaland, turned 44 today. Which means that he’s pretty much been producing music for half of his life, starting in the early 1990s. Over 20-plus years, Timbo’s not only given artists some of the best music of their careers, but he’s also managed to give fans some of the best music hip-hop and R&B have ever had.
By design, trying to parse out Timbaland’s best works from his Library of Congress-sized discography is going to miss a few things. I mean, unless you expect me to write about 50 billion songs, something’s getting left out here. So there’s your invitation to list your favorite Timbaland songs in the comments.
Anyway, here are some the best songs Timbaland worked on in his career behind the boards as one of the best producers we’ve ever seen.
“One In A Million” – Aaliyah
Timbaland and Aaliyah both had strong starts to their careers before coming together for One in a Million, the singer’s sophomore release. When you check the album’s credits, Timbaland pretty much had his hands on every track. If the two had never met, they probably would’ve still had successful careers because that’s what talented people do. But them coming together for songs like “One In A Million” and “4 Page Letter” helped propel both of them into a league of their own.
“Pony” – Ginuwine
“Pony” has led to a record-breaking number of drunken, sloppy lap dances — and resulting injuries — over the years. Both because of Ginuwine’s effortless shirtless dancing in the video and because of Timbaland’s trademark production that seems to make hips move on their own.
Note: Thank everyone involved in the making of this song for this unforgettable moment.
“Can We” – SWV
While we often rag on how many boy band clones there were in the late 1990s, we don’t talk about how many strong female R&B trios there were nearly enough. We had TLC and Destiny’s Child of course, as well as Total, 702, Xscape, and Brownstone just to name a few. But one of the most slept-on groups, as far as history is concerned, was SWV. The New York trio had so many hits that “Can We” barely cracks their top five behind “Weak,” “Right Here (Human Nature)” and “I’m So Into You.”
Big Pimpin – Jay Z feat. UGK
Picture this setting. It’s more than 10 years from now and your kids come up to you and ask you how hip-hop used to be. You know, before the days of skin-tight leather jeans and the looming Kanye West presidency. You’ll then turn to your hands-free tv screen and say “Play ‘Big Pimpin’.” because it’s the quintessential song/video for hip-hop at the turn of the century with the fancy yacht, bikinis and flute in the background. Then let them know they’re watching Vice President Carter before he got married and watch their jaws drop.
“Try Again” – Aaliyah
Romeo Must Die is a film of legend for most people that were alive in 2000. It’s the last [good] movie Aaliyah did before sadly passing away and was Jet Li’s first blockbuster hit in America. But the best marketing the movie could’ve gotten was “Try Again,” which was its lead single back in the days when people made songs exclusively for movies. This actually ended up being Aaliyah’s biggest commercial success and probably helped give the movie an extra few million in ticket sales.
“Get Ur Freak On” – Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott videos were full on experiences when they first came out because you knew they were going to blow your mind with their choreography and special effects. But the most memorable thing about “Get Ur Freak On” – besides Missy spitting across the room into some guy’s mouth – was the production. This was when it became clear that stepping out of the box was Timbaland’s staple, especially while working with Missy.
“Raise Up” – Petey Pablo
If you thought Petey Pablo didn’t hit the scene until he dropped “Freek-a-Leek” you were really late to the party. “Raise Up” came out a whole two years earlier and still serves as an anthem for people in North Carolina (if the fans celebrating the Panthers’ latest season is anything to go off of). The fanfare around the song was so huge that even Timbaland, notably from Virginia, was repping his Tarheel blue in the video.
Now that I think about it, Timbaland probably showed up in three times the videos Diddy did over the years.
“Cry Me A River” – Justin Timberlake
Back in 2002, Justin Timberlake had already gone from being the lead singer of NSYNC to basically making them all his backup singers. (Believe it or not, “Gone” isn’t a JT solo.) If it wasn’t already clear that he was going solo, he released his first solo album entitled Celebrity as an “experiment.” But he still had to show the world he was more than just a pop singer, so he turned to producers like Timbaland to get a more R&B sound. The rest is history.
“Work It” – Missy Elliott
“Get Ur Freak On” wasn’t a fluke. Timbaland and Missy had been working together for years at that point, going back to the Aaliyah days, and it showed. Which is why “Work It” is an even better song. This is Missy’s biggest hit for sure and showed Timbaland’s sampling skills on full display.
Note: That part of the song that no one ever gets right is actually just “I put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it” played backwards. Spend a few minutes learning that and impress all of your friends the next time you hit play.
“Oops (Oh My)” – Tweet
There is absolutely no reason that a song about… well, you all know… should be this sexy or played on the radio. But it was just that good that radio programmers everywhere said, “…. Eh, you know what? Play it! The kids will be fine.” As a result, 10-year-old me knew all of the words. True story, I was so young that I thought she was getting undressed to take a shower.
“Dirt Off Your Shoulder” – Jay-Z
The first time Timbaland played the beat for “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” for Hov, he lost his mind. There’s actually footage of this moment and you can see Jay instantly fall in love with it and start figuring out what he can do. Then Timbaland walked out of the room crowning himself the best producer in the world, which he had a right to do.
People everywhere, including President Obama, still brush invisible dirt off of their shoulders to win arguments.
“SexyBack” – Justin Timberlake
“SexyBack” pretty much came out of nowhere because Justin Timberlake hadn’t released new music in more than two years and cut off his boyish curls for a new, more groomed look no one was ready for. The world couldn’t handle it. The song grabbed the No. 1 spot on charts all over the world and solidified Timberlake as a worthy solo artist.
The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake
It’d be unfair to pick just one song off of The 20/20 Experience since Timbaland pretty much played a role in all of it. While the producer never stopped working, he hadn’t exactly had many chart toppers in the years leading up to this album. And Justin Timberlake didn’t have any much at all while he focused on acting. But the two didn’t miss a step when they came back together to release an album that exceeded a lot of expectations with “Suit and Tie” and “Mirrors.”
In short, Timbaland and Timberlake are magical duo. I’d try and combine their names to acknowledge it, but all I’d get is “Timberland” or “Timbalake.” No fun there.