Before he gave Jay Z the ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ instrumental or practically handing Justin Timberlake Grammys, he was wiping the grime away from hip-hop productions, leaving behind clean, crisp instrumentals that rappers and R&B singers were jumping at like hot cakes. His success and that of his instrumentals can be quantified by the 19 tracks that, at least when compiled in physical form, represent his debut album, Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Basement. This project, among others at around the same time (namely, Missy Elliott’s, Supa Dupa Fly), symbolized an alteration in the course that music was traveling.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, experimentation was happening, but at a much smaller scale than Timbaland was interested in. Producers and musicians were still drowning their songs in live instrumentation and sitting comfortably in the pocket of safety that had been fashioned by the genre’s pioneers. Timbaland did more than predict the future of music, he helped set it on that path. Every song is a landscape, layered to the core with synthesized elements that brought a new idea to the dirty south.
Perhaps the best thing about what Timbaland did, was allowing such a diverse cocktail of artists on the instrumentals. While his own voice occupies a healthy amount of space on this project, the real genius was in showing his versatility by having artists from every coast and every background come together like a backyard barbeque where nothing else mattered. Jay Z talks about coming from nothing to being the most looked at rapper at the time while Twista releases some signature, look-at-me steam on ‘Who Am I’ and Missy Elliott covers both the sexy and the playful between her guest spots. Evan the artists you’ve never heard the slightest thing about like Lil Man and 1 Life 2 Live are pushed far enough forward by Tim’s eccentricity to sound like they’ve put out a few solid albums of their own.
Every artist seems to be at his or her best on this LP and my bet is that it is largely due to the rejuvenation they felt after hearing the progression on Tim’s part. He takes staple elements of hip-hop and R&B like heavy percussion and warps them into an almost unrecognizable figure. The result is an avant garde album that sounded perplexing back in 1998 and still sounds more than relevant today. His sounds stretch every component of your sound system to the point where you had to ask if it was safe to crank the dial one more notch. No matter what questions pop in your head while listening to this overlooked endeavor, it certainly answers the question, is Timbaland one of the best producers of all time?