From the radio to MTV to the pop charts, no producer dominated hip-hop of the late 1990s and early 2000s more than Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley. With his jittery future-shock beats — characterized by heavy bass and skittering synths, and often augmented by avant-garde touches like Indian tabla — the Norfolk, Virginia was behind massive hits for Missy Elliott ("Get Your Freak On"), Justin Timberlake ("Cry Me a River") and Nelly Furtado ("Promiscuous"), to name a few. While beat-making is Timbaland's forte, he's also an MC, with three albums of his own plus two with rapper Magoo.
Born Timothy Zachery Mosley on March 10, 1971, Timbaland began making music as a teenager, performing in a band with fellow Virginians Magoo and Pharrell Williams, who became a founding member of the Neptunes. Timbaland also became friends with fellow Norfolk native Missy Elliott, who was in an early 1990s R&B girl group called Sista. When Sista was signed by DeVante Swing, a member of Jodeci, Mosley and Magoo followed Elliott to Suffern, NY, and — along with singer Ginuwine — joined Swing's crew of writer-producer-performers. Mosley worked on Jodeci's 1995 The Show, the After Party, the Hotel; soon, he, Magoo, Elliott, Playa, and Ginuwine split from Swing.
Timbaland began attracting the music industry's attention in 1996, when his work on Ginuwine's second album Ginuwine . . . the Bachelor spawned the sexed-up Top Ten hit "Pony." He then collaborated with R&B sensation Aaliyah on her 1996 album, One in a Million; the title track hit Number Two on the Dance chart. Timbaland was developing his signature sound: snaking syncopated drum patterns, skittering hi-hats, plinking keyboards and strong, glutinous bass.
He inspired even more buzz when he produced his old partner Missy Elliott's 1997 smash solo debut, Supa Dupa Fly, which featured the groundbreaking hits "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and "Sock It 2 Me." Around that time, Timbaland flexed his mic skills, too, releasing Welcome to Our World with Magoo. The album yielded two hits: "Up Jumps Da Boogie," which featured Elliott and Aaliyah, and "Clock Strikes."
In 1998, Timbaland released his solo LP, Tim's Bio: Life From Da Bassment, which boasted superstar cameos from Jay-Z, Nas and Ludacris. But he scored even bigger with a stunning string of singles for others, including Jay-Z's "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)," Nicole "Make It Hot" (featuring Missy Elliott) and "Are You That Somebody," Aaliyah's contribution to the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. The deeply funky, avant-garde tune — which featured heaving sound gaps and a gurgling baby — cemented the "Timbaland sound" in the public ear, and raised the bar for other producers to top its audacious style.
Timbaland next cooked up beats for Elliott's 1999 LP Da Real World, and Ginuwine's 100% Ginuwine ; he also contributed four standout tracks to Jay-Z's Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter, including the smash "Big Pimpin'," which, noted Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, sounded as if it "were recorded in Cairo." The song signaled a shift in Timbaland's tastes: he began to sample Eastern sounds, a style that reached its apex in 2001 on Elliott's Miss E . . . So Addictive. The album's single, "Get Ur Freak On," was driven by an Indian tabla and Jamaican-dancehall-style drum and bass.
Timbaland's experimental streak was also evident on four tracks he crafted for Romeo Must Die, the soundtrack for a 2000 film starring Jet Li and Aaliyah. The singer's sultry Number One tune "Try Again" featured a Roland TB-303 bass-synthesizer, an instrument usually associated with acid house music. He also helmed three cuts — including "We Need a Resolution" and "More Than a Woman" — on the chart-topping Aaliyah, released shortly before the singer's death in a plane crash at age 22.
Around that time, Timbaland reunited with Magoo for Indecent Proposal. He also oversaw a series of albums and singles: Bubba Sparxxx's Dark Days, Bright Nights, Petey Pablo's Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry and Ludacris's hit "Roll Out (My Business)" (Number 17, 2001). Soon after, Timbaland reteamed with Elliott for Under Construction (Number Three, 2002), which blended left-of-center beats and straightforward funk. He also produced a handful of tracks for Justin Timberlake's 2002 smash Justified, including the hard-hitting breakup tune "Cry Me a River." In 2003, Timbaland put out another album with Magoo (Under Construction Pt. II) and produced Elliott's This Is Not a Test!, neither of which saw major commercial success. In fact, Timbaland's peak work around this time was Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance, which fused Timbaland's off-kilter percussion with countrified fiddles.Timbaland laid fairly low in the mid-2000s — even Elliott's 2005 The Cookbook featured minimal input from him. He played the journeyman, contributing tracks to several albums and garnering a handful of hits for L.L. Cool J and Ludacris, among others. It was during this time that Timbaland moved to Miami and began work as a bodybuilder; he also began collaborating with Nate "Danjahandz" Hills, who is credited as co-producer on several songs from this period forward. In 2006, Timbaland's relative lull ended decisively, when he produced two chart-topping albums: Nelly Furtado's Loose and Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds. Singles from both albums ruled the pop charts for the next two years: Furtado's "Promiscuous," "Maneater," "Say It Right," "All Good Things (Come to an End) and "Do It"; and Timberlake's "SexyBack," "My Love" (featuring T.I), "What Goes Around . . . Comes Around," "Summer Love" and "LoveStoned." Timbaland continued his hot streak with his 2007 solo disc Shock Value, which shot to Number Five and featured the Top Ten hits "Give It to Me" (with Furtado and Timbaland), "The Way I Are" (featuring Keri Hilson) and "Apologize" (featuring OneRepublic). In 2009, he released Shock Value's sequel, Shock Value II. Though Timbaland corralled a superstar crew – including Timberlake, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus – to guest on the disc, it wasn't as successful as its predecessor; it peaked at Number 36 on the pop charts. Nicole Frehsee contributed to this article.