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But when we agreed to two nighttime interviews at his mansion and a photo shoot, Timbaland appeared to be cool, even-tempered, and quiet. Too quiet. When the Virginia producer does say something, he mumbles, his words spilling out in half-formed fragments that sometimes add up and sometimes don't. He rarely applies dates to his eventful life and career, making it difficult to suss out any sort of narrative or timeline.
Alarmingly, he sometimes yawns absentmindedly during the conversations. At one point he even closes his eyes and contentedly lies back in his chair, as if he were bored by it all. When this happens, one doesn't know what to think: Is he just getting comfortable, or is he intentionally being rude?
"He's very quiet. You talked to him once; I'm sure you didn't get more than 30 words," says Rick Frazier, Timbaland's road manager and personal assistant. Frazier, who says he owns a Dallas-based bus company called Side by Side Entertainment, met Timbaland during one of the latter's concert tours. The duo's friendship coalesced to the point where Timbaland asked Frazier to join his staff. "We're like brothers," claims Frazier.
Frazier says Timbaland is laid-back and humble but doesn't say much to anyone, whether friends or complete strangers. This was observed during one of the interviews, when Timbaland briefly excused himself to eat dinner with three of his friends. As loud voices and laughter emanated from the kitchen, his voice was noticeably absent. It was clear that his friends were doing most of the talking, not him.
"He's not Hollywood," says Frazier. "He lets his music speak for him. And now that he has that body, he's going to let his body speak for him."
Born in 1971 and raised in a handful of working-class Virginia neighborhoods, including Bridle Creek and Salem Hill, Mosely is a product of the South, from his shy courtliness to his thick, slang-ridden drawl. A Pentacostal Christian, he attends church on a regular basis and peppers his sentences with frequent references to God.
Growing up, Mosely was always into music, fiddling around with a guitar and drums. "I was never into the sport stuff," he says, though he adds that he enjoyed watching boxing on TV. His interests soon turned to hip-hop and DJ culture. When his father bought him a pair of turntables, he began making mixtapes and calling himself DJ Timmy Tim. In high school he DJ'ed at house parties and made his own beats with a Casio keyboard. "I started making beats because people wasn't making those kinds of beats I like to hear when I'm DJ'ing," he says.
Throughout his teens, Mosely met and befriended many of the key players with whom he would revolutionize the hip-hop and R&B world. He made tracks for Faze (pronounced FAYZ-ee), an R&B group led by Missy Elliot. He formed a rap group, Surrounded by Idiots, with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo (who would later form the production team the Neptunes), Magoo (who co-wrote some of Elliot's early solo hits), and Larry Live. But Timbaland says he didn't necessarily plan on pursuing a career in music. "I didn't have no plan. I was just coasting through. I didn't know what I was going to be doing from day one," he says.
Nevertheless, soon after graduating from high school, Faze managed to snare a production deal with Donald "Devante Swing" DeGrate, the producer and mastermind behind R&B stars Jodeci, the early Nineties quartet known for hits such as "Forever My Lady" and, more important, for fusing a bad-boy sensibility with aching R&B vocalizations. "When Missy and her group went up [to New Jersey] to meet Jodeci, they brought me along," says Mosely. Elliot successfully lobbied to keep him as the group's producer, and when Swing saw what he could do in the studio, "it all fell into place," he says.
Faze eventually became Sista, issuing one album in 1994, 4 All the Sistas Around da World, before splitting up. In addition to co-producing that project with Swing, Mosely claims he made several uncredited contributions to tracks on Jodeci's Diary of a Mad Band and The Show, the Afterparty, the Hotel, including hits such as "Feenin" and "Freek'n You." "I didn't get as much props as I should have," he says. "But I'm under [Swing's] wing, so that was to be expected."
Soon after The Show, the Afterparty, the Hotel was released in July 1995, Mosely struck out on his own. Taking on the pseudonym Timbaland, he produced R&B singer Ginuwine's 1996 double-platinum debut, Ginuwine...the Bachelor. That album's million-selling single, "Pony," was strikingly unique, incomparable to anything else being played on the radio. Its rippling, popping beat, full of odd stops and starts, was robotic and fresh, like a video game gone awry. Inevitably Timbaland's groundbreaking sound spawned countless imitators, from dance producers such as the Basement Jaxx to pop pinups such as 'NSync.
Around the same time, Timbaland and Elliot began a long-running partnership as a producer and a songwriter. The duo set to work on Aaliyah's One in a Million and then Elliot's own heralded 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly (The Rain). These recordings established Timbaland as one of the most consistently creative producers of the era. More important, he re-established the primacy of R&B music in the pop lexicon. For years, after hip-hop culture came of age in the late Eighties, R&B was considered passé, a handmaiden to the more strident, cutting-edge rhythms driving rap music. But when Timbaland arrived, his innovative techniques were widely mimicked throughout the recording industry; in the hip-hop world, only DJ Premier (Gang Starr), RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), Dr. Dre, and P. Diddy's Bad Boy squad rivaled him in influence.