Timbaland just might be the greatest producer of all time.
Yeah, I know my Virginia bias might be peeking through a bit, but hear a brother out – name another producer whose entry into the music scene completely rewrote the rules for production; who has created hit records in multiple genres; scored successful TV franchises; launched a half-dozen artists to superstardom; and reignited the careers of several industry veterans.
His pedigree is the stuff of legend and his catalog is home to some of the greatest songs of the past 20 years.
Timbaland always has been three steps ahead of the competition. And here are the 25 best beats to bear his signature.
If you don’t think he’s the best, these tracks will change your mind.
Honorable mentions: Tweet, “Oops (Oh My),” Aaliyah, “Try Again,” Missy Elliott, “Lick Shots,” Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous,” Missy Elliott, “Gossip Folks”
25. The Game, “Put You On The Game” (2005)
While this track didn’t enjoy the massive success of some of the other singles from Game’s celebrated debut, the unruly synths fostered a crazed energy that made this one unforgettable.
24. Missy Elliott, “She’s a B****” (1999)
When Missy debuted this track as the first outing of her sophomore effort, I was taken aback – it was much more sinister than Missy’s usual bouncy, sci-fi fare. But the beat is a work of art, creating a heavy mood for Missy’s growling lyrics.
23. Missy Elliott featuring Nicole Wray and Big Boi, “All N My Grill” (1999)
In the late 90s, every other female artist was singing about how brothers need to pay their bills. But Timbo created a lighthearted atmosphere that made Missy’s demands much easier to swallow.
22. Nicole Wray featuring Missy Elliott and Mocha, “Make It Hot” (1998)
For my money, this is one of the most underrated songs of ALL of the ’90s. Tim did his best to put Nicole on the path to stardom – it didn’t work out, but we’ll always have this one.
21. Ginuwine, “So Anxious” (1999)
G’s sweaty bedroom burner is creeping up on its 20th birthday, yet couples still have no problem grindin’ like it’s 1999. Thank Timbaland’s sparse keys and slowed-to-a-crawl drum patterns. An army of children were conceived to this one.
20. Timbaland and Magoo featuring Missy Elliott and Aaliyah, “Up Jumps Da Boogie” (1997)
When Tim and Magoo’s futuristic funk hit airwaves in 1997, it sounded like nothing before it. It’s an intergalactic dance party that defined Timbo’s sound for the coming years – bouncy, infectious and light-years ahead of its competition.
19. Missy Elliott featuring Lil Mo, Eve, Q-Tip and Nas, “Hot Boyz Remix” (1999)
Timbaland’s always full of surprises. A chopped up orchestral sample and rattling 808s set the stage for this all-star remix, and yet another hit on Misdemeanor’s resume.
18. Missy Elliott featuring Da Brat, “Sock It 2 Me” (1997)
Yeah, yeah The Fugees already had sampled The Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come” one year prior, but that didn’t stop Timbo from borrowing from it as well. Somehow, he made those iconic horns even more threatening.
17. Nas featuring Aaliyah and Timbaland, “You Won’t See Me Tonight” (1999)
Yet another underrated gem, Timbo’s heavy bass and feisty strings perfectly compliment the song’s storyline, as Nas and Aaliyah argue about their lack of quality time.
16. Memphis Bleek featuring Jay Z, Twista and Missy Elliott, “Is That Your Chick” (2000)
Oh boy, THIS song. The rumbling bass, murky production and double-timed boasts from Twista, Bleek and Jay sounded more like a declaration of war than the typical turn-of-millennium radio track. That’s because it was – Jay all but announced to the world that he was sleeping with Nas’ baby’s mom, which would spark a rap battle for the ages.
15. Justin Timberlake, “Sexyback” (2006)
Before every producer in tight jeans beat EDM over our heads, it was Timbaland who triggered the mainstream movement. This tracked married modern R&B with electronica, essentially rewriting the playbook for pop music for the next decade. We know that the horse has been beaten to death by 2016, but in 2006, this was a massive game-changer.
14. Total featuring Missy Elliott, “Trippin'” (1998)
Total’s abbreviated career is packed with memorable singles, and this track – featuring schizophrenic synths that are all over the map – might be at the top of the heap. This one spawned about 400 remixes in the late 90s – everyone wanted a piece of this beat.
13. Jay Z, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” (2003)
By the early ’00s, Timbaland wisely began branching out from his “signature” sound of heavy drums and spacey synths. But you can’t go wrong with the classics, and this single revisited the patterns that made Timbo the greatest in the game.
12. Missy Elliott, “Work It” (2002)
Missy’s 2002 album Under Construction, a love letter to the early days of hip-hop, is arguably her best work. The lead single, which harkens back to the days of Run DMC, is the best representation of that album’s sound, a blend of old-school sensibilities with futuristic overtones.
11. Aaliyah featuring Timbaland, “We Need a Resolution” (2001)
Timbaland’s beats often seem overwhelming – his tracks are packed to the brim with melodies on top of melodies. But sometimes, all it takes is one small sample to make a hit. Here, Tim just loops a few seconds of John Ottman’s “Tricks of the Trade” endlessly, creating yet another etherial playground for Aaliyah.
10. Petey Pablo, “Raise Up” (2001)
Of course, Petey himself gets most of the credit for the unbridled frenzy “Raise Up” creates the second it hits your eardrums. But don’t discount Timbaland’s production, which is energetic yet subtle enough not to upstage Petey’s rampage. It’s the perfect example of artist and producer working in tandem to create a memorable track.
9. Justin Timberlake, “Cry Me A River” (2002)
Any track that incorporates a Gregorian chant will get my undying love. Rain, spooky keys, haunting moans – the sorrowful “Cry Me A River” was a symphony of misery. Heartbreak never sounded so good.
8. Bubba Sparxxx, “Ugly” (2001)
In the early ’00s, Indian melodies became the backbone of many of Tim’s hits. Bubba’s time in the spotlight was disappointingly brief, but his charisma was a perfect match for the Eastern feel of this track.
7. Jay Z featuring UGK, “Big Pimpin'” (2000)
Once again, Timbaland’s love for Indian tunes ring out here, with that ever-present flute becoming one of rap’s most well-known melodies. “Big Pimpin'” was much more important to the grand scheme of hip-hop than most people realize – it gave Jay his first mainstream in years, cementing him as rap’s commercial kingpin, and also was UGK’s springboard into national notoriety.
6. Missy Elliott, “Get UR Freak On” (2001)
This is nearly everyone’s favorite Missy song, and it’s not hard to understand why. Tim once again repurposed bhangra for hip-hop ears, taking addictive percussions and paring them with more familiar rap elements. Nearly two decades later, there are few tracks that have landed with this kind of lasting impact.
5. Ginuwine, “Pony” (1996)
Just admit it – this is one weird track. The beat sounds like a croaking cartoon bullfrog floating out in the cosmos while Ginuwine brags about his anatomy in the corniest way imaginable. Yet, despite its absurdity, it WORKS. “Pony” is the quintessential stripper jam, and its bizarreness just makes it that much more memorable.
4. Missy Elliott, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” (1997)
“The Rain” is my pick for greatest hip-hop video of all time, and Timbaland’s production is just as eccentric as Missy’s iconic visuals. Rolling thunder, gurgling effects, weird cricket chirps and Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” are tossed into Tim’s sonic blender, resulting in one of hip-hop’s most addictive creations. It’s a beat only Timbaland could have effectively pulled off.
3. Aaliyah, “One in a Million” (1996)
It seems unfathomable now, but when Timbaland and Missy sat down with Aaliyah to work on her second album, they were a relatively untested duo (outside of a few Jodeci projects). The title track from Aaliyah’s album wound up becoming one of Tim’s greatest triumphs. The sultry, layered beat (accented with random cicada chirps) is romantic and mystifying, which only added to Aaliyah’s allure.
2. Jay Z featuring Amil and Jaz-O, “N**** What, N**** Who (Originator ’99)” (1998)
Serving as a sorta-sequel to Jaz-O’s “The Originators,” Tim ditched the jazzy feel of the original and made a sharp left, instead embracing a more intergalactic feel. Timbo’s hyperactive hi hats simply fuel Jay’s double-time flow, creating a track that was both a lyric showcase, yet infectious enough for radio play.
1. Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody?” (1998)
There is no way this beat should have worked. A beat that starts and stops intermittently, frantic guitar picks, random beatboxing, A RANDOM BABY COOING – yet somehow, this sonic hodgepodge became one of the most imaginative tracks of the 90s. There’s a reason why no one – including Tim himself – has been able to recreate this one. It’s a perfect storm of creativity that hasn’t been topped.
What are you favorite Timbaland creations? Let us know below.