Timbaland is an auteur. Without him, not only would there be no “SexyBack,” there would be no FutureSex/LoveSounds. So when Justin Timberlake boasts, “If sexy never left, then why’s everybody on my shit?” on “Give It To Me,” the first single from Timbaland’s Shock Value, one’s bound to respond, “Hmmm, maybe because of Timbo’s beats?” What artists like Timberlake (and Missy Elliott, and Brandy, and Nelly Furtado) provide Timbaland with, then, is a voice. Despite his insistence—or is it the artists’ insistence?—that he rap, hype, and otherwise irk throughout every track he produces, Timbaland is an artist that should remain behind the soundboard, a point illustrated by lyrics like, “I’m number one, you ain’t number shit!” on the all-around odious “Kill Yourself.” Timbaland possesses all the stereotypical brio of rappers and hip-hop producers: inflated ego, threats of violence and retirement, and needless rivalries with fellow MCs and knob-twirlers: “I get half-a-mil for my beats, you get a couple grand,” he says, publicly mocking former cohort Scott Storch.
Not that anyone is actually listening to Shock Value for its lyrics. (There are back-to-back references to Britney Spears—one on a track featuring Timberlake, no less.) But even Timbaland the producer is capable of stumbling. The use of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” (its titular lyric spliced to sound like “Oh, Timbaland, where you gonna run to?”) on the album’s chest-thumping opening track, “Oh Timbaland,” trivializes the song’s American spiritual origins; Simone’s estate should bar any future sampling of the song lest it become even more cliché. For a hotter, more novel treatment of a sample, see “Bounce,” which uses a hiccupping, uncredited snippet from Klein & MBO’s Italo disco track “Dirty Talk” that’s nearly unidentifiable until the final 30 seconds (just try to ignore Timberlake’s own not-so-sexy dirty talk).
When you’re an auteur, your sound is, by definition, distinct and, thus, your range is often limited. Shock Value recycles many of the same beats, melodies, and other sonic ideas that were used (better and most recently, with help from co-producer Danja) on Timberlake’s album. “Release” sounds like an early or subsequent version of “SexyBack,” “The Way I Are” features a booming, futuristic synth line similar to “My Love,” and the guitar on “Time” is almost identical to the one on “LoveStoned”—and that’s just naming a few. “Fantasy” is a blatant copycat of Ciara’s “Promise,” right down to the beats and melody—Timbaland had no involvement whatsoever, so its presence is dubious.
It goes without saying, of course, that all of these songs are expertly produced. And “Time,” featuring She Wants Revenge, and “Apologize,” featuring One Republic, allow Timbaland to work with artists and experiment in a way he’s wanted to for a long time. While these rock-leaning songs don’t exactly provoke the shock alluded to in the album’s title, Shock Value would be completely pointless without them. It’s this kind of branching out (the first test of which will be his contributions to Björk’s upcoming Volta) that is necessary if Timbaland is to maintain his relevance.