Apr 092020

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Yesterday we heard covers of songs where Timbaland is front and center. Today we learn which of our favorite tunes were co-written and molded by Timbaland’s signature production style. Again, there are too many hits to enumerate all of the songs he was involved in here, but feel free to explore further and trace Timbaland’s fingerprint through songs from the ’90s to the present.

Timbaland has been recognized for his behind the scenes work including three years’ worth of Songwriter of the Year awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, a Producer of the Year award from the BET Hip Hop Awards, and nominations for two of the five spots for Album of the Year in 2004.

We’ll see that Timbaland was extremely influential in launching new artists onto the music scene and helping pre-established artists change course in their musical style. Tomorrow we’ll see how Pharrell Williams and Timbaland worked together to create the ultimate re-branding…

Far – Pony (Ginuwine cover)

You may know “Pony” by its distinctive opening, but did you know Timbaland is behind it as both a co-writer and the producer? His production work on Ginuwine’s first album, Ginuwine…the Bachelor, kicked off his status as a coveted producer. The “Pony” opening sound pops up in other Ginuwine songs, and you can learn more about the behind-the-scenes technical aspects of this sound here. This version of “Pony” adds a rock edge to the beat. Even though the instrumentation is harsher, the vocals remain fairly smooth, and brief moments of falsetto help balance the overall heaviness of the band’s sound.

P.S. For the record, the Ginuwine album features a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”

Robyn Adele Anderson feat. Mark Martin – Work It (Missy Elliot cover)

Timbaland produced Missy Elliott’s debut album, Supa Dupa Fly, and continued on as one of her producers for the rest of her albums. “Work It” was the first single off of her third album, Under Construction, and was Elliott’s most popular single up until that point. Timbaland co-wrote and co-produced this hit, bringing us the slang “badonkadonk” and blowing our minds when we realized what Elliot was saying after “reverse it.” This rap hit gets a jazz take in this cover. The jazz style isn’t forced, and the instrumentation is not overdone. Anderson keeps the tempo at a level where she can enunciate every line and really nail the more technical aspects of the rap. We still get ample beatboxing and other vocal percussion throughout, bridging the gap between the lighter Gatsby style and Elliot’s original spunk.

 Anna T – Rehab (Rihanna cover)

“Rehab” was born when Rihanna was with Timbaland on Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveShow tour; Timberlake helped write the song and provided vocals. It was one of three songs co-written and co-produced by Timbaland on her Good Girl Gone Bad album (along with “Sell Me Candy” and “Let Me Get That”). This album was a turning point for Rihanna and helped her claim an edgier look and sound. The vocals here do a good job of channelling Rihanna’s smoky and soulful sound, but the best part of this cover is the originality it brings to the background instrumentation. A simple, single string pluck transitions to a much fuller sound, complete with deeper bass, horns, and hints of classical strings. These two levels of sound trade off throughout the song, acting as foils to the oscillating moods in the lyrics, sad to angry and back again.

 FalsettoKid – Grown Woman (Beyoncé cover)

Part of yet another turning point, Timbaland co-produced this song for Beyoncé’s eponymous fifth album. This visual album marked a shift towards deeper themes in her songs. Despite being dropped without any warning at the very end of the year, the album still snagged the number one spot on many outlet’s top albums of the year lists. FalsettoKid is well named; the falsetto is strong in this cover. The vocal percussion pairs with the original beat to add depth and anchor the lighter main vocals. This cover is sparse, but well executed, and we still feel the power that Beyoncé exudes.

Citizen Shade and J-Harris – Pray (Sam Smith cover)

Following Sam Smith’s success with his Song of the Year, “Stay with Me” and debut Best Pop Vocal Album, In the Lonely Hour, this song was the first single off of his second album, The Thrill of It All. Timbaland co-wrote and co-produced this single, but wasn’t involved in any of the other songs on the album. Sam Smith is a hard act to follow, but this group captures the soul and emotion in this song. Both vocalists have rich voices, and the drama is kept up by the background musicians.

 The Blue Van – Maneater (Nelly Furtado cover)

Nelly Furtado was originally signed on Timbaland’s record label, Mosley Music Group. This was one of the first songs they worked on together. Timbaland co-wrote and co-produced this song, inspired by the Hall & Oates song among other ’80s influences. The rock flair of this cover captures the attitude originally delivered by Furtado, but makes the overall sound a bit more ominous (sort of “oh here she comes” if you will). The beat is maintained, mimicking a confident strut of the maneater in question, “walking with passion.”

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