It’s a chilly evening two days before Halloween, and inside a Manhattan recording studio hip-hop’s most inventive producer is getting his hair cut. Two hours into an all-night session with singer Ginuwine, Timbaland (born Tim Mosley) — the man behind hits like Missy ”Misdemeanor” Elliott’s ”The Rain,” Aaliyah’s ”Are You That Somebody,” and his own (with rapper Magoo) ”Up Jumps tha Boogie” — is taking a break for an interview and a trim. He’s not much interested in either. Some sample dialogue: How does a Norfolk, Va., nobody change the sound of music in just a few years? ”I don’t know, I’m curious myself.” (The barber shapes his beard with electric clippers.) ”I just feel that I changed music a lot.” How? ”I can’t describe it.” (The neckline now gets the buzz.) ”I just call it creativity.”
Timbaland has other things on his mind. The 26-year-old studio whiz — whose now-familiar sound mixes uncommonly complex beats with unusual sonic source material such as a cooing baby — will spend the next few months recording some of 1999’s most eagerly awaited R&B records, albums from Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, and Ginuwine. More pressing, though, is his own Tim’s Bio: Life From da Bassment, out Nov. 24. The first single, ”Here We Come,” is a typically infectious Timbaland production with a hook borrowed from the Spider-Man cartoon theme. Add its stunning comic-book-inspired video and the song — as well as the rest of the action-packed Tim’s Bio — promises to push him from the studio into the spotlight. He’s not entirely pleased by the prospect. After all, he’ll have to face rap detractors (”Even I say that I can’t rap. I just do it ’cause my voice sounds good on my tracks”), blatant imitators (”It’s cool, but it’s starting to get on my nerves”), and the challenge of staying innovative in a rapidly mutating pop world (”If music changes, I’ll probably change it, so I have to compete with myself”).
But ultimately Timbaland’s comfortable with the way things are going. ”I am a superstar, but I ain’t interested in being over over the top,” he says as the barber buzzes away. He pauses, as if contemplating the horror of more interviews and longer styling sessions. ”The attention is cool, but I like it how it is.”