Music & Entertainment

From Pharrell Williams to Dr. Dre: 7 Influential Artists Who Inspired Timbaland

Written by MasterClass

Sep 6, 2019 • 3 min read

Since the early 1990s, Timbaland has been one of popular music’s most successful producers. He’s helmed the mixing board for Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Nelly Furtado, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé, and he’s also stretched his boundaries to work with artists like Chris Cornell, Bjork, and Brad Paisley.

As he came of age in the Virginia Beach music scene, Timbaland gradually developed a signature sound. But such a sound did not materialize overnight. Rather, it came out of a multi-year period of listening and collaborating, which produced a wide array of influences.

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7 Influential Artists Who Inspired Timbaland

Timbaland is a singular voice but he’s one to share credit, whether that’s with collaborators or the producers who paved the way for his success. A few of these producers stand out among the others:

  1. DeVante Swing. A founding member of Jodeci, the 1990s R&B star band. He is credited in some circles for “discovering” Timbaland, offering him his first significant opportunity to co-compose and produce recorded music. He is also the founder of the Swing Mob, which was both a collective of artists and a boutique record label. In addition to Timbaland, the Swing Mob included Ginuwine, Missy Elliott, and many others.
  2. Teddy Riley. Considered the founder of the “new jack swing” style of music — a 1990s-era movement combining elements of hip hop, dance-pop, sampling, and R&B. Riley is known for active drum patterns that fuse the energy of dance halls with the sounds of the street. His most famous collaborators include Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown. Tim notes how Riley’s skill with snares make his tracks sound unique.
  3. Dr. Dre. Producer, rapper, label owner, and industry mogul Dr. Dre got his first major break with the Los Angeles hip hop group N.W.A. As a producer, he is most commonly associated with the West Coast G-Funk style that emphasized slower tempos, memorable instrumental lines, hard-edged lyrics, and mining the classic vaults of the 1970s. He’s played a prominent role in the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar, to name only a few. Tim especially admires the simplicity of his arrangements and the way he made every effect sound robust and “action-packed.”
  4. DJ Premier (aka Primo). Best known as half of the rap duo Gang Starr. On the strength of that group’s output, DJ Premier has become an in-demand producer, working with the likes of Anderson. Paak, Common, D’Angelo, Kanye West, Christina Aguilera, Mac Miller, and Ludacris.
  5. Pharrell Williams. A singer, songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur who rose to fame as part of the recording juggernaut The Neptunes. Pharrell later went on to a solo career that has ranged from chart-topping hits to film score collaborations with Hans Zimmer. Like Timbaland, Pharrell grew up in the Virginia Beach area in the 1970s and 80s, where both were members of the music production ensemble S.B.I. (Surrounded By Idiots). Tim cites his mastery of “bounce.” (See below for Timbaland’s definition of “bounce.”)
  6. Rodney Jerkins. Also known as Darkchild, Jerkins has produced chart-topping hits by Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, Brandy, Monica, Toni Braxton, Lady Gaga, and the Spice Girls. Jerkins was mentored by Teddy Riley and has spoken of drawing influence from a childhood immersed in gospel music.
  7. Nas. A New York City-based rapper, producer, and entrepreneur. Nas stands out on Timbaland’s list of influences for drawing most of his fame as a performer rather than a producer. He is known for creating one of the most acclaimed hip hop debuts of all time, Illmatic. It was released in the same time period that Timbaland was acquiring his first significant producer credits with Jodeci and Aaliyah.

What Does Timbaland Mean By “Bounce”?

Tim uses the term “bounce” to describe the element within a track that makes the listener want to move or dance. (Note: in audio production, the term “bounce” is also used to describe a fully produced track with all effects included.)

Pharrell Williams is a contemporary songwriter/producer whom Tim considers to have an innate skill for “bounce.”

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Want to Be a Better Musician or Producer?

Whether you’re an aspiring singer-songwriter or have dreams of changing the world with your music production skills, navigating the complex world of record labels and contracts can be daunting. No one knows this better than music producer Timbaland, who has worked with artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and Aaliyah. In Timbaland’s MasterClass on producing and beat-making, the Grammy-winning producer shares what he has learned about collaborating with vocalists, layering new tracks, and creating hooks that stick.

Want to become a better musician? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master musicians, pop stars, and DJs including Timbaland, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Armin van Buuren, and Deadmau5.

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