Four major US R&B releases show the once-thriving scene to be in a creative trough
There have been some revelatory moments in home entertainment these past few years. Jim Carrey on the penultimate episode of The Larry Sanders Show. Chris Cunningham’s videos for Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” and “Windowlicker”. The Avalanches’ “Since I Left You” and The Flaming Lips’ “Race For The Prize”. Way up there is “Try Again”, the 2000 single by the late Aaliyah, a record so striking in its construction and arrangement it sounded as though it had been assembled by an alien race of super-advanced dance scientists.
Turns out it was actually a producer from Virginia Beach called Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley. Timbaland had been cutting groundbreaking records before the acid squelch of “Try Again”, notably with Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Aaliyah herself, but it’s really been since the turn of the decade that his outlandish trademarks?the stuttering, bass-heavy bounce-beats, high-register synth-bursts and pizzicato strings?have become de rigueur, only fellow Virginia Beach natives The Neptunes rivalling him for sheer ubiquity in the world of hip hop and R&B.
It’s either a sign of his brilliance or of the paucity of rival talent that Timbaland was invited to lend his skills to all four of the above key releases. It’s a measure of the extent to which his radical ideas have been absorbed into the mainstream that little of his current output has that crucial shock-of-the-new. “Hold On”, a track from his third album with rapper Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff, features the plaint, “I’ve seen the world become a product of a revolution that we begun.” True, Timbaland is suffering as much from a dearth of inspiration as he is from the rest of the R&B fraternity mimicking his inventions. But this is a tiresome display of stop-start rhythms and sonic tricks hardly enlivened by the mundane boasts of Magoo. “We tapped into the old school,” Mosley announces on the press release, a bizarre claim from such a forward-looking producer, but he’s right, it does all sound a bit 1995.
This Is Not A Test, the fifth LP from Missy Elliott, sees Timbaland once again at the controls. Talk about the law of diminishing returns. Her first team-up with Mosley, 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly, had a seismic impact on the urban scene. As recently as her third, 2001’s Miss E…So Addictive, she hit a mid-career peak with a dazzling pr