Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#43. 'Ain't got no car to take you on a date'

Timbaland ft. Keri Hilson and D.O.E. "The Way I Are"

So after 10+ years of being in the background of approximately 5 dozen of the best urban pop singles to ever grace the radio Tim Mosely decided it was time to give himself the starring role, and that proved to be his undoing. I have yet to hear Shock Value in its entirety, mind you, but judging by the four singles it produced and the other songs that Timbaland's attached himself to in its wake it almost seems like it's the demarcation between the time when he could do no wrong and the present where his name doesn't so much cause excitement as it does trepidation. Post-Shock Value the biggest singles to feature Tim in either a production or guest sense have been either thoroughly mediocre (Madonna's "4 Minutes") or actively deplorable (Flo Rida's "Elevator"), a great tumble for the dude who was the alpha and omega of pop music a mere 3 years ago. Add to that the fact that three of the four singles from Shock Value already felt like Tim resting on his laurels and that none of them really seemed to merit him being the primary credit and it seems like he might have let his status as the 'can-do-no-wrong' producer of the moment get to him the same way that The Neptunes did earlier in the decade.

There's no sign of that on "The Way I Are" though. Sure it doesn't feel like Tim's the star here any more or less than on his straight production credits, but the song itself is definitely on a different level than the rest of the batch from Shock Value. I can't quite figure out exactly which aspect it is that pushes it over the edge, but something makes it stand as a firm part of Tim's A-List as opposed to the tedium of the other three singles. The production is still a ways removed from the more interesting work he'd done in his early years - comparing this to "We Need a Resolution" shows just how much Tim's production style has changed since the decade began - but that doesn't bother me so much because the key elements here are all top-notch. Even without the trademark Timbalandisms, no eastern strings or off-beat drums to be found, it's the only one of the Shock Value singles that sounds like a Timbaland production vs. a cheap imitation of one. It almost feels like he took the basics of his best work from his 2006 double-shot of Nelly Furtado's Loose and Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds and condensed into a three-and-a-bit minute bluffer's guide to why everyone loved those two abums. The synths from "My Love," the 'Yeah, yeah's from "Sexyback," the lush pads from the chorus of "Promiscuous," the kinetic brashness of "Maneater"'s all crammed into "The Way I Are" and even if it's not as effective as most of those songs it's still a potent reminder of what Tim can do when his mind's set to it.

The more I listen to it though, the more I think it all comes down to Keri Hilson. There's something about the way she works in this song that makes even the most strained of her vocal passages come off as utterly sublime. Given her...spotty let's say track record as a solo artist it's hard to recall that when this first came out she sounded like the next big R 'n' B female vocalist, such an effortlessly graceful and punchy performance that matches Tim's production flawlessly. Their verbal sparring - not the right word, I know but bear with me here - during the chorus is a wonderful bit of vocal interplay and her work on the pre-chorus blows Tim's verses, not to mention D.O.E.'s bridge section, out of the water. It may go down as the only time that Hilson was ever particularly relevant and good simultaneously but if you're only gonna hit it out of the park once it's best to make it something specail, and she pulls that off here with remarkable aplomb.

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