In the Key of Me: Timbaland’s guests tend to serve the maestro’s ego.

Timbaland has always seemed to be an affable fellow. He plays nice with others, successfully working with artists as diverse as Justin Timberlake, Whitney Houston, Beck, and Björk. He’s remained loyal to fellow Norfolk/Virginia Beach natives like Pharrell Williams, Magoo, and Missy Elliott. And his songs are distinguished by geek-friendly sci-fi sound effects and TV themes from Knight Rider and Spider-Man. His sound—a soulful mélange of jungle, bhangra, and Southern bass—is arguably the most recognizable and distinctive in all of hip-hop and R&B, and he’s usually let his production work speak for him. So it’s a bit startling to hear the aggressively violent persona he reveals on Timbaland Presents: Shock Value. The opener, “Oh Timbaland,” is hardly out of the gates before he preemptively warns all potential haters, “If I want you dead and gone, I can make that happen because, nigga, my bread is long”—tough talk that’s incongruous with the tune’s happy hand claps and mournful Nina Simone sample. Perhaps Timbo’s haughty attitude can be attributed to the trio of No. 1 singles he produced in 2006: Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” and “Say It Right” and Timberlake’s ubiquitous “SexyBack.” Timbaland brings the pair together for “Give It to Me,” and at first listen the jam seems as catchy, fluffy, and sex-obsessed as his previous successes. But his vocal contribution is an extended rant against rival producer Scott Storch, who hardly seems worth the trouble. He boasts, “I get a half a mil for my beats/You get a couple grand” and then later, “I’m a real producer/And you just a piano man.” Timbaland’s petty contentiousness on the song is contagious. Furtado takes on the ever-so-threatening Fergie with the opening salvo, “I’m the type of girl that’ll look you dead in the eye,” and Timberlake unwisely jousts with Prince, singing, “We missed you on the charts last week/Damn that’s right, you wasn’t there.” Fortunately, the snippy comments are probably unintelligible in a club setting, where “Give It to Me” works as a simple, hook-laden dance-pop number. But things get worse. On “Bounce,” the always-endearing Missy Elliott is uncharacteristically unimaginative, deploying an already-out-of-date reference: “Like Britney Spears, I wear no drawers.” Timbaland’s collaborations with rockers don’t fare any better. “Throw It on Me,” a herky-jerky, tuneless effort with the Hives, seems forced. (It’s memorable only for Timbaland’s line “You probably a gold digger, but I ain’t Kanye”—as if we need reminding.) “One and Only,” recorded with Fall Out Boy, features a ridiculously aggro vocal by frontman Patrick Stump: “Wipe that smile off your fucking face!” But for all that bluster, Shock Value ends with a whimper: “2 Man Show,” a pairing with Elton John, who wisely phones in his piano part. Timbaland hilariously warns John about starting too early. I don’t know if he’s seen the Elton John doc Tantrums & Tiaras or heard “The Bitch Is Back,” but that is one fight that even the quarrelsome Timbaland wouldn’t win.

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