If you don’t know Timbaland by name, you’ve certainly heard his music. For two decades now, Timothy Mosley, who goes by Timbaland, has been producing some of music’s biggest stars, including Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Nelly Furtado, Madonna and both of Justin Timberlake’s solo albums.
speaks with one of popular music’s biggest producers about his life, his new memoir “The Emperor of Sound” and why he considers himself a musical genius.

Interview Highlights: Timbaland

What does it mean to be a producer on some of the most popular songs?
“It means to me I get to spread my joy to the world. Meaning I love music so I know how it makes me feel, so I wanted – when I produce for somebody else, I say ‘I wonder if the world gets the same feeling as I do.’ And evidently, it has worked for me because what I felt when I was doing it, they felt it too when I put it out.”
What did you listen to growing up that might have influenced your work?
“I listened to everything, but what influenced me? Just me. That’s a gift from God that I have. I just know music like Steve Jobs knows the computer and knows the vision of a small computer and know what he could do with it. I just know music and sound. It’s a God-given gift.”
“I just know music like Steve Jobs knows the computer.”
On his parents’ support
“I mean, when you see your child keep doing the same thing, you got to pay attention to that. I mean, you might not understand it, but you need to pay attention to it. And I thank God for them to allow me to keep doing what I’m doing and to go forward with my dreams. It was God’s blessing.”
Did you think you would make a living out of music?
“I wasn’t thinking about a living at the time. I just wanted to express my talent, and the living just came. I never looked at it ‘I’m going to make a lot of money,’ no.”
On the moment his mother lost her house
“I mean, we would just have a lot of faith, you know? It wasn’t about ‘Oh, I need to go work, and take care of my mom and move.’ Because you know at that time, my parents had gotten divorced. My mom was a hard worker and I didn’t look at it like I had to provide. I looked at it as I had to provide, just not her, but my whole family. So I knew that would come in time, but I was more focused on my craft.”
On the time he was shot in the neck in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia
“I was at a football game. We used to meet at football games and any beef would happen at the football game. So he had a gun, he’s putting it up, and that’s when it went off. It went in sideways, but thank God I wasn’t facing him. I was to the side.”
Did you doubt you would move on with your music career after that?
“Yeah, because my arm was paralyzed for a while, so I didn’t know – put it this way: when it happened, no negativity was brought around me. You know what I’m saying? Like ‘oh, no, he might not be able to use his arm again,’ or ‘he might not be able to do this’ or ‘he might die.’ There was all good positive influence at that time.”
On Black Lives Matter and the events that have been unfolding around the nation
“I think I am music… I feel like I’ve birthed a lot of the sound that’s out today.”
“I think all lives matter. I mean not just black. I mean all lives matter. We’re living in a society where video games are becoming reality if you want to put it that way. So it’s like, you know, it’s a future. So I can’t predict, you know, anything or what’s going on. I just think that everything that we saw in movies and TV shows, and it’s actually happening now in real life.”
Do you think you’re a musical genius?
“That one I’m not going to be modest on: yes. I think I am music. You know, anything that’s dealing with music I feel like got to go through me, because I feel like I’ve birthed a lot of the sound that’s out today. It’s like 300 – you have me, Pharrell, Dr. Dre, Swizz, Kanye – and we all are kings in our own way. And I think that we have all changed music. It’s not saying ‘I have a hot beat.’ It’s like we came in and changed the sound, and the sound how people was listening to music. That’s more than putting out a record. That’s like captivating a culture and thus the genius part about what we do.”
How would you describe the sound you brought to the world that wasn’t there before?
“What I brought to the world is music is all around you. Animals, TV sounds, remote controls, people talking, even when you sleep – it’s a sound that can be used in a song. And now I try to show the world that. Use what’s around you. Be thankful what’s around you.Look at the flowers. Go outside and listen to the air blow. It’s a sound. It calms you.”

Book Excerpt: ‘The Emperor Of Sound’

By Timbaland with Veronica Chambers
Prelude: A Catalog of Sound
Cover of "The Emperor of Sound: A Memoir" by Timbaland with Veronica Chambers.
Bob Marley once said, “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” I would paraphrase that to say, “Some people just hear noise, but for me the world is a catalog of sound.” Rain, in particular, has been a constant for me. I was three years old when Ann Peebles recorded her classic R & B hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” But that song has always been a cornerstone for me. As the story goes, it was 1973 and a stormy day in Memphis. Ann, who was then twenty-six, was on her way to a concert with her producing partner Don Bryant. Ann spat out, “I can’t stand the rain,” and Bryant, who was at the time a staff writer at Hi Records, knew immediately that the simple words—uttered with such force and frustration—could be a powerful metaphor about love gone wrong. The two musicians skipped the concert and went back to the studio to work on the song. They were joined there by a DJ named Bernie Miller and by midnight, the trio had written what they felt in their bones to be a hit song:
I can’t stand the rain against my window
Bringing back sweet memories
I can’t stand the rain against my window ’
Cause he ain’t here with me
Hey, window pane, tell me, do you remember
How sweet it used to be?
When we were together
Everything was so grand
Now that we’ve parted
There’s just a one sound that I just can’t stand
I can’t stand the rain . . .