Just two months later, Timberlake is mixing down his album, putting in long hours with Williams at Windmark Recording in Virginia Beach. Out of the 20 songs Timberlake has recorded, he now must pick 13 cuts for the final track list. He seems a little more relaxed about the project now that it’s almost complete. “When I approached producers for this album, I told them not to look at this as an opportunity to just give me something hot,” Timberlake says. “I wanted something special, not just another song in their catalog.”
Judging by the material, he’s got all the ingredients he needs for an R&B classic. Although there are many hot joints, the obvious contenders are the ones produced by the Neptunes and Timbaland. However, going with all of their tracks doesn’t leave much space for other producers, some of whom (like P. Diddy) might get mad if they’re left out. But if this album’s a hit, the extra songs will be ready material for the next one.
For the moment, Timberlake’s chosen six cuts by the Neptunes, and he’ll record one more with them, “Your album is very serious brother,” Williams says as they listen to one of the tracks they’ve mixed together. “By this stage, I’m usually sick of the song, but that’s not the case this time.”
Timberlake is feeling enthusiastic about what he hears. “Man, I feel like sonically, we’re gonna push the urban and pop audience to really listen to what’s going on,” he says. The Timberland-produced second single “Cry Me a River,” dripping with emotional lyrics, is an obvious example. It’s an epic hip-hop ballad that’s sure to explode on both pop and urban radio. Timberlake co-wrote the song’s lyrics and melody: You must have me confused/With some other guy/Your bridges were burned/Now it’s your turn to cry.
“Writing is meditation for me, like an escape,” he says. Whenever inspiration hits me, I have to stop what I’m doing. But talent is given by a higher power. You have to understand that it comes through you, not from you. You’re a passageway. I feel like somebody’s sitting beside me telling me what to write.” Timberlake always puts a spiritual spin on things, but it’s never overbearing. And although he’s serious about his work, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
He’s very much a rambunctious young guy. He loves to have fun, to play practical jokes. Since Timberlake’s cell phone number is just one digit off from the delivery line of a leading pizza chain, people call him with orders all the time. “I’ll go as far as saying they’re in the computer once they give me their address,” he says with a laugh. And if you’re ever in a movie theater and get hit in the head with yellow and green Sour Patch Kids candies, don’t be surprised if it’s Timberlake. “I only like the red ones.”
Many superstars have a bit of knucklehead in them. A little goofiness always helps to balance out the frenzied demands of the music industry. “I’ve kept my two feet on the ground and like really simple things,” says Timberlake. “I like to play gold [his handicap is 10], shoot ball, and drive my car really fast with the windows down. I like rolling out of bed, stretching, and taking a sip of coffee- it perks you up a little.”
Many people can identify with such simple pleasures, but whether they’ll show such enthusiasm for Timberlake’s music is another story. But Jeff Z, assistant program director/ music director at New York’s WKTU-FM, believes Timberlake is making a brilliant career move. “Kids today are interested in buying the Ashantis and Ja Rules,” he says. Christina Aguilera sold 330,000 copies of her R&B album in the first week.”
Timberlake’s fears were finally put to rest when he saw that his album sold a whopping 440,000 copies right out of the gate. And he’s hopeful that fans understand that the path he’s chosen is a natural extension of his own inner growth. “Evolution as an artist is one thing,” he says, “but evolution as a person is a whole other ball game.” Ultimately, he’s set out to achieve both. The listening public embraced Timberlake, the boy-band phenom. Now, they’ve made Timberlake, the full-grown soul man, a justifiable success.