Listening to Timbaland sing “Baby Shark” is a singularly maddening experience. Here’s a guy with four Grammy awards, roughly 25 years worth of collaborations with everyone from Justin Timberlake to Missy Elliott to Rihanna to Madonna to Janet Jackson to Jay-Z to whoever else you can think of, and the sort of credibility only bought by chart domination, and he’s still not immune to the song. Actually, he’s fascinated by it. Timbaland is in the earworm business — think about how many times you listened to “Sexyback” or, for that matter, “Pony” — so he’s got some professional respect for Pinkfong. So he’s singing the tune. He can’t help it. I have to ask him to stop so we can talk about other stuff.
“It’s a melody,” Timbaland says unapologetically. “Kids are always humming melodies. That’s why I say I’m a big kid.”
There’s plenty of other stuff to talk about. Born Timothy Zachary Mosley, Timbaland has reshaped the music industry one catchy hook at a time. What does that mean? Essentially that Timbaland, along with his childhood friend Pharrell and Pusha-T, has been integral to an industry-wide effort to make pop music sexy, fun, and self-aware. Timbaland productions have big beats and arch lyrics and fucking dare you not to move. If Timbaland, who is a father of three, thinks of himself as a big kid, his biggest professional achievement is making millions and millions of adults react to music with unself-conscious joy.
Not a bad legacy.
Timbaland doesn’t make music for kids (though kids definitely know his music), but he is now reaching out to that audience. He’s written his first kids’ book, Nighttime Symphony, about how a cacophony of city sounds create the ultimate lullaby. The book is simple and generous. Timbaland isn’t the preachy type or the talk-down-to-kids type. He’s a guy who gets rhythm and the book has a soothing, bedtime-appropriate beat. “I took my time with this,” he says. And it shows.
Fatherly spoke to Timbaland about writing children’s books, raising musical kids, and honesty.
So what inspired you to write your first kids’ book? It’s a lovely book, and I think every parent with a young kid will appreciate the subject.
I see things in color. I was always fascinated by color books and flipping pages. I didn’t want to make things too complicated. It’s about bedtime.
Children’s books require you to stick to a specific length, have a message, and be funny without being corny. Writing a children’s book is hard!
You think so? If you have a kid inside you — I think I never grew up because I’m a geek and a music person — it’s fun. I relate to kids so much. It’s so easy to relate to them. If it has a spirit of fun, and yes it has to have a message, and it’s always been hard for me to go to sleep.
I don’t think there’s anything like being too corny with kids. It’s not possible.
Have you sent the book to JT yet?
I’m about to. I’m about to.
Raising three kids while working with the biggest names in music must have been quite the experience. What stands out for you as a highlight?
Growing up with your kids. Talking about the same subjects. I don’t sugarcoat nothing with my kids. I’m still young and I see them teaching me stuff about the future. Having a child, it’s almost like you grow together. It’s almost like that’s my friend, even though I am the father. They come to me to talk about this guy or this girl. I’m being a father but I’m befriending them.
I’m not a stuffy father. I want them to question things. They tell me what I should be doing. They tell me what is old school. You can’t beat that. They’re becoming young adults.
When you say you don’t sugarcoat things, you mean you’re blunt and candid with your kids?
I’m very honest. In today’s society, the bullying and stuff, that’s real. My kids go to private school. My daughter, sometimes girls bully her. I don’t condone violence, but I am not in school so I try to imagine myself being at school. It makes me think. I try to give them the right thing to do.
You try to do the right thing but you need to speak from a realistic point of view. I try to be as detailed as possible.
So aside from the Baby Shark anomaly, how did you teach your kids to appreciate good music?
I think that’s in the genes. It’s funny because they have amazing ears. I don’t tell them nothing. They’re teaching me.
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