While Joey resurrects Broadway and Lance threatens to blast into space, Justin will have to be content with trying to change the face of pop music — again. (Click to see photos of Justin.)
Justin Timberlake's debut solo record, Justified (November 5), is a broad, ambitious step from the clean, blissful pop of 'NSYNC. Timberlake's vocals still soar, but there's a lot more funk in his step and a number of R&B artists influencing his sound, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Aaliyah and Missy Elliott.
"I wanted to do something new that was just completely me," he said. "I had been so personally drained from the past six months, and that made the emotion from the record much more real."
Studio hotshots the Neptunes and Timbaland split most of the production duties for the record, with Brian McKnight producing one song. Although P. Diddy and Mario Winans also collaborated with Timberlake, their contributions will not end up on the record.
The Neptunes and Timbaland's stamps are both indelible. The former's tracks are sinewy and seductive, filled with breathy spoken-word passages, propulsive pop energy and lots of melodic crooning, and the Timbaland cuts are packed with skittering beats, offbeat arrangements and a sensual dancefloor pulse.
Several guest vocalists also contributed to the sexy, eclectic vibe. As thrilled as he is about the cameos by Janet Jackson, Bubba Sparxxx and others, Timberlake stressed that they weren't coordinated to help sell records.
"All the collaborations happened in a completely organic way," he said. "I'm not a big fan of duets just for the sake of doing them. And I made sure the CD packaging didn't make it look like I was trying to cash in on somebody else's name."
The hottest collaboration on Justified is with Janet Jackson on "(And She Said) Take Me Now." The cut is easily the most sexually graphic song Timberlake has ever recorded, and Jackson's breathy vocals make the track sizzle with extra sensuality.
"I wrote the chorus from a girl's perspective," Timberlake explained, "and I just thought we should get a female on the part. Her name was the first that popped up in my head just because I love her voice. It sounds like feathers. I mean, she sounds like an angel. So I asked her, and she listened to the track and loved it. So we went in the studio, just me and her, and I produced the vocals."
Another collaboration came about by accident. Bubba Sparxxx, the first artist signed to Timbaland's Beat Club label, was hanging out in the studio with his producer when he came over to Timberlake to praise a beat in the song "Right for Me," and the two ended up jamming out.
"We were just two Southern boys vibing on each other, and it ended up being something cool," Timberlake said. "I thought, 'Man, it would be great if he was on it,' so I just asked him, and he went outside for about two hours, wrote a 16-bar rap and put it on the song. And I ended up writing a hook for a song that's probably going to end up on his next record, so we kind of did a tradeoff."
Timberlake also worked with relative unknowns on Justified, including Vanessa Marquis, who sings on "Rock Your Body" but currently has no record deal. Timberlake discovered her after hearing songs she had co-written with various producers.
"I just loved her voice," he said. "So me and Pharrell [Williams of the Neptunes] wrote a song that had an alternate girl's part that kind of talked off of the guy's part, and I thought, 'Why not give someone who's so eager an opportunity to shine?' I know you're going to hear from her, and if Pharrell doesn't sign her then he's a dummy. She's hot and she's beautiful."
The first song Timberlake recorded for Justified, "Like I Love You," wound up being the album's first single. Once again it was a collaboration, this time with alternative hip-hoppers Clipse, that gave the song a little something extra.
"There was never any question in my mind whether or not this should not be the first single," Timberlake said. "It sounded so original to me. And I kind of consider myself a new artist. This is a new beginning for me, so why call on some big-name hip-hop artist when I could get somebody that feels new so it could feel like we were chomping at the bit at the same time?"
Track list for Justified, according to Jive Records:
- "Like I Love You"
- "(Oh No) What You Got"
- "Take It From Here"
- "Cry Me a River"
- "Rock Your Body"
- "Nothin' Else"
- "Last Night"
- "Still on My Brain"
- "(And She Said) Take Me Now"
- "Right for Me"
- "Let's Take a Ride"
- "Never Again"
[This story was updated on 09.30.02 at 5:33 p.m. ET.]
— Jon Wiederhorn, with additional reporting by SuChin Pak