Working in Timbaland's enormous shadow isn't for everyone. Just ask Scott Storch.
But then again, not everyone is as prodigious as Timbaland's current production co-pilot, Nate "Danjahandz" Hills.
The low-profile Danja has quickly amassed an impressive résumé, lending his talents to works by Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado and co-producing Timbaland's latest album, Timbaland Presents Shock Value (see "Timbaland Still In Shock Over Jay-Z, Madonna, Elton Collaborations"). That's all without attracting the type of attention lesser producers get after their first hit — apart from showing up in the dis track Storch aimed at Timbaland, that is (see " 'I Had To Speak Up': Scott Storch Responds To Timbaland's Jabs").
But now, on his own, he's laced what are arguably the hottest rap and R&B tracks out at the moment in DJ Khaled's all-star collabo "We Takin'
Over" and Trey Songz's "Wonder Woman."
"I think I got all the success first, before stating my presence,"
Danja recently explained to MTV News over the phone from London.
"Before anyone really knew who I was I already had four #1 hits [Timberlake's "SexyBack" and "My Love," and Furtado's "Promiscuous" and "Say It Right"] and two Grammy Awards. So now I kind of got to work backwards."
With that MO in mind — and, conveniently, while Timbaland has been out promoting Shock Value — Danja has finally been able to make some serious noise of his own.
He's been spreading his "ringtone" sound, which he describes as the way he tests his melodies to make sure they're catchy right away.
Danja, however, is quick to note that his star turn isn't coming by way of Timbaland's scraps. He explained that in light of the duo's recent successes, both of their phones have been ringing nonstop, but that Khaled specifically sought out Danja's services, as did Trey Songz's camp.
"Me and Tim got a lot of the same phone calls once all of these hits started hitting," Danja said. "We'll call each other and be like, 'You trying to do this?' So we'll just do it together. Of course me and Tim are partners, and while he's on the road, I kind of just been holding down the studio. We're teaming back up for Madonna. [And] we teamed up for Duran Duran. We did a 50 Cent [track] together. We did a T.I. joint together. So we were kind of back and forth. But he doesn't call me and hand me work that he doesn't want to do. That ain't our relationship. I think we both do things that are inspiring for the both of us. If the energy ain't right for him, it ain't right for me. That's how we work."
But the pairing of these two Virginia natives almost didn't work out.
Danja was introduced to Timbaland in 2001 after a music symposium in their home state. Afterward, the young producer was able to land a meeting with Timbaland that very night through a mutual friend, and Danja played beats for him.
According to Danja, Tim was impressed with what he heard, but negotiations between the two led Danja to decline an invitation to meet Timbaland in Los Angeles.
Two years later, Danja was able to score another sit-down with Timbaland through the same friend. This time, Timbaland did most of the talking and offered the younger producer advice.
"He was just kind of explaining the road he wanted me to take," Danja said. "At that particular time, he said he was ready to share a lot of his knowledge and everything going into the future."
By December 2003, Danja had relocated to Miami to work with Timbaland. Ever since then, they've amassed a number a hits for big names like Jay-Z, the Game and Diddy.
It wasn't until recently, though, that an experience actually made Danja put into perspective how far he'd come since first meeting Timbaland.
"I just had that moment recently in the shower," he said. "After sessions are over I'm kind of focused on what I'm doing. But for some reason a lot of things were hitting me at once. I felt grateful for being here. I went straight from Madonna to Duran Duran [in one day].
So I had to sit back, understand and realize where I am."