A few weeks ago, this space declared Kanye West to be the greatest pop star of this generation, an assertion that we here in the MTV Newsroom are sticking to. But when that conversation came up, somebody brought up the fact that if Justin Timberlake was a little more prolific, he could certainly stake a claim to that throne. Though he has made himself a staple of the film world, has a knack for comedy and (perhaps most impressively) plays a great golf game, his output has been sparse (for a recording artist as beloved and revered as Timberlake is, it's strange to think that he has only released two solo albums). On this day in 2002, he dipped his toes into the solo world for the first time when he released his first LP Justified.
It's strange to think about now, but the idea of Timberlake embarking on a successful solo career was sort of strange eight years ago. Boy band members didn't necessarily score great victories away from their core groups, and by the fall of 2002 the pop wave that had so engrossed everybody two or three years prior was quickly drying up. But Timberlake was savvy. Rather than just record a bunch of *NSYNC tunes by himself, he brought in some of the hottest producers in hip-hop and R&B (most notably Timbaland and the Neptunes) and carved out an entirely new place for himself. Tracks like "Like I Love You" and "Rock Your Body" split the difference between futuristic pop and modern hip-hop-inflected R&B, and Justified became an instant smash. Perhaps the album's most headline-worthy song was "Cry Me a River," which everybody assumed was about Timberlake's failed relationship with Britney Spears (and after the video came out, he left no doubt).