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No Damn Cliff

Timbaland is back to rule the radio. God, says the producer behind Jay Z’s and Justin Timberlake’s latest, “knows when you deserve something.”

The weather keeps changing. Five minutes ago, the sky above Key Biscayne was clear blue, the palm trees were swaying in time with the music, and the sun was shining like it been hired for the occasion. Which, given the occasion, didn’t seem entirely implausible. But then, just like that, the air went from sultry to heavy. The wind was whipping through the palm fronds and the hair of the girls dancing on the beach. When the director of the music video—a man named X—looked up, there they were: a gang of clouds, rolling up on the scene like so much bad news. “Back!” someone yelled to the group of workmen wheeling a giant floodlight across the sand, who reversed course just as fat raindrops began to fall, sending the extras in their bikinis, the label people with their iPhones, and the stylist in leather shorts skittering toward shelter.

Only Timbaland, the video’s star, remains unfazed. Leaning against a royal palm, clad in a nautically themed sweatshirt, a massive gold chain featuring the head of Jesus dangling from his neck, he continues lip-synching the chorus of “Been It,” which will appear on his next album: “For your information, baby,” the song, an upbeat, heavily Auto-Tuned number that calls to mind early Snoop Dogg, goes, “I’m-a make sure and tell you ’bout these hoes.” It was written with Pharrell Williams, a friend of Timbaland’s from high school who is, like him, a world-famous producer and performer of cheerfully vulgar pop music. Pharrell Williams is expected later this afternoon to film a scene for the video, which will take place on a yacht, if—the director looks at the sky—the weather improves. Right now, the water is gray and choppy. A gust of wind blows, and Jesus, bouncing around on Timbaland’s sweatshirt, looks momentarily like He is clamoring for a life preserver. “Hoes,” continues Timbaland, who seems intent on fulfilling the song’s promise no matter what. “So many hoes.”

Then, as swiftly as they arrived, the clouds pass. The sun reemerges, along with the label people, the fashion guy, and the video girls, who are shaking water out of their hair like What was that?

“Miami,” someone shrugs.

So many hoes,” Timbaland mouths. He adds a little eyebrow raise this time.

As a longtime denizen of both a tempestuous state and industry, Timbaland—real name: Timothy Mosley—knows how quickly the atmosphere can change. Five years ago, he was at the top of his game. The biggest names in the music business were clamoring for his production skills: Madonna, Beyoncé, Björk, M.I.A., Kanye West, Duran Duran, Jay Z. Everything he touched turned to platinum. Then, the clouds rolled in. The industry changed, tastes changed. “Every year changes, every generation,” he’d said the night before, sitting in the recording studio in Miami’s Setai hotel, surrounded by equipment that will, like all things, one day be outmoded. The inevitability of this doesn’t make it any less surprising when it happens, especially to a person. “I feel like I was getting whacked,” Mosley says. “The music of today, it’s not like the music I’m making. And, um. It just …”

He trails off. A bit of disbelief still lingering in his eyes, which are, like everything else about Mosley, big and round. For a while, he was very, very buff, but even with massive biceps, he’s one of those men who just can’t help but look like a large baby. But solid. Established, he thought. Which is why he was surprised when the winds of change swept in and blew him off the charts. “It was humbling,” he says.

For a while, he disappeared. There were rumors of drugs, financial insolvency, and depression. Then, this year, he was back, doing his thing on Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience (Parts 1 and 2), like his same old self. But not quite. “This is New Tim,” he says, laying a (big, round) hand on his chest. “I done some changing,” he says. “I am much more in touch with me.”

To delineate the beginning of this new era, Mosley changed the name of his upcoming solo album so that it was no longer a continuation of his Shock Value series but the stand-alone Textbook Timbo. Like his previous albums, it features appearances from usual suspects like Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell, and some newer talent like Drake, and—well, that’s sort of it, really. “They have no stars in this generation,” Mosley says. “They have these D.J.’s, techno-whatever, that’s not music. That just goes to show you that drugs is that popular.” He laughs, then stops himself. That was kind of an Old Tim thing to say. “I don’t want to feel like I’m dissing people. Because guess what, they found a way to make a living for theyself. So who am I to dis the next man who know how to make a living for theyself?”

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