Timbaland didn’t just produce two No. 1 albums and perhaps the best single of 2006 – he made it look easy. Arguably last year’s most successful and prolific producer, he’s established himself as a genuine auteur, transcending genre classifications while retaining his Midas touch.

Among his highlights last year, Timbaland produced almost all of Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds and Nelly Furtado’s Loose. He has a singular ability to convincingly reinvent artists, from crowning the former boy-band member as the King of Pop to transforming Furtado from a winsome folk singer to a promiscuous sexpot.

When Justin Timberlake described his first single as “Bowie and David Byrne covering James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine,’ ” it was hard not to anticipate a crash-and-burn like fellow ‘N Sync member JC Chasez. Yet “SexyBack” accomplished all that it set out to do, at once stupefying and mesmerizing. Timbo even made us accept Justin’s startlingly prurient boasts of “bringing sexy back” without dwelling on their asininity, an achievement in and of itself. “My Love,” the latter half of the Timberlake/Timbaland one-two punch, was the icing on the cake, a pop masterpiece reinforcing Justin’s regality.

Meanwhile, Loose might as well serve as a blueprint for artistic rebirth. Cynics predictably label Furtado a sell-out, but Timbaland makes the transformation seem organic, as if the mainstream arena were a natural progression. In “Promiscuous,” Furtado sounds entirely comfortable over Tim’s flute loops and rapturous synths, surprisingly believable with her talk of casual sex. I can’t recall a producer that has so impressively brought out the best in his artists since Dr. Dre or Rick Rubin.

What’s surprising is that Timbaland never really changed his method of production. His idiosyncratic staples – thrilling, ebb-and-flow synthesizers, stuttering bass-heavy beats and his signature low mumbling – are still essential elements, yet his tracks now gamble with a shocking unconventionality foreign to mainstream radio. His ability to blend familiarity with avant-garde experimentation is a talent few can emulate.

And now in 2007, Timbo is sure to have another eventful year, soon set to release his second solo album, titled Timbaland Presents Shock Value, with a smorgasbord of guest artists including Dr. Dre, Bjork, Lil Wayne and Elton John. The first single, “Give It To Me,” featuring (who else?) Furtado and Timberlake, already finds Timbaland venturing into more experimental territory with minimalist synth stabs laid over tribal bongos. He even raps, bragging “I’m respected from Californ-i-a way down to Japan / I’m a real producer and you just a piano man.”

Self-aggrandizement aside, Timbaland has nothing to prove – he’s already cemented his status as the most entertaining and stimulating producer of 2006, if not the decade thus far.

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