Soundtrack of my life: Timbaland

Much like his idol, Prince, the R&B producer's sound is unique. Not that he can take sole credit for it. In fact, he tells Will Hodgkinson, he owes it all to God - and Rod Stewart.

The song that started it all:

I Wanna Be Your Lover, Prince (1979)

I was 14 or 15, living in Norfolk, Virginia, and this came out of the blue, proving to be one of the most innovative songs ever released. The whole album [Prince] is great - 'Sexy Dancer' is an amazing song - and I had never heard anything like it. It was the record that got me interested in music in the first place. To this day, I don't really know how he created this unique sound, and that's why it's so dope. He's in his own world and nobody else can get there, although I've tried - I've been trying to duplicate some of Prince's ideas for years, like his drum snares. But it always comes out sounding different.

When I became a producer

Super Freak, Rick James (1981)

Rick James was an inspiration for me, in the sense that I could see how I might be able to make music myself from hearing 'Super Freak'. I never had any plans to become a producer when I was a kid. I wanted to be a DJ, like most other kids at the time. Then my mum bought me a Casio keyboard and I started to sample sounds that I liked. Missy [Elliott, with whom Timbaland has been friends since childhood] liked what I was doing and suggested we work on some tunes together. It all started from there, with 'Super Freak' in my head as the kind of tune I'd like to create.

When I made my latest discovery

The Way I Are, Timbaland Featuring Keri Hilson (2007)

I like everything that I do. I don't repeat myself and I don't look back because everything is hard work and the only way forward is to continue to be creative. The best thing about my job is discovering talented people to work with, and Keri Hilson is my best discovery in years. She's part of the current scene in Atlanta, Georgia, she's been writing songs since she was 12 and she's all over the new album. We're going to be hearing a lot more from her. Everyone wants to work with the big new producer or the hot new singer. The key is to find them before they're hot.

When I established my trademark sound

Another One Bites The Dust, Queen (1980)

It's just the bassline to this song that makes it - I thought it was incredible. That's when I realised that my job as a producer isn't just to shape songs, it's to come up with sounds. I'm associated with R&B but on the new album I've worked with everyone from the Hives to [Anglo-Indian singer] Amar to my new rock group OneRepublic, because I don't like to think in terms of categories but in terms of pure sound. 'Another One Bites the Dust' has one of the most innovative and powerful sounds of all time. Which is exactly the kind of thing that inspires me as a producer, not the image of the artist.

When God helped me

Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, Rod Stewart (1978)

It's the top melody line that's so great about this song, but all of these songs are a reminder that everything we do is a gift from God. I've had a down period for the past two years - it's been the worst time of my life - but now I'm getting a lot of public attention and it feels great. The king has reclaimed his throne. But I'm not egotistical. All I'm doing is working hard, and whether that work connects or not is all down to God. God helped me through the hard times and now he's helping me deal with the good times, too. You don't question where the music comes from, because it all comes from God.

Strange and possibly true

1. Timbaland, aka Timothy Z Mosley, has produced everyone from Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg to Bjork.

2. He received his big break after working on One in a Million, Aaliyah's second album, which sold more than 11 million copies. 'She was like blood,' said Timbaland on her death in 2001. 'I lost a brilliant person.'

3. Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes and Timbaland were once in a high school band called Surrounded by Idiots.

4. Timbaland's favourite producer is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.

5. At the 2006 Teen Choice Awards, Timbaland duetted with Nelly Furtado on 'Promiscuous', a track he produced. After finishing, he lectured the young audience on the dangers of promiscuity.

· 'The Way I Are' from Timbaland Presents Shock Value is out on 23 July

Listen to this playlist on Spotify


Will Hodgkinson

The GuardianTramp

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