A Casual Evening in New York

OMG, buckle up for the story of the century!  Let’s rewind: 

I’m strolling through Tower Records in NYC (I miss that place!), my musical playground, on a mission to find fresh bellydance club tracks for my SharQui workout classes.  I’m in my 20’s, lookin’ fly, and ready to conquer the world, or at least the dance floor.

As I’m perusing the World music section, I notice this guy giving me the once-over.  His name’s PJ, and he walks over to me and asks if I know anything about Arabic music.  Now, you know me, I’m all about spilling my life’s knowledge, so I proudly respond, “Yep, I’m Middle Eastern, so I’ve got the inside scoop on this stuff.”

PJ raises an eyebrow and probes, “So, what’s good in the world of Arabic music?”  I school him and answer, “Well, it depends on your vibe.  Are you into Classical, Pop, or Club?”  PJ, still intrigued, admits, “Ha, I’m a newbie to this kind of music.”  So, I lean in and drop some knowledge bombs, “Here’s the deal, if there’s a belly dancer on the CD cover, it’s probably traditional. If you spot a singer rocking 80’s fashion and beyond, it’s most likely pop.  But if it’s got snazzy graphics and screams ‘non-stop mix,’ that’s the club stuff.”

Then he hits me with, “So, what do you like?”  And I’m thinking, “Dude, I just want to shop for some music in peace!”  But I entertain him, “Personally, I’m all about that Club Arabic vibe.  It’s got that progressive sound, not your grandma’s music, you know?”  I return to my CD shuffling, and PJ heads over to the next bin and surf’s music.

But wait, it gets wilder!  I feel a tap on my shoulder, and it’s PJ again, bringing along a friend this time.  His friend starts talking and I can’t understand a friggin ‘word he’s saying.  I unleash my New York sass, “Dude, why are you mumbling?  Speak up!”  They exchange giggles, and by this time I’m officially fed up with them wasting my time!  That’s when PJ drops the bomb, “Hey, do you know who this is?”  I give them my best ‘clueless’ look and shrug, “Nope, no idea.” (Honestly, they looked like regular guys off the street to me.)

PJ lowers his voice to a whisper, “This is Timberland, the music producer. Heard of him?”  I casually reply, “Nah, doesn’t ring a bell.”  They exchange knowing smirks.

Now, here’s the kicker!  Mr. Mumbler (Timbaland) calls over the sales associate and goes, “Yo, I’ll take that entire wall of CDs.”  The associate goes wide-eyed with a ‘Holy sh*t, I know who you are!’ expression and rushes to collect the CDs one by one.  I’m standing there totally shook, thinking, “I thought I’d seen it all, but clearly, I haven’t!”

PJ snaps me out of my jaw-drop and asks, “So, know any Middle Eastern bands?”  Skeptically, I respond, “Yeah, sure.”  Next thing I know, they invite me to bring musicians to their New York studio and hand me the address. I’m thinking, “Okay, why the heck not?  It’s New York, and I need to seize every opportunity!”

I race back to my boyfriend’s (now hubby) place and tell him about meeting Mr. Mumbly Timbaland, whom I assumed was a weirdo and speaks gibberish.  Well, turns out, everyone and their friggin grandma knew who he was, except for me! (I was clearly living under a rock!)  My boyfriend says, “Go and get some musicians together, but I’m coming with you!  These people could be creeps.”

With newfound excitement, I round up a music posse letting them know that this meeting could open doors for them and trust me.  My boyfriend and I arrive at Manhattan Studios on 34th Street, ahead of the musicians.  We enter the studio suite, and lo and behold, it’s a full-blown recording studio!  I mean, like legit!  And there’s Timbaland, chilling on a couch with two hot babes on each arm, like a cliche scene from a music video.

Finally, my music posse arrives, but the Timbaland crew makes us wait, displaying some real diva behavior.  My musician friends must be thinking, “Oreet, what crazy scheme have you roped us into?”  Finally, after a 30-minute eternity, they usher us inside the recording area.  Timbaland saunters in and casually drops, “I’m hunting for fresh Arabic vibes for my next track.  Play something.”

My friends start jamming, and Timbaland grins from ear to ear.  I sense something’s up when he disappears into another room for about 10 minutes.  I wondered, “What’s he doing?”   Was he recording?  Stealing original loops?  After roughly 20 minutes, he thanks us, and we pack up.  PJ then pulls me aside and says, “We might want to work with you guys.  Let’s stay in touch.”  We exchange business cards, and just like that, it’s over.

So after this chance encounter, I started following Timbaland’s work and noticed the Middle Eastern influences in songs he produced for Aaliyah, Jay Z, Petey Pablo, NAS, Fabulous, and Foxy Brown.  And since then, I contacted PJ twice to let him know that we were available to collaborate whenever they were ready.  Did I hear from him?  Nah!  To be honest, they probably took advantage of my naivete and the fact I didn’t know who Timbaland was initially.  Could he have stolen some original loops from my music posse, or did they simply give him inspiration for his next track?  I’ll never know.  But what I do know is that New York is full of surprises!  Who knew that a trip to Tower Records could lead to rubbing shoulders with a music mogul?  

So what do you think?  Is Timbaland a musical genius, or is he a culture vulture?  You decide. (and let me know)

Timbaland Ripps Off Arabic Music  

5 Hit US Songs That Sampled Famous Arabic Tunes

Here’s to life’s surprises,


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