As I would say were I more consciously hip, what's with the hating on Timbaland? That might sound like a ludicrous argument initially - haven't even Q and Mojo wised up to his genius as a producer? - but as an artist-in-himself he's not as highly praised as he should be. The idea that he's only skilled as a brilliant but faceless engineer of others is one of the great myths of our time, and Indecent Proposal proves that right from the perculating, irresistible intro.
Though the album isn't greatly innovative in itself, it's the perfect conclusion to all the threads running through Tim's work over the last few years - the street anthems ("Drop", "Serious") are so perfectly conceived, instantly effective, even the cliches sounding cleverer and wordier than usual because Tim and Magoo have always been among the cleverest people in hip-hop, never over-intellectual but always sharp and way ahead of the game - I'm sure lesser talents have already started copying the dance breakdown towards the end of "Drop", a highpoint of excited elastic funk. There's nothing you can really dislike here, not even the rather cheesy and badly-accented rollcall of "All Y'All". "It's Your Night" plays it cool like "I Got 5 On It" did back in the day, and has an intriguingly English-folkish fade, and "Roll Out" (not the Ludacris song, of course - you can't remotely imagine Tim and Magoo doing anything so brash and ultra-populist, they'd instinctively demand a deeper texture). Tweet is close to her best on "Love Me", which takes the modern slow jam to new heights of seamlessness (that's a compliment, by the way). "Considerate Brotha" funks along in 70s vein unspectacularly but very effectively (it features Ludacris, but he's nowhere near his best - he is the Daily Sport, or at the very least the Daily Star, of hip-hop and needs a more unsubtle production - the chuntering cartoonish tabloid sound of "Rollout (My Business)" suits him perfectly), and "Beat Club" builds up towards the climax of Indecent Proposal with a return to the album's abiding sense of menace and uncertainty.
But the key to this record lies in its modern psychedelic trilogy - "Indian Carpet", "People Like Myself" and "I Am Music", all featuring Static of Playa, with the last also featuring what was, tragically, one of the last recordings by Aaliyah. "Indian Carpet" is an almost unponderably strange record - the raps are near-deranged but still frighteningly lucid, and remarkably other, clearly determined to hold onto its cohesion and mission even as the drug-haze and resultant paranoia takes hold. There is a strong feel of menace and threat, almost saying "this is taking over, we are taking over", as though the whole of urban America is about to be submerged. A new anti-technology, anti-modernist paranoia? I wouldn't rule it out.
"People Like Myself" is beyond even that, though - lyrically a statement of communality and solidarity, its arrangement is the most remarkable thing, a sort of reinvented sea shanty driven by a constantly-recurring flute line, with the crackle of bones behind it (they are ancient bones as well, eighty-year-old ones - the whole song sounds disarmingly ancient when set against the bounding self-confidence of the words). When I first heard "People Like Myself" the first comparison to spin into my mind was, improbably, Steeleye Span - I think higher than that now (I suspect they've learned lessons from Countryman - http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/skitz.htm - and probably also from Wu-Tang at their more open and less claustrophobic) but still the ancientness of it all is what stands out.
The conclusive "I Am Music" is simply too gorgeous for words, an ultramodern lullaby on its surface, but with an arrangement edging into purest psychedelia into the truest sense of the word, simultaneously blissed out and nervous, relaxed and unsettled, elated and uneasy. Pushing the better elements of the late 1960s into a hymnal, eloquent statement, it is a moment of emotional perfection and perhaps stands up above all else as Aaliyah's final monument.
The "Indian Carpet" / "People Like Myself" / "I Am Music" trilogy tears down barriers and opens whole new horizons for what some still laughingly choose to call "urban music" (spit) - as with Brandy (http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/brandy.htm), there's the risk that the whole thing could go out of control if taken much further, and we'll have our generation's equivalent to the lumbering great excesses of prog rock. But it's a tribute to the brilliance of both albums that I genuinely think that's a risk worth taking.
Robin Carmody, 27th July 2002