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LEBANON: Hip-hop heavyweight Timbaland latest performer to take on the house music stronghold

July 17, 2010 |  9:27 am

TIM 1Yet another wildly commercial R&B giant descended onto Beirut.

This time, Timbaland, the Grammy Award-winning record producer, singer-songwriter and rapper, performed for a crowd at a yacht-studded port, La Marina Dbyaeh, not long ago. 

Timbaland is one of many popular R&B/hip-hop artists who recently performed in Lebanon. The tiny but spirited nation is becoming flush with American stars despite its predilection for European house music. 

In August 2009, Akon and Snoop Dogg performed separately in Beirut. Then Sean Paul, Missy Elliott and Pitbull teamed up in December 2009. Gorillaz will perform this month as part of the Byblos International Festival. 

Timbaland, born Timothy Zachery Mosley, sang more than rapped, an increasingly popular style among artists despite criticism by some in the industry. Though his performance was welcomed by concertgoers as a refreshing alternative to the dominance of techno music, it was saturated with pauses and Timbaland dancing solo.

These pop forms of hip-hop are light on lyrics and heavy on supporting vocals from back-up singers. So much of the show was Timbaland and the audience listening to a recorded track of Justin Timberlake singing in the background.

With a huge stage and pre-recorded lyrics by absent vocalists, the 38-year-old had to sex things up. He eventually invited a group of eager female fans on the stage so that this sultry menagerie could dance to his rhymes and the looping of live and recorded lyrics as a light rain cooled the adoring audience.


But the performance itself noticeably disappointed some concertgoers as much of it was pre-recorded. Even more frustrating were the prices. Ticketing in Beirut is highly stratified and segregated, especially when it comes to boozing and bashes. 

Prices ranged from $40 to a $150 "prestige" package that included two drinks. Holders of ordinary tickets were actually kept behind a metal gate, 200 yards from the stage. Eventually, because the front section in front of Timbaland was half empty, security allowed all the concertgoers to mingle at last. 

"Who's been watching the World Cup?" Timbaland asked 30 minutes into his set as cheers erupted. The instrumentals to Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit" chimed in as Timbaland ad-libbed lyrics, "We love, we love, we love Beirut," and shook his head like a heavy metal singer. The crowd went wild.

The after-party was unofficially at White, a posh, open-air nightclub in downtown Beirut. With two of his managers and three bashful American groupies, Timbaland kept to himself at a private table at the far corner of the club.

Timbaland's greatest strength is producing beats. He  has collaborated with industry heavy-hitters in pop, hip-hop and R&B as diverse as Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Katy Perry, Leona Lewis, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Miley Cyrus and Shakira.

The Norfolk, Va., native came up with Pusha T and Malice of Clipse, Pharrell of the Neptunes and Missy Elliott, all forerunners in the pop interpretation of the dirty south rap scene.

While R&B has made its way to Beirut, real hip-hop still needs to make an entrance.

-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut

Photos: Timbaland performs on stage at La Marina Dbayeh. Credit: Layal Hasrouni / For The Times