Timbaland on addiction, depression and why he’s kept the bullet inside him
November 10, 2023. Series 7. Episode 76
Our guest for this episode is music legend Timbaland. With more Top Ten hits than Elvis, Tim is one of the world’s most successful super producers, performers and music entrepreneurs.
He’s worked with artists including Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Jay-Z and Beyoncé. And yet despite this incredible success, Tim has faced down a number of life-threatening crises.
Accidentally shot in the neck as a teenager, he still carries the remnants of the bullet that left him partially paralysed for more than a year. A reminder, he says, of the fragility of life but also his innate resilience.
Years later the legacy of that injury came back to impact Tim, causing him to become seriously addicted to the painkiller OxyContin – a habit which almost claimed his life.
Tim is passionate about the issues of addiction and depression, particularly in the music community from where he’s lost a number of close friends. He states that while he came ‘from the era of drug dealers’ making rap hits, we are now in ‘the era of drug users’.
So in this episode you’ll be in the company of someone who has experienced the true highs of show business success and all it has to offer…but who also knows about the deadly pitfalls, those crises he has somehow managed to navigate.
My thanks to Timbaland for joining us on Crisis What Crisis? I hope you enjoy the episode.
*Disclaimer – This episode includes discussion of addiction issues. Anyone struggling with addiction should seek professional help from an expert. Here’s where to find support: https://www.talktofrank.com/get-help/find-support-near-you
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Host: Andy Coulson
CWC Production Team: Louise Difford and Jane Sankey
With special thanks to Global
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Timbaland: [0:00:00] This guy brings a revolver to the job and he pulls it out and shows people- actually shows me, because there was nobody and I was clocking out. And as he was putting it up it went off, and it shot me. I couldn’t feel my arm. My arm went dead. It was dead. Even now it’ll be like, “Hey, you cannot remove this bullet” I was like, “It’s a part of me.”
Andy Coulson: [0:00:28] Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then please hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.
My guest today is a true legend of the entertainment business. A multi grammy winning producer, songwriter and performer, hailed as one of the great modern maestros with more top ten hits than Elvis and even the Beatles.
Timbaland has worked with, and I am now going to take a breath here in preparation; Missy Elliot, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Elton John, Drake, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, Coldplay, and I could go on and on. In fact, the list of people who haven’t benefited from Timbaland’s genius touch would actually be shorter, I suspect.
With a label Mosley Music Group that sold thirty million albums, fifty million singles and counting, and two other ventures, Verzuz and Beatclub, he is also an accomplished entrepreneur.
It’s been an incredible journey from Norfolk Virginia, where he was born Timothy Mosley and set up his first hip-hop group as a young teenager.
Crisis however came early to Tim’s life. At seventeen whilst working in a restaurant he was accidentally shot in the neck by a colleague and left partially paralysed for many months. The legacy of that injury in fact came back in later life to impact Tim, causing him to become seriously addicted to the painkiller OxyContin; an addiction which almost claimed his life. A remarkable self-driven recovery has seen Tim embrace a fitness and health regime that has transformed him, both in terms of creativity, productivity, and his frankly irritatingly age-defying physique.
Tim is passionate about the issues of addiction and depression, particularly in the music community where he has lost a number of very close friends. He states that while he came from the era of drug dealers making rap hits we are now in the era of drug users.
So in this episode we are in the company of someone who has experienced the true high points of showbusiness success and all it has to offer, but who can also tell us about the pitfalls. Those crises which he has so successfully managed to navigate.
Timbaland. Tim, if I may, a very warm welcome to Crisis What Crisis.
Timbaland: [0:02:52] Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Andy Coulson: [0:02:54] Warmer at your end than mine I think, as we are talking to you from Miami, I think.
Timbaland: [0:02:59] Yes, I’m in Miami.
Andy Coulson: [0:03:02] Tim, we were originally due to have this chat in person on stage at the Global Wellness Summit in Doha, but the conference was moved and logistics got in the way. It’s great though to see you today.
I’m keen later in our conversation to talk about the role music has played in your life more generally, and in your recovery from those times of crisis that I’ve touched on. But if I may, let’s start at the beginning in Virginia. Tell us a bit, please, about your upbringing, Tim. About those early years.
Timbaland: [0:03:32] Those early years, what I can remember, just a kid who loved music, really normal. I always wanted to be a- well, I didn’t always want, I was a DJ. I always loved music, always loved sound, started to DJ local house parties. And that was really the thing for me in Virginia, was like- and going to the football games, because that was the popular thing to do; that was the thing for us to get out as teenagers, that was the outlet.
But most of my time was- I think my whole childhood was on the search of music. And everywhere you know, working with- me and Pharell, we both had the same dream and passion, and we kind of like, you know, we tried to hook up with people. We prayed to God to bring us people that were alive with the mission. And I think as friends we- you know, we done a lot of normal stuff but the mission was always to do music.
Andy Coulson: [0:04:48] So Tim, it was an incredible time. So much talent coming from, you know, one area. Did you always feel that you were going to be a part of that, if you like? You know, did you have that confidence as a young man?
Timbaland: [0:05:02] To be honest no, I didn’t have no con- I didn’t have the confidence, I just had the drive and the love and the will. I didn’t know where it would take me because I didn’t see that far, you know what I’m saying? Like, it was just- for me it was just like, it was almost like a dream, just living in the dream, so I never really like dealt with the reality of like what I’m going to do or where’s my life going, you know what I’m saying? It kind of didn’t really- the only time it really hit is when- at High School, in the High School.
Andy Coulson: [0:05:36] And that collection of talented individuals, you were feeding off each other, right? I mean, you were driving each other forward.
Timbaland: [0:05:43] I believe so. When I look back at it now, I believe we was pushing each other to stay in the fight, or just you know, kids just loving music.
Andy Coulson: [0:05:53] So let’s move forward. You’re seventeen, you’re driving towards that dream, but at that stage you’re working in a Red Lobster restaurant in Norfolk, I think in Virginia?
Timbaland: [0:06:01] It was Virginia Beach, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:06:03] Tell us Tim, what happened there. Tell us about that day that I alluded to in the introduction, when you were- when you were accidentally shot.
Timbaland: [0:06:12] Yes, it was me working as a dishwasher at the time, just you know, having a job. You know, that was the thing to do as a teenager you have a job. So it was me working in the back, you know, all of us kids from High School. And the one thing we did in High School, if a fight was going to happen, if somebody had a problem with somebody, the fight- they would fight in a football game, which was weird. So it’s almost like a build-up to a show.
Andy Coulson: [0:06:53] Right.
Timbaland: [0:06:54] I’m like, “Well, you could have just gotten the fight over with when, you know, yet wait until the football game.”
And it was I guess a robbery with these guys from another school. This guy named Tyrique was going to fight one of my friends, and he brought a gun to the job, you know? And he said, “I’ve got something for your friend,” because you know, I guess that he was known for jumping and pulling out sticks and stuff like that, from what I’ve heard.
But then this guy brings a revolver to the job and he pulls it out and shows people- actually shows me, because there was nobody and I was clocking out. And as he was putting it up it went off, and it shot me, grazed my neck. If I would have turned this way it would have probably went straight in, but since I was turning this way it went this way and went in that way, and I just went like that.
Andy Coulson: [0:07:57] The bullet grazed your neck and kind of entered your-
Timbaland: [0:08:02] It went inside this way.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:04] Right, down the front.
Timbaland: [0:08:06] Yes, so it went from an angle. And I flinched, but then as I- and I walked out, and I was like I couldn’t feel my arm. My arm went dead. It was dead. It hit the nerve, just boom, just dead, you know? Thinking back now it’s just like wow, you know, it was just like boom, it was just like that. It was almost like me grabbing somebody else’s hand, that’s what it felt like.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:35] Is the memory of it still quite vivid for you?
Timbaland: [0:08:37] I had to think deep, because you’ve got to think about it. Life has a lot of journeys, you know what I’m saying? And some journeys, I’ve noticed that God will kind of like give you glimpses of certain things to remember, especially probably a person like me with a lot of passion in maybe. He knows his children, so I think for me memories- he give me some stuff that I could relive maybe for a future event, you know what I’m saying? Like, don’t get so high up on your horse, remember like, don’t take stuff for granted, more like- that’s how the memories come back for me.
But I think that that didn’t steer me away from my career of me doing- the love of music. Even with my arm being paralysed and going through physical therapy, I still found a way to DJ. I still made a way to figure out things, you know? That’s the thing when you have a lot of drive; you want to try to figure out a way to face the problem. With all my complications.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:42] Yes. This bullet that went in you, I mean, an inch either way, right? And that-
Timbaland: [0:09:48] Yes, the bullet’s still in me.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:50] The bullet is still in you?
Timbaland: [0:09:53] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:54] And it can’t be removed because there’s a concern about what it would cause.
Timbaland: [0:09:55] No, they said they could mess with the nerve. And I didn’t really go back even to get a second opinion, or go back and say even now it would be like, “Hey, can I remove this bullet?” I’m just like, it’s a part of me, you know?
Andy Coulson: [0:10:11] Really, is that your view? You don’t want to- you actually don’t want to take it out?
Timbaland: [0:10:16] Yes, because it’s part of just- I don’t know what the trial was or the tribulation to that moment but you know, it’s one of those moments where- that’s the memory. You know? So I can never disconnect. Having that bullet in me is like my arm and it’s like, it keeps reminding me why I’m blessed to be here, and what’s my purpose, that I have to serve going forward.
So there’s a part of me, so if you remove that kind of like you’re removing, you know. That’s the problem, people kind of like- some scars are meant to be there, just for a reminder, you know what I’m saying? People try to remove that baggage, sometimes some baggage is meant to be there to help you go forward.
Andy Coulson: [0:11:06] That’s quite astonishing. Tim, let’s move on with the story. As you say, despite the injury you keep DJ-ing, you keep pushing yourself forward. Your part, as I say, of this amazing kind of Virginian talent hub with people including Pharell and Missy Elliot.
What was the breakthrough moment for you? When you look back at your career can you identify those moments in time where the door just kind of- you felt the door properly opened for you?
Timbaland: [0:11:37] I don’t know if I even felt the door properly open. I felt like my music was good and people loved it, and I felt like it was good. When Missy used to tell me how great it was, I was like, “Yeah okay, whatever,” but it really was Missy Elliot who really like steered the ship. Because I was there beside her but I think her will to success was maybe stronger than mine. You know what I’m saying? I know it was stronger than mine.
She believed probably more than what I believed, and she pushed me to be great, you know? That’s what I most remember about my career, is Missy believing that I was the only guy that can give her the sound she was looking for to prevail in her life of music.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:37] Did it feel like a partnership?
Timbaland: [0:12:40] No, it was more like a bond. She stood on that- you know, look at all the albums. She didn’t stray away from nothing, you know? She stayed on the path, she knew- you know, it’s like, some people get those signs and like, “No, this is it,” and they stick to it. She was one of those people that knew that Tim was her guy to do it all for her music. “He’s the only one that gets me,” you know?
And I was like, “Once you get big, I don’t know if I’ll be that guy.” You know, I have to thank God that I never experienced that in my career. Because you know, people- artists are artists, and when people come in, and you know, label people come in and they try to persuade artists to try this person or try that person. I never had it, I’ve never had to deal with that. Maybe because I was that person, you know, and people, you know, all my career was kind of like set because I had artists like- they’d do their album then they’d go on the road. But I had my complete crew, so it was like I didn’t have to go pitch my music or sell my music; my music was already being sold.
Andy Coulson: [0:14:03] So the success came pretty quickly, didn’t it? I mean, at what age are you feeling, “Actually, do you know? This is really motoring for me. My life is- my music has now put me on a path of real success”? When are you first starting to feel the kind of effects of fame and success, I suppose?
Timbaland: [0:14:26] I think it’s like this generation in our early twenties, you know, we’re kids, get money, but we’re not looking at it the way we look at it now You know what I’m saying? And that kind of like- we don’t pinch ourselves because we’re young and it’s like, “I made it to the cool club,” you know what I’m saying? “Now I’m one of the guys.” It’s like a fraternity, it’s weird. Like, you don’t be like, “Wow, I’m really in. This is hard to believe.” Like, I never had that moment, it was more like, “I’ve got to get to that party,” type of moment, you know what I’m saying? So then once you’re at the party you’re like, “In the party.” You know what I’m saying? It’s just weird.
Andy Coulson: [0:15:02] Yes, yes.
Timbaland: [0:15:03] So it was like in my early twenties, I believe- like going into the thirties, the late twenties going into the early thirties, that’s when I start really feeling it. And then when I really start to feel it is when Future Sex/Love, that album, that’s when- no, I’m not going to say that. I would say when Missy did Under Construction.
Andy Coulson: [0:15:30] Yes, that felt like a proper moment for you. There was a gear change.
Timbaland: [0:15:34] Yes, it was like, “Oh man, this guy can’t do no wrong,” type. You know what I’m saying? Like, I had the people convinced, you know, sonically.
Andy Coulson: [0:15:45] Yes. So how did that impact you, Tim? Did you start to believe it? Did your personality change?
Timbaland: [0:15:54] Everybody’s personality changes, that’s what the music business is. It’s like walking into a place of lust; all your desire in one building. Beyonce and so on. It was like, you’re going to walk into this place and you know, you can say, “Be strong,” but there’s a lot of things in that place that makes you go left.
When that happened I think I was kind of like really feeling myself, you know what I’m saying? Not pinching myself, I was steeling myself. That’s when ego comes in, you know what I’m saying? I didn’t portray it as much, either because I was kind of like an introvert always, but even around people, certain people, I might have felt like they ain’t on my level. Inside, I didn’t show it, but I could have showed it. You know what I’m saying? Or whatever.
But that’s just being young, and not being- walking into something that you’ve never walked into. You know what I’m saying? I never had to battle with ego or being challenged and you know, falling down and getting back up. Or maybe I was falling down and always getting back up and never knew it.
But it’s just a lot of like vices that come when you start feeling it. You know what I’m saying? The pinching, there is no more pinching, it’s more like, “I’m the man. I’m this, I’m that,” you know?
Andy Coulson: [0:17:29] So Tim let me ask you, how did that- when you think back to those days, those moments, how did it manifest itself? When you look back at yourself in that period, how would you describe yourself? And is there a particular moment in time that you think kind of best summarises what you’ve just so eloquently described, that kind of ego piece?
Timbaland: [0:17:55] I really don’t- my ego was more like into my music, wasn’t more like, “I’m the man,” it was like, “You couldn’t refuse my music.” So my ego kind of stuck with the music. Like, I always went to the studio, I stayed in the studio, but it was more like my beat’s a dope type of thing. That was it. It wasn’t like an ego like outside of that, it was more like I had more confidence in my work. That was really it.
Until I thought I’d kind of neglect the gift and I’d do something, I’d go- you know, when you start living life and you start going out clubbing and stuff like that, and you think that, “I can always do a dope beat, I’m the man,” and that knowing that it’s a gift from a higher power that was allowing me to move the world the way I did, you know what I’m saying? But then I thought you know, we go though that phase of, “It’s me, it’s me.” Yeah, you are- it is me, but it’s a gift that’s given to me. So I’m a vessel of the gift. Sometimes that got lost in translation.
Andy Coulson: [0:19:14] You alluded to it there Tim, you described yourself as a natural introvert. Without those- I suppose the question is, were those excesses that you’ve alluded to, the lifestyle, was that really a kind of mask, do you think? Were you using that lifestyle to sort of mask the real introverted kind of nature of your character?
Timbaland: [0:19:45] Oh yes. I mean, the lifestyle kind of made you like an extrovert, you know what I’m saying? So it was a blend of both. I needed- the lifestyle made me be more outspoken, you know what I’m saying? Just living that lifestyle I could fit in with everybody. So you know, that was more a like, “I can come outside,” moment. But I always liked to be inside; I never wanted to be away from the music as much.
Andy Coulson: [0:20:16] When we talk about lifestyle here Tim, what are we talking about? Was it drink for you that was a driver as a younger man? Or was it-?
Timbaland: [0:20:25] Oh no, no, no. It was just going out, the women, just the regular- not drinking, nothing like. Because I wasn’t really like that, a person to get drunk or stuff like that. I was never really like that. But it was the fact of I can go buy this, I can go here, I can bring my boys, we can do this, we can pick up these girls, this, that, it was more like that.
Andy Coulson: [0:20:51] So we’re going to shoot forward a bit here Tim, and move to 2011 when you I think first discovered OxyContin; a painkiller which of course has become the centre of so much controversy, so much damage in the States and elsewhere.
How is it that it became a part of your life, Tim?
Timbaland: [0:21:10] The time when I guess I’d just gotten married, more responsibilities. And I believe a lot of- just wanted to be more than what I was. And not knowing I probably was going through a depression, too.
Andy Coulson: [0:21:33] What would you say now was the driving cause of that depression?
Timbaland: [0:21:39] You know what? I hear a lot of music people go through it, you know what I’m saying? And they can’t really pinpoint how. I think just all the demands on your life, your life kind of gets taken away. Once you get that deep in the music industry your life can almost get stripped away from you, and a lot of falls. And it’s hard to explain what falls are though, but it happens, right? You are under a microscope.
So now I take on marriage, have a child, just little things that I never had no talks about from childhood or- you know, stuff about life that you have to deal with. I just had to take it head on.
I remember I was getting some teeth work done, I was getting a root canal, and you know, at that time they said, “If you have pain take this Vicodin.” So I had a lot of stuff, a lot of pressures of the world and life, nagging, people nagging at you. When I took the Vicodin it took all the worries away. Outside of my tooth it was like it made me- it uplifted me. I wasn’t trying to escape nothing. The only thing I was trying to escape was the everyday drama of nagging, this, that, Tim is the only one doing this, he’s the only one- like, I’m the only person that everybody goes to. You know what I’m saying? That’s a lot of burden, you know what I’m saying?
And that just was a phase that I wasn’t prepared for. You know, you prepare for a lot of things in life but some things can catch you by storm.
Andy Coulson: [0:23:18] The fact that so many people now were relying on you.
Timbaland: [0:23:22] Yes, and then knowing who around you for- the snakes around, you’ve got to cut your grass, you know what I’m saying? You’ve got to weed people out, that’s a lot. That’s a lot, you know what I’m saying? So popping that pill makes you know who you want to get- it makes you feel like Superman. But then when you don’t have it no more the withdrawal comes in. The irritation, the crankiness, all the like, “Who is this person?” You know what I’m saying?
But it was more like, a drug like, “I need it.” To the point where I need it so I can function, to have a conversation, to really like be in an upper mood, you know what I’m saying?
And then sometimes once you start taking a lot more than a week, I think the pills put you in depression, you know what I’m saying? Like, just taking them. You know, just taking them period. It puts you in a state of depression.
Andy Coulson: [0:24:23] It’s been compared to Heroin, OxyContin. Both in terms of its addictive nature but also obviously the kind of euphoria that it induces.
Timbaland: [0:24:31] Oh yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:24:34] Are you able now to look back at that period of addiction and sort of recognise its impact on you on a kind of day-to-day basis, if you like? Tell me about a day in Tim’s life when your addiction was at its peak.
Timbaland: [0:24:54] I mean, my addiction has probably been at a peak. It was like, wake up- we wouldn’t be talking right now, how about that? Because I’d probably be asleep all the way to about five or six o’clock, always wanting to be in the dark. Those are the main things that I remember. Sleeping all day, going to work at about twelve o’clock to the studio, picking up the kids just engulfed in this euphoria state, never wanting to leave.
So sleeping- I didn’t realise, now I look back at it, that was killing me. You know what I’m saying? Sleeping all day, didn’t want the light to come in. Those were the things that I really remember about what I had to- you know.
Andy Coulson: [0:25:43] Yes. How many pills were you taking once the addiction had really taken hold? Just give us a sense of the scale of it.
Timbaland: [0:25:52] About 180mg a day.
Andy Coulson: [0:25:53] Which is- to say that that is-
Timbaland: [0:25:59] That’s like two 60 OxyContins, I think the green ones, before they put the time release on them. I had them before they had the time release and I had them when they did have the time release.
Andy Coulson: [0:26:13] Yes. And were you trying to get-
Timbaland: [0:26:18] I had a tolerance. That’s the thing about my body, like if I take anything for a period of time like for two or three days, it soaks it right up. And it’s like, that’s not enough. Even with [inaudible] I’ve got a high tolerance.
Andy Coulson: [0:26:31] Yes. But that is one of the issues with OxyContin right? Is that the tolerance levels are incredibly high, which of course in turn creates the constant need to top up, or to take more. And it sounds like you found yourself in that place very quickly.
We should explain that there is a time delay on the drug, or there was a time delay introduced to the drug because of the addictive issues, but of course you’d get round that if you bit into it or if you kind of you know, turned the pill into powder. Were you playing that game as well?
Timbaland: [0:27:04] No, no, I was only playing the- maybe biting it once or twice, but mostly just taking it and letting it do its effect. But I didn’t go into the sniff level, it was more like a pattering. I wasn’t that addicted to it like I’ve got sniff it, I’ve got to- it was more like I needed it in my daily routine.
Andy Coulson: [0:27:28] It did become a habit.
Timbaland: [0:27:29] Exactly.
Andy Coulson: [0:27:32] You convinced yourself, I think Tim, that you needed it in part because of the pain that you were still experiencing from that gunshot wound that we talked about.
Timbaland: [0:27:40] Yes. And you know what? I think it was- in all fairness I did have pain, my nerves started to hurt. And I think when I felt it hurt more is because I didn’t have the pill to take. So I think the pill kind of did something to the nerve to make it dependant on it a little bit.
Andy Coulson: [0:28:03] Right, okay.
Timbaland: [0:28:04] That was like more the thing. It was weird; I didn’t need a- from what I can remember I didn’t- I just took it, it was like a habit, like something I just needed.
Andy Coulson: [0:28:21] It just became a part of your life. Tim, just give me a sense of the impact on your personal life. You know, obviously you’re in a relationship, you’ve got young kids, just give us a sense of how that was impacting.
Timbaland: [0:28:33] As we talk about it’s- and I hope a lot of people are listening to this, it’s hard to talk about something when you’re in the vortex of it, right? I’m blessed to be here, that’s the best way I can tell you. I don’t even know how I survived. You know, like when you’re in it you’re in a dark circle. It’s almost like the movie Get Out. You’re in that black hole. You’re moving, you’re functioning, but you’re not functioning. And it’s like-
Andy Coulson: [0:29:10] It’s half a life.
Timbaland: [0:29:11] It’s very, very hard, you’re not yourself. And I just think you’ve got to like- you know, it’s funny. My daughter is turning sixteen and I’m so blessed to see her turn sixteen because there were times that I probably wouldn’t have saw that happen.
I could tell you, it’s definitely a vortex where you get caught up into, and you won’t realise it. And you know, I want to be a voice of reason to help people but addiction is hard.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:54] How long were you in that vortex for, Tim? How long did this go on for?
Timbaland: [0:29:56] Years. Years into my divorce God told me, “Enough is enough.” Took everything. Lost everything.
Andy Coulson: [0:30:08] So 2011 until?
Timbaland: [0:30:11] 2012 to 2018.
Andy Coulson: [0:30:14] And I know that there was a very dramatic moment which was a kind of catalyst for you, when you have what you’ve described as an out of body experience. And in a way you’re sort of shown your future, or what might be your future if you do not get this sorted.
Just describe that for us, tell us what happened.
Timbaland: [0:30:36] I mean, it just- you’re dead. I’m laying on the bed and there’s nothing in the room. You’re just looking at yourself on the bed with a white face. Like, transitioning over. But it ain’t time to go. It’s almost like- we see movies like-
The perfect example is Deadpool when at the end, I know it’s a wire, but he goes see his wife, he’s ready to go see her, it’s just like that. It’s just like- but God, “It’s not your time yet, I’ve got more for you to do.”
Andy Coulson: [0:31:13] Again I’m going to ask the question that I asked earlier. Is that sill quite vivid for you, that memory? Is that memory clear to you?
Timbaland: [0:31:21] Oh man, that’s so vivid. It’s vivid because it’s a blessing, you know what I’m saying? I don’t take what could have happened for granted. You know? It’s always a reminder to help somebody. Really, it’s a reminder for me to go help somebody that I might run across that I see looking like that, and I can be like, “I was once that person.” So I have to pray as, like you know, how can I tell somebody that I know what that feeling is?
It’s like I can talk from the good and the bad of drugs. You can place it in front of me and I can just look at it and say, “Man, that-” because I’m not going to lie. The things I remember about being on Oxy was all the good times, you know what I’m saying? I know what it do, it make you feel like Superman.
So when I look at it, you put it in my face now, I’ll be like, “I ain’t going to lie, it’ll make you feel good.” You know what I’m saying, that that’s for a person, I’m not going to tell them- you know, what a person is on and then what they want to hear, them I’m going to tell you yes, it feels amazing. I’m going to tell you all this, then I’ll say, “Here is the down side. You want to feel amazing? Here is the cause and effect. Here is the pros and cons.” The con is, once you do it it’s like it can destroy your internal organs. As you think you’re having a good time, but you’re dying on the inside. It’s corrupting you on the inside.
You’re like, “Yes.” You know, you tell people about your testimony and what you’ve been through, and what you’re saying, and you know, that’s how I kind of start the conversations off with people that are on those narcotics, opioids. I start it off, because I know both sides.
And like I said earlier in the conversation, you can put those type of paraphernalia drugs in front of me and it don’t- like, I don’t have no relapse. You know what I’m saying? That’s how I know it was like a habit. It wasn’t like something- I was taking it to escape, I wasn’t taking it because- you know, people are all, “I’ve got to have it, I’ve got to have it.” I was trying to escape something. It was a little bit like, life was good, that’s what life is, it’s about going through trials and tribulations, that’s why I can look at it with the grace of God.
You can put those things around me. When I had to go to the doctor and the doctor said, “I can write you a prescription,” I said, “I’m cool with Advil. I’ll just take the pain, I’m good, I don’t need it.” And then one time I had to go to like a little surgery and he had to give me- I had to take it because it was just like too much, “Okay, I’ll take this.” So I took half of something, not even the strong [inaudible] And I took it and it was like, no reminiscence of- nothing of the past. It was like, “I don’t like this feeling.”
Andy Coulson: [0:34:25] Let’s chart that journey. Because you’ve described what sounds like a divine intervention, frankly. But there were other interventions.
Timbaland: [0:34:33] You know what? People at that moment- I had one person who wrote me, one of my guys who used to work for me, who sent me a text. But other people you know, it’s hard to tell somebody that you need help, you know? And I think people saw it but they didn’t never- they didn’t know how to approach.
Andy Coulson: [0:34:59] What would you say to someone who is a friend of, in a relationship with, related to someone who is going through an addiction? Would you encourage them to actually then step in?
Timbaland: [0:35:11] I would give them the steps. Because I didn’t go to a doctor, I didn’t go to nobody. I didn’t take no Suboxone or whatever they call it to wean you off, I didn’t do none of that.
Andy Coulson: [0:35:23] So tell me how you did it.
Timbaland: [0:35:28] Just, you know, with the grace of God. His grace, favour. And I would give people the steps. So I would start, cut it up. I didn’t cold turkey, I just took less and let my body go- withdraw.
Andy Coulson: [0:35:45] Right, okay. Now, withdrawing from-
Timbaland: [0:35:47] Because you are taking 180, you are dropping down to maybe 100. I mean, you take 160, whatever. So you’re dropping it down, you’re cutting it. So you still have something but it wears off quick if you’ve got a tolerance. So now you’re going to withdrawals, and now your body is not going to be as bad, because you still have some in your system, but you’re going to go through some sickness. And then after that it kind of like wears off.
You do it as prescribed, so you wean yourself off, so you say every six hours you take another one. You know, you might go through some cold sweats, but it won’t be as bad as cold, cold turkey, you know what I’m saying? You’ll still get fevers, then you take the other one, next thing you know you’re- well, from my experience, my body started to acclimate to the smaller doses to the point to where I didn’t take any no more.
So I would say that process could take, depending on how strong you are and- because when that withdrawal comes in that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s a different additive, you know, sweating and- that’s just a lot, right? So depending on the person and what they can take, it might take a while.
Andy Coulson: [0:37:14] Was that recovery, then? Which was remarkable in that it was self-powered. As you say, you weren’t doing this with the help of doctors, you’d worked this out for yourself. You were effectively kind of weaning yourself off one of the most addictive drugs that there is.
Was that a straight line, that recovery, or did you- or like most recoveries were there bumps in the road? Did you slip back?
Timbaland: [0:37:41] There were no bumps. It was all out. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.
Andy Coulson: [0:37:50] That’s incredible mental resilience. Let me ask you where that comes from then, Tim? So that resilience that got you through that- you’ve explained what perhaps took you to the darker places. Explain to me please what it is about you, your makeup, your background, maybe your upbringing I don’t know, that gave you that core of resilience? Other than obviously your faith.
Timbaland: [0:38:19] Nothing. That’s it. Just me as a person can look outside of myself. Of course my key is wanting to live, you know, that’s one thing. You can say, “I’m going to do it for my kids, I want to see my kids grow up, blah blah.” People say that, but you’ve got to feel that. You’ve got to feel everything, you’ve got to really want what you want. And I know that God had something better for me, you know what I’m saying?
And it was a wake-up call, because it wasn’t only about just that. Like you know, in my divorce she took everything. That’s when I cleaned up my whole life. He said, “I’m going to repair you and rebuild you,” and I trusted him. I went through ten years of rebuilding, you know? And it was like changing everything.
Andy Coulson: [0:39:10] We should explain that your divorce was running in parallel with this. How were things professionally through that period?
Timbaland: [0:39:23] Bad. I’m not really working as much. I couldn’t really work, I lost my ear for hearing music the way I used to hear. Doing- when I was clean, like it was one thing after another. It was like, “Okay, now I’m not taking the drugs but my music don’t sound great. My brain is discombobulated.” I had to rebuild my brain cells back up. You know what I’m saying? I’m not functionable.
It was a process, and I had to go through a lot of- I would call it brain fogs, meaning like my queen today went with me through the whole journey and she could tell you a whole different story that she dealt with, like the attitudes, the switch-ups. And when you go through the withdrawals- not withdrawal but like just not taking it no more, it still does something to your brain. It’s still in you, you’re still not detoxed all the way. You know what I’m saying?
Andy Coulson: [0:40:32] Yes. We’re talking about Michelle I think, are we?
Timbaland: [0:40:35] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:40:37] Yes, and she I think has said that there were times when she feared that- on a night when you’d be going up to bed that you wouldn’t be alive in the morning. She was living with that pretty constant fear.
Timbaland: [0:40:53] Off and on, off and on. But we both had like you know, our faith is strong and that’s why we- she’s a soldier. She rode through the storm, she tells me incidents sometimes now, back then I could accept the incidents because it was putting her through a bout, you know what I’m saying? So even though I’m not taking the drug you would think I was on drugs because I still have that withdrawal like irritation. You know, all of that because your body is getting back acclimated. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Your loved ones are going to experience some different things about you as you go through this process. Yes, you stop taking it, which is a great thing. But depending on how long you’ve been taking it your body is going to go through some recovery. If you haven’t been taking it for a long time, if you say I’ve been addicted for years, if you say a year maybe it won’t be as harsh. But if you talk about four to five years of addiction we’re going to have to monitor for at least a good two years.
I’m just being honest, you know what I’m saying? I’m telling you, getting off you’re going to feel one hundred percent, but you’re going to go through mood swings that you’ve never experienced in your life, because it’s like your body has had this chemical in it, this synthetic chemical in you that’s been messing with your insides.
Just think about a car. I try looking at it like a car; you’ve got to clean your pistons. And sometimes the debris on your pistons [inaudible] you’ve got to keep it running. And that’s how your body is, you’ve got to keep it running. And luckily it was running to that way it wanted to go. You know, relapse or nothing like that, it was more like just healing. It was like a torn ACL or you know, anything. You’ve got to let it heal. Yes, you’re off of the product, but your body still has to heal, you still have to go through the process, you still have to go through physical therapy. You still have to-
And that’s the thing. Speaking of physical therapy, I think therapy will come into play as you’re not taking it no more, so you can get some of those stains out.
Andy Coulson: [0:43:19] Yes. Tim, never mind professionally, what role did music play in your recovery, from a personal point of view?
Timbaland: [0:43:28] Music didn’t play not one part, to be honest with you. That’s the problem, because I’d neglected it. But as I was recovering I prayed that I didn’t want- take the one thing that if I have lost everything, don’t take my ears. You know. The love, my sense of sonic sound. So I started getting back into the new technology, and it- this is after I had recovered. You know, this is like recovery still goes on even though you’re not taking the narcotics you’re still recovering.
So this is after me not taking narcotics I just started getting back into the swing of things and building that back up. Because I had to rebuild all over. It’s like a five-year building, you know what I’m saying? To where I’m at today. You know what I’m saying, it was a process. Because I was on heavy doses of OxyContin.
Andy Coulson: [0:44:26] Tim, I alluded to it in the intro; you have strong views about the impact of drugs, in this case of painkillers, including on the hip-hop community. You’ve talked about that. How do you see that challenge now? What can we do about it? What should we be doing about it?
Timbaland: [0:44:45] I don’t know we as a whole, but I think we should form an organisation of people who want to lend a helping hand such as myself. Just go touch people one by one. Because the drugs ain’t going nowhere. If you ask what you do about it, you just get rid of them. But guess what? Everybody goes through different pain, you’re going to need [inaudible] it’s just what it is, you know? We’re not living- you hear the stories of history where cavemen, natural, we live in a world where there was a pandemic for God’s sakes and it shut down the world. So we need these drugs. So we can’t say ban them or do that. You can put regulations but there’s always a way to get what you want.
So with that being said, I think what we need to do is form groups and figure out how do we talk to people and make them see the- I don’t want to say bad side, but the long-term effects of how it can affect you in life. You know what I’m saying? And really doing one on one sessions with people. You can’t help the world, but if you can help three or four souls to change their life, it maybe change into a whole organisation.
But I think it starts with people being passionate about not letting people destroy themselves.
Andy Coulson: [0:46:20] And presumably the importance of- as you’re doing here, for which thank you, on this podcast, the importance of telling your stories, right? And not forgetting the stories of the past. I mean, obviously there have been so many people from the world of music, from the world of showbiz more broadly who have lost their lives. But for you to be able to stand up as an example of someone who found their way through, I’ve got to say to you, you know, it’s an incredible thing to be doing.
Timbaland: [0:46:52] Yes. I think I- I will always stand on what’s right, I feel like that’s my purpose. I feel like God gave me- I can’t help everybody, but I know I can help somebody.
Andy Coulson: [0:47:06] Let’s talk about the important of work Tim, for which you of course, you know, music sits at the centre of, but you’re also a very skilled businessman. Verzuz, which you conceived with Swizz Beats during lockdown is an epic success. And Beatclub, a platform you built with your manager Gary Marella, for which you recently received the Variety Pioneer Award. And of course you have a partnership, I should say, with Myndstream, who my listeners will know have been partners with this podcast for quite some time.
So we talk a lot about the power of music on this podcast, the part it plays in so many of our guests’ resilience stories. I suppose the question is, how else are you now applying your belief in the power of music, in the context of crisis?
Timbaland: [0:47:56] Just giving people different frequencies. Because frequencies change the mood of- it does something to the brain, it always makes the sounds control moods. The biggest thing I always say if you want to change the atmosphere of the room, put on some music. Music is a very powerful tool, so I’m actually doing a wellness CD, frequencies that I think- that help me, calm me out from a crisis of mental breakdown.
Because sound, you don’t realise it yet even in your thoughts of distress you’d be like, if the right tone is going a certain way it changes your perspective and your attitude. And you don’t even realise it.
Like, music is the most powerful drug you can take without- yes, it’s a great addiction. That’s the only drug you should be addicted to, is music, and we are. When we walk outside, why do you want to go on vacation? Why do you want to go to the water? Because you want to what, you want to hear the water? You want to get in the water, some people. When some people go outside by the beach, why? Because you want to hear the waves. That’s a sound.
You know, so think about it, if there was no birds chirping how would we be? And so I tell people, every day when you walk outside, that’s music. Music is- and you need it. That’s why you want to go on vacation, that’s why you want to go places; you want to hear the breeze, you want to feel the wind. The wind has a sound, has a sound. It does something to the body.
So for me, it’s important for me to do a CD- not a CD, a playlist that curates the mind and brings your levels down.
Andy Coulson: [0:50:05] And that’s more about sound than it is the kind of music that you’re obviously famous for. I mean, that’s a different direction for you.
Timbaland: [0:50:15] Sound and melody, because it will definitely have a melody, because I’d need the melody with the sound. But I will pick the right sound to make the melody, so there’s still sound and melody but they marry each other.
Andy Coulson: [0:50:34] So aside from this project Tim, what’s on your resilience playlist? If I said to you, “Right, I’m going to give you three songs that for you kind of inspire that feeling that supports your ability to get through difficulty?”
Timbaland: [0:50:54] You said a sound? A song?
Andy Coulson: [0:50:55] No, a piece of music. Whatever it is. If I were to ask you for your resilience playlist, what would be at the top of it?
Timbaland: [0:51:06] It all depends on the day. Every day it changes. I might want to go to old school, some Marvin Gaye, or it might just be the sound of like when you do the mind therapy when you see the guy turn around, might just be a frequency. Or it could be a [inaudible] because I just want to hear a great tone of a voice. You know what I’m saying? It varies, you know, it varies.
Andy Coulson: [0:51:42] Can I ask you, there must be tracks perhaps also music that takes you back to the dark days as well? Do you avoid that? When you hear a sound can it take you back to a more difficult time? And if it does, do you avoid it or are you for carrying, living with, moving forward with?
Timbaland: [0:52:01] Nothing takes me back to the dark days. Nothing takes me back to the dark days. And if they do, I’m like, “I’m not going to think about the bad of the dark, I’m going to think about the light in the dark,” you know what I’m saying? Because it was dark as an overall whole, but like I still had some positives. It was not the best part, not the right fun, but hey.
Andy Coulson: [0:52:25] Dangerous.
Timbaland: [0:52:28] Yes, because sometimes- like I told you, those drugs make you feel like Superman. Okay? So sometimes it was fun. So if I hear music [inaudible] “Damn, I remember I was on- and I took a perky, oh man, I remember…” You know? So it’s nothing that brings it like a- music is like, I just love it. So nothing about it is dark. Nothing about it would make me turn it off. You know, I just love it. And I don’t have music playing with dark times [inaudible] this song was playing, it don’t make me not listen to the song. I love the song, you know. I love music.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:21] Very good. Tim, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it. Thank you for sharing your story; a valuable story as we touched on earlier. You know, the sharing of those kinds of stories is absolutely critical if we’re going to try and wrestle with these issues and make progress with them. So thank you, thank you so much for joining us.
Timbaland: [0:53:48] Thank you for having me.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:50] If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please do give us a rating and a review, it really helps. And if you hit ‘subscribe’ wherever you download your podcasts from you will find loads more useful Crisis conversations. You can follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and you can watch the full episodes on YouTube. Just search for Crisis What Crisis podcast. You can also find full transcripts of this and every episode on our website, crisiswhatcrisis.com
Thanks again for joining us.
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