Everybody knows “Pony.” Ginuwine’s 1996 debut single is synonymous with sex and the timeless art of titillation, immortalized by its own video, Internet meme and the 2012 male stripper drama “Magic Mike.” But the R&B singer born Elgin Lumpkin, Timbaland’s first solo artist and contemporary of Aaliyah, didn’t reach his creative peak until nearly three years later, with the release of sophomore album “100% Ginuwine” on March 16, 1999.
While it never produced a single with the lasting legacy of “Pony” -- from Lumpkin's 1996 debut album “The Bachelor” -- “100%” was the more visionary and expansive collection. Dripping with state-of-the-art productions that, 15 years later, still sound out of this world, it established Ginuwine as one of his genre’s most progressive artists and formed the prototype for Timbaland’s later, Billboard chart-conquering collaborations with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado.
Recorded over two months in New York in 1998, “100%” was the product of a fertile moment in R&B history, yielded from the same team of collaborators that produced Jodeci’s “Diary of a Mad Band” (1993), Aaliyah’s “One in a Million” (1996), and Playa’s “Cheers 2 U” (1998). The collective, led by DeVante Swing of Jodeci, included Timbaland, Missy Elliott and her group Sista, Static Major (of Playa, who went on to co-write “Pony” and Aaliyah’s “Try Again”), Ginuwine, Magoo, Tweet and others.
“Working with each other back then was truly amazing because we got to see each other’s talent grow on a daily basis,” says Ginuwine, calling Billboard during tour rehearsal for his new group TGT, with Tank and Tyrese. “We were coming into our own as producers, as writers and as entertainers. So it was amazing for me to see everyone’s progression as people and as artists to the point where they are now. I remember when we were all sharing a house, sleeping on the floor in Manhattan with no mattress.”
Commemorating the 15th anniversary of “100% Ginuwine,” we got Ginuwine to share the stories behind the album’s highlights. He spills on the project’s many characters, collaborating with Aaliyah, how many girls he was dating in 1998 and even his upcoming cameo on the series finale of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
Billboard: This was your sophomore album, not your first, not your last. Looking back, what does it mean to you now?
Ginuwine: Well the first record is something that you just put so much into. And the second record, people always talk about the sophomore jinx and everything, but I was still able to get through it and still focus on what I needed to do and make timeless music. Also, to be connected with one of the best producers in the world in Timbaland. For him to take on that whole project and finish it and really do songs like “So Anxious” and “What So Different?” and all the other songs that came from that body of work, it was just remarkable for me to be a part of that.
That was truly my best body of work. It doesn’t mean I didn’t try my hardest on all my CDs, but that’s just the best body of work. It’s one of those CDs that you can just put in from the beginning and listen to all the way through and these days you don’t really get that too often.
After “The Bachelor” and “Pony,” did you feel like you had something to prove?
“Pony” was one of the biggest songs of my career. It was really hard to follow that up. But those are songs you just can’t call. It’s either gonna be a smash or it’s not. Going into the second CD, I just truly wanted to be myself and not alienate the base that got me there. I definitely wanted to take care of the audience that put me in that spot, but if you try and do something like come up with another “Pony,” you can really mess yourself up. So we just wanted to go in there and make new, beautiful music and explore other avenues and be creative and try to be leaders, not followers. That’s what it was really about. We never said “Oh, we gotta beat ‘Pony.’” It was just about making good music.
What was it like doing a whole album with Timbaland back then?
With me and Timbaland, we would always be at the studio, but working separately. He would be doing his thing with the beats and I would be doing my thing writing and then we would both come together and say “OK, you add this to it and I’ll add that to it.” When we did that CD, we had actually known each other for eight years already, so we knew pretty much how the other one operated. It was quick and easy because we were ready to do it. I was always excited to work with him because we were on the same page.
OK, I have to ask: Who was Little Man from “Little Man’s Bangin’ Lude”?
Ah, man, we can’t tell the secret! But all y’all know who Little Man is. We had a lot of fun, man. Us being in the position we were in at that time, we were able to experiment. We just started messing with all the knobs and used autotune way back then. We were just trying to do something different. I remember we found that voice and ran with it.
The first single was “What’s So Different?” which is one of the most far out productions on the album and wasn’t really like anything else on the radio at that time. How did you write that?
That song, Timbaland told me to go in there and write to that song and I honestly didn’t feel like I could do it. But I realized years later that he was pushing me to be a better writer and not to quit just because you don’t think something will happen. If you think about it, that’s a hard song to write to. He’s got Godzilla roarin’ in the background. So he was testing me. After I did it, he was like “Yo, you really made a good song, man. That was amazing.”
What did you think when you first heard the Godzilla sounds?
I was like “What the hell is this? What the hell is he doing?” But then I understood it. He was trying to be a leader by experimenting and doing things that put him on a different level than other producers. It’s the same thing he was doing on [Aaliyah’s 1998 single] “Are You That Somebody?” with the baby crying or the frog sounding thing back on “Pony.” For him to be able to do that and be successful speaks volumes. He’s definitely one of the best to ever do it.
Tell me about “So Anxious.”
That’s one that Static Major wrote. I was really scared of it because it was so slow and I was singing really hard and really high. I was nervous about how it would be received by the public. I wanted another song, “All Nite All Day,” to be the second single and then to go with “So Anxious” third. But my management at the time, Jomo Hankerson, he actually picked that one and said “This is the one to go with.” We went with it and thank God he was right.
What was it like working with Static?
Static lived in Devonte’s house with us in Manhattan and we just started collaborating. He wasn’t always a writer, so to see him start to write and the songs that he created was truly amazing. I was really grateful to work with him. If it wasn’t for him and Timbaland, I don’t even know where I would be. The three of us wrote “Pony” together, but the hook was all him. He came up with that by himself. God rest his soul.
A lot of the album deals with the various dramas that can challenge a relationship: friends getting involved, parents, cheating, etc. Were you dating someone at that time? What was going on in your personal life?
I was dating a lot of different girls [laughs]! You know, when you have a platform like we have you express those life situations and put them into song form for other people to appreciate. You become an open book when you’re a writer and a singer because where else are you going to grab from? So everything on 100% is pretty much what I was going through at the time or wanted to go through.
“Two Sides to a Story,” for example, was a song I wrote because there were some girls saying this and that and the other thing about a girl I was seeing. [Starts singing] I don’t give a damn about what others sayy / they just can’t see you getting close to mayy / I don’t really care about what happened before me / there’s always two sides tooo a story.
About how many girls do you think you were dating back in ’98?
Oh my God, man. It’s really hard to say. I wasn’t really “dating” them [laughs]. I was just out there doing my thing, messing with a bunch of chicks. A lot. Just experimenting and having fun with life, you know? Of course, as you get older you get a little wiser and you cut that down.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Do You Remember”…
[Sings] Do you remembaah / Do you remembaah. That was a crazy song [laughs]. That was just us being stupid, honestly. Tim came up with that line “We boned on your mama couch, and we knocked the springs right out” [laughs]. We was really just joking in the studio. But that’s how songs come along, though.
I do miss those kinds of times because we would all just sit in a room and joke and talk and eat and have fun. And then somebody might say something and we’d grab it like “Yo, that sounds like a song. Let’s try to write something!”
In the middle of that song, the mom of the girl you’re dating comes in and starts telling her she shouldn’t see you anymore because you’re “an entertainer.” Who played the mom?
Hmm… [pauses] Oh, wait! It was my lawyer at the time! Her name was Louise West. She used to always come and check up on us at the studio, and whenever people would come up we’d get them on the record like “Come on! Let’s do something!”
It was the same thing with “I’m Crying Out.” The song had a Spanish vibe and there was this girl at the studio that had been speaking Spanish. I thought she was cute and it sounded sexy, so I was like “You! Go in the booth, let’s record.” And that’s how it would go. Those were fun times, man.
Aaliyah is the only featured guest on the album on “Final Warning.” You guys recorded that song together, right?
Yeah. I was never really into doing features, but if I was going to do one it was going to be with her. We had the same management team; were under the same umbrella. I remember that day we were just having fun and playing around like we usually would do. We did the song in like an hour, but we kept going all day because we were just talking and joking. I’ll never forget that day. I’m really lucky that I got to have her on my CD and that that will live on forever. I’ll always be grateful for that.
I actually wrote “Miss You” for her back then. It didn’t get put on her next album, but after she passed it got released on the compilation album [“I Care 4 U”]. I was really happy about that.
I didn’t know that. “Miss You” is a really beautiful song.
On “Toe 2 Toe” you’re rapping. Stuntin’ and puffing your chest out.
Yeah, you know, you gotta brag and boast a little bit [laughs]. At the time, there were a lot of people starting to follow Tim and a lot of artists starting to follow me. Since Bobby Brown, I was the first one to be in my video taking my shirt off and showing the 6-pack and 8-pack. Other people weren’t cut like that. And the dancing, too. There was nobody dancing like me at that time. So I was in the studio and the juices were flowing and I was like “Ayy, man. I wanna talk some shit.” That’s just what I was feeling at the time.
You filmed an episode of “Parks and Recreation” recently, right? What’d you think when you found out they were fans of yours?
Yeah, they used my records in an episode last season [the character Donna Meagle is said to be Ginuwine’s cousin] and I always told my manager that if there’s an opportunity for me to come on the show, I’d love to do it. So they were doing the finale where they have a big concert in the town and they brought me in along with a few other artists. I got to do a little acting as well as perform. That was something that was definitely unexpected, but it was a lot of fun.