Ginuwine & Timbaland Reflect on 20th Anniversary of '100% Ginuwine,' 'One of the Best Albums Ever Made'
Before collecting Grammys and No. 1 singles with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado in the mid-’00s, super-producer Timbaland ruled the hip-hop and R&B charts in the late 1990s.
His ability to craft creative, futuristic beats was his ammunition, but his crew of exceptional artists -- many culled from Jodeci member DeVante Swing’s New York-based Swing Mob collective -- was the spark. Timbaland helped shape projects by Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Magoo, Playa and Ginuwine. “I treated each person like a superhero,” Timbaland tells Billboard. “I was probably one of the youngest [producers] at that time doing complete albums.”
As the executive producer on R&B singer Ginuwine’s 1996 debut, Ginuwine... the Bachelor, Timbaland co-wrote the single “Pony,” which became a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and a staple of every 1990s-themed karaoke night since. But the massive level of success for Bachelor put an enormous amount of pressure on the singer as he prepared his follow-up album.
“[It was] very scary because you always hear about the sophomore jinx,” Ginuwine says. “I was like, ‘Man, how am I going to top this?’”
He didn’t have to worry. In just over a month’s time, he, Timbaland and the late artist and songwriter Static Major created the seminal 100% Ginuwine album, released on March 16, 1999. While The Bachelor peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard 200, 100% Ginuwine reached the No. 5 spot and spawned a No. 2 R&B hit in “So Anxious,” cementing its namesake as one of the top R&B artists of the late ‘90s.
Along with Usher, Ginuwine was just one of a few solo male R&B artists at the time who also danced and starred in eye-catching music videos, paving the way for the likes of Omarion and Chris Brown in the next decade. Though nearly a decade older, Ginuwine remembers having a playful rivalry with Usher at the time. “We were fighting each other for a couple of years,” he says. “We have joked about that. It was only me, him and Sisqó, and that was pretty much it as far as doing what we were doing.”
Given his influence, one could argue the singer should be part of the “King of R&B” discussion ignited last year by contemporary artist Jacquees, who often covers hits from the ’90s (including 100% Ginuwine’s “None of Ur Friends Business”). But Ginuwine is reluctant to place himself on that pedestal.
“I don't even want that crown because with that crown comes a lot of responsibility,” says Ginuwine, who is currently touring, working on new music and preparing for an upcoming film role. “I made my statement... I had my foot in the ‘90s.”
100% Ginuwine arrived between Usher’s My Way in 1997 and Sisqó’s Unleash the Dragon, later in 1999. Lead single “Same Ol’ G,” also featured on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack, didn’t become a Hot 100 hit, but made a mark on the radio, peaking at No. 11 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Though it was written by Static Major and Timbaland, Ginuwine identified with the message of staying true to oneself amid success and outside perceptions.
“[Static Major] knew what I was going through, just trying to find my way in the music business,” Ginuwine says. “It's not easy when you're out here by yourself. I didn't have my mom or my dad or cousins or anybody to guide me.I was around a whole bunch of wolves. … I was just like, ‘Lord, just guide me and weed these snakes out of my life.’”
The second single, “What’s So Different,” still sounds fresh due to Timbaland’s bouncy beat. It also samples a Godzilla scream, which the producer always loved growing up. The song found some chart success, but failed to cross over on the level of “Pony,” peaking at No. 49 on the Hot 100. “It wasn't as big as they wanted it to be,” Ginuwine says. “We were like, ‘Let’s go to our main joint.’ … Once we put ‘So Anxious’ out, it was a rap.”
Timbaland knew the sultry slow jam was special once Static Major wrote to his beat. “Static came in the room and was like, ‘Ooh, I got something.’ He knew right away,” Timbaland says.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my God,’” Ginuwine says of hearing the reference track. “I always put everybody out when I'm singing, and so I just told them to get out and let me go ahead and do it.”
Ginuwine was determined to incorporate dancing in all of his videos, but his slow-to-mid-tempo songs presented a challenge. “I was like, ‘How can we do this?’” Ginuwine says. “And Tim was like, ‘Don't worry, I'll give you a beat and you can just do what you gotta do.’”
As a result, he became known for his dance breaks in the videos for “So Anxious” and 100% fourth single, “None of Ur Friends Business.” His intricate footwork and pop-locking were as much of a tribute to Michael Jackson as his cover of “She’s Out of My Life” at the end of the album. “I would flip and split and do all kinds of stuff back then,” Ginuwine says. “That's who I came up admiring -- Prince, Michael Jackson and all the show-stoppers.”
“He broke barriers,” Timbaland says, praising Ginuwine’s ability to popularize what some could have perceived as “corny.” “You see him in a bar talking about ‘riding my pony,’ and it was like, ‘Okay, what is this?’” Timbaland says, recalling the honky-tonk-set video for Ginuwine’s breakout hit. “He was out of the box with his style.”
According to Timbaland, risk-taking was consistent throughout their whole collective. That mentality fostered the magic created on projects like Aaliyah’s One in a Million and Missy Elliott’s debut, Supa Dupa Fly. And the “Super Friends,” as Ginuwine describes them, guested on each other’s albums and made cameos in each other’s videos.
Ginuwine says recording the “Final Warning” duet for 100% Ginuwine with Aaliyah is one of his fondest memories of the late singer. “She ended up staying the whole day,” he says. “We kicked it, we ate food, looked at TV. … I definitely miss her.”
Though they weren’t on speaking terms when she died in 2001 -- "We were at odds for business reasons,” he says -- he has since made peace. “Missy came to me one time and she said, ‘I had a dream. Aaliyah told me to tell you that she loves you and she forgives you.’”
Ginuwine says he owes a lot to Static Major, who also co-wrote “Pony” and other hits for Aaliyah, Lil Wayne and more, before dying unexpectedly from complications from a medical procedure in 2008. “He's a major part of my career,” the singer says. “I don't even know where I would be today if he hadn't stepped up and did those songs for me.”
Regarding Ginuwine and Timbaland’s relationship, the producer says life prevented them from partnering on an album again following 100% Ginuwine. “He wanted to try new things and I wanted to try new things,” Timbaland says.
Ginuwine went on to release several more albums, scoring his biggest single to date with “Differences” in 2001. Produced by Troy Oliver, the song reached No. 4 on the Hot 100. He also formed R&B supergroup TGT with Tyrese and Tank, releasing an album, Three Kings, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in 2013. And he remains a fan of Timbaland’s music with Justin Timberlake.
“I can't deny when I heard some of it, I was like, ‘Damn, I would've killed that,’” he says, laughing. “I just hope one day to be in the studio with both of them. And I told [Timbaland], ‘Whatever y'all don't use, at least let me hear it.’”
But a Timbaland and Ginuwine reunion is not out of the question. “I definitely will do another album with Ginuwine,” Timbaland says. “To make that magic again, everybody has to be in the right headspace.”
Not to say that topping their 20-year-old masterpiece will be easy. “I think 100% Ginuwine will go down as one of the best albums ever made,” Timbaland says.