In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: songs somehow involving Justin Timberlake.
Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon may have recently expressed how ridiculous the use of hashtags has become, but the singer wasn’t always quite so averse to them. Not that long ago, he even gave the delivery technique known as hashtag rapping a try. Timberlake provided guest vocals on two tracks from FreeSol’s 2012 album, No Rules, having become something of a benefactor for the Memphis band after seeing it perform in 2006. FreeSol’s music style, a mélange of hip-hop plus R&B plus jazz with lots of guitar and drums on top, seems to be a take on the formula perfected by The Roots—a live band provides great backup instrumentation while the frontman spits his rhymes. (Though its MC, Free, is certainly no Black Thought.) First signed to Timberlake’s Tennman Records, FreeSol has since secured a more high-profile deal with Interscope Records, and the one-time boy band member remains a vocal supporter of the band.
The 2011 single “Role Model” is an otherwise unremarkable outing, but none other than Mr. SexyBack himself raps its opening verse. After providing a disclaimer for what is about to transpire (“You gotta bear with me ‘cuz I don’t do this, but fuck it. No rules, right?”), Timberlake launches into a simile-laden verse full of ridiculously lazy lyrics (“I wipe that smelly shit away, like erasers,” “I’m going hard, like the opposite of soft.”). A digitally distorted Timberlake can also be heard in the background repeating, “I’m not a role model,” in case that wasn’t already made clear. Although the verse has quite a few silly gems of vocal hashtagging—“This shit got me amped up (Ritalin), “Just clap for him (Applause)”—perhaps the best is the none-too-subtle reference to the controversy surrounding his performance at the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show: “Oops, did I take it too far? (Super Bowl).”
For the other No Rules track featuring his guest vocals, “Fascinated,” Timberlake brought along musical BFF Timbaland, who raps the song’s final verse, freeing Justin to simply sing the chorus. This music video is worth one watch simply to see how it crammed just about every music-video cliché from the past decade into one outing. (Scientific laboratory vibe? Check. Scantily clad female furniture/robots? Check. A panel of judges studying the band? Check. Fantasy recording studio? Check. Poisonous snake? Check.)
Whether Free and company will have any mainstream success once outside the shadow of their influential-superstar supporter remains to be seen, but “Role Model” is worth a listen just to hear JT The Rapper.