How do you reintroduce an artist whose heyday was almost four decades ago to a new generation? Well, if you’re someone in a position of pop-cultural power like Will.i.am, you produce his comeback album (while at the same time regain just a little bit of the cred many say you’ve lost). On Timeless, legendary Brazilian artist Sergio Mendes updates his classic sound with the help of Will, and attains the delicate balance between the two cultures and generations that makes for a superb album.
The 2000s have yielded a new trend in music that I for one am a fan of: combining a new producer with a classic artist. The passing of time has allowed the possibility of studying what was best about an artist, what styles tried that worked for them, and those that did not. A new generation of producers can focus in on those that worked and create great new music. For example, Jack White’s work with Loretta Lynn, Nigel Godrich and Paul McCartney, and Rick Rubin with both Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash. Will.i.am continues the trend with Mendes, but also takes his involvement a bit further. He doesn’t just produce, but also raps on 7 of the 15 tracks on Timeless. This may appear kind of heavy for an album solely credited to Mendes, but in fact it works quite well. Mendes has said that his music was to Brazilian urban youth in the 60s what hip-hop is to American urban youth today. By having Will and many other guests (Q-Tip, Black Thought, and Charli 2na among them) rhyme over a majority of the songs, new life is added to Mendes’ somewhat dated style.
Not only does Timeless feature new compositions from Mendes’ and Will.i.am’s collaboration, but new twists on some of Mendes’ classics, too. One of the standouts is “Berimbau.” The tempo is sped up, and the bass made heavier. The horn section is also replaced by a very distinctive and classic voice in popular music: Stevie Wonder and his harmonica. Stevie doesn’t provide any vocals on the track, but the one-of-a-kind tone of his harmonica more than carries the weight.
All in all, this is a logical reintroduction for Sergio Mendes. While at times it seems like Mendes’ talents are being overshadowed by Will.i.am’s new-age vision, this album is about more than just samba and bossa nova. Rather than just focus on what made Mendes legendary, Will.i.am expands his sound and fuses it with its modern day equivalent, achieving a truly Timeless effect.