Timbaland Reflects On Painkiller Overdose That Changed His Life

By Victoria Kim 11/29/17

“Once you’re not popping, it plays with your mind. The pills helped block out the noise—I’d just sleep all day.” 


Timbaland, the influential music producer famous for his collaborations with everyone from Missy Elliott to Bubba Sparxxx, is due for a resurgence. Now, with a recently kicked painkiller addiction, he’s gearing up for the next phase of his career, with projects lined up showcasing a new generation of artists.

Rolling Stone recently caught up with the Norfolk, Virginia native, born Timothy Zachery Mosley, the man behind Aaliyah’s album One in a Million (1996), Missy Elliot’s Supa Dupa Fly (1997), and Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)—to name a few.

He reflected on a dark period of his life during which he was consumed by his dependence on painkillers. What began as a treatment for nerve pain from a gunshot wound, ended in a spiral of painkillers and depression. It affected everything, his music career and his marriage.

“Once you’re not popping, it plays with your mind. The pills helped block out the noise—I’d just sleep all day,” he said. “I remember Jay-Z told me one time, ‘Don’t do no more interviews’—because I was saying crazy shit.”

The songwriter and DJ is in a much better place now. He’s healthier, exercising, and making music again. His latest collaborators include Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Zayn Malik, and Young Thug. His own solo LP is due next year.

Timbaland said he was inclined to talk about his problem with painkillers because of the recent drug deaths of fellow musicians, collaborators and idols like Chris Cornell and Prince. Drugs have taken on a new role in music, he observes. “I came from the era of drug dealers [making rap hits]. Now we’re in the era of drug users.”

He recalled the turning point of his addiction three years ago, what he described to Rolling Stone as a near-death overdose. “All I can tell you is that there was a light,” he said. “I woke up trying to catch my breath, like I was underwater. But through that whole thing I saw life—I saw where I would be if I don’t change, and where I could be if I did.”

His girlfriend Michelle admits that she would check his breathing while he'd be asleep, worried that he could die from the amount of pills he was taking.

The following day, Timbaland went into recovery mode, shedding pills off his daily regimen. He’d finally cut himself off completely, and went through a “brutal period of withdrawal.” 

He learned from the artists that came before him. “I thought about Michael Jackson,” he said. “I didn’t want to be old and taking these pills.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr