Mon. Sep 25th, 2023

The rapper Magoo, an early collaborator of producer Timbaland, has died aged 50. No cause of death has been shared.

The news was confirmed by Timbaland, who posted on Instagram: “This one hits different 🥲🥲🥲 long live Melvin aka magoo !!!💔💔💔 Tim and Magoo forever 🕊️🕊️🕊️ rest easy my king ❤️❤️❤️”

The rapper Ginuwine, who collaborated with the duo, also paid tribute: “I will miss you maganooo that’s what we called him … totally one of the best ever in my eyes, always pressing forward.”

Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff met Timbaland in Norfolk, Virginia, when they were teenagers and formed the duo Timbaland & Magoo in 1989. Before he started rapping, he would cover songs by the likes of Ralph Tresvant and New Edition in talent shows, which he often won.

In a rare recent interview with YouKnowIGotSoul, Magoo recalled being blown away by Timbaland’s seriousness about his DJing and producing. “He was selling mixtapes back then. We’re not talking about New York City, Atlanta or Miami here. We’re talking about Virginia. It was not a hip-hop area.”

In the early 90s, Timbaland & Magoo were also part of the group Surrounded by Idiots (SBI), which counted Pharrell Williams as a member. Magoo recalled being similarly impressed by Williams, who was already part of his own group, NERD, alongside Chad Hugo and Shay Haley. “Pharrell’s musical ability was out of space and he was in his own world. The first time I heard him do a rap, I was like, ‘This dude already sounded like he was ready for the mainstream.’”

That era of working with SBI and recording with Timbaland beneath the radar, said Magoo, was “the special times”.

Magoo facilitated one of the most significant musical pairings of all time when he introduced Missy Elliott to Timbaland. “It was almost like God was putting pieces together,” he said. “She saw the future for what Tim’s production could do.”

Also in the early 90s, the duo – and Elliott – became part of Da Bassment Cru, a collective of rappers, singers and instrumentalists curated by Jodeci member DeVante Swing. They signed to his label Swing Mob and moved to his house in Rochester, New York, to start recording. “When I first got around all those cats, they were the most talented group of people I’d ever been around,” said Magoo.

In 1999, Timbaland told Request magazine: “DeVante was like a combination of drill sergeant and schoolteacher. For all of us, it was like boot camp. We were in the studio all day, every day. In fact, in a year’s time, I think I only came out of the house about four or five times.”

But Swing Mob dissolved in 1995 and Timbaland & Magoo signed to Blackground, run by Barry Hankerson, uncle of Aaliyah. “Aaliyah was funny and a good-spirited-type person,” Magoo recalled. “If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have been on Blackground. She spoke up for Tim and me and Barry ended up signing us … Aaliyah vouched for us and I never forgot that.”

The duo’s debut album, Welcome to Our World, was released in 1997, featuring guest appearances by Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Ginuwine. Certified Platinum in the US, its most successful single, Up Jumps Da Boogie, featuring Elliott, peaked at No 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“I never really got the chance to enjoy the success because it came at a cost,” Magoo said, recalling a blur of video shoots and flights. “I’m going to keep it real, I didn’t enjoy any of that. I never felt like me and Tim got a chance to enjoy our early years and it never even felt like we were this million-selling group. Not just from a financial standpoint, but more so because you’re always working. You go from that album and then they want another one and then you have people trying to rip you apart.”

Magoo was sometimes subject to derisory comments about his rapping and what he described as his “light” voice. He admitted that “he wasn’t trying to be a dope MC” but aimed to create catchphrases “that would make people remember what I said because I knew people forget rappers all the time. There are some dope rappers that were 10 times better than me, but nobody knows they exist.”

The pair’s second album, Indecent Proposal, released in 2001, featured musicians including Jay-Z, Ludacris and Tweet, while Under Construction Part II, released in 2003, featured the likes of Brandy, Bubba Sparxxx, Wyclef Jean and Beenie Man.

While Timbaland became one of the defining music producers of the era, Magoo stepped back from the spotlight after the release of the duo’s final record.

“I enjoyed it more once it was over and I still didn’t enjoy it,” he said. “That’s why I walked away from it … When I had a No 1 song, I realised I may have been better with my 9-5 before I left Virginia. It’s hard to be happy because you’re fighting for everything you earned and you just don’t have time to enjoy it with your family. You aren’t as close with friends anymore and people are treating you different once you have that hit record. I lived two different lives and being a celebrity wasn’t fun.”

In 1997, he had told Billboard magazine that he couldn’t conceive of embarking on a solo career without Timbaland. “It would be really difficult for me to think about doing a record without him … Tim and Magoo is more a friendship than it is a group.

After leaving music, the only part he missed, Magoo told YouKnowIGotSoul, was “making songs with my homeboy”.

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