Timberlake is savvier than most. The fact that he hired contemporary black music's top producing masterminds -- most notably, Timbaland and the Neptunes -- shows that he knows whom to go to for instant black approval.
And what Justified justifies is Timberlake's conviction and perseverance in convincing "urban" listeners of his worthiness. The soul-loving Timberlake that crept out during 'N Sync's last album, Celebrity (especially on the quintet's R&B-radio favorite, "Gone"), is in full bloom on Justified. He tries to revitalize a bare, confident sensitivity rarely focused on in today's R&B. On the best tracks on Justified, Timberlake forgoes the studly machismo of today's wifebeater-clad soul men such as Tyrese and Ginuwine in favor of letting his gentler emotions get the best of him. On the Timbaland-produced "Cry Me a River," Timberlake delivers the male equivalent of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," a bumping ode to a dead relationship and its bitter aftermath. Any man can lay on the macho bravado, Timberlake declares, but can they sing about getting ditched and being left a shell of a man?