Toward the beginning of his newly released fifth studio album, Man of the Woods, Justin Timberlake hops in atop the funk-indebted third track, "Sauce," to deliver a sass-heavy, but somewhat indiscernible hook. It repeats several times throughout the song, but like many a notable pop hit (remember Taylor Swift's "got a lot of Starbucks lovers" debacle?), it leaves you wondering if what you're hearing is, um, correct. So let's put this mystery to rest, shall we? What does Timberlake rap on "Sauce"?
Turns out, the lyrics are nearly as nonsensical as they sound:
"So, go ahead, say I won't
Ain't nothin' to it but to do it, throw away that phone
'Cause I know you miss your snap on a lover, and I can name three or four
But you keep lookin' at me with those eyes like you know somethin' I don't"
In context with the rest of the tune, it sort of, just barely makes sense. With lines like, "I love your pink, you like my purple. You must be God herself, can I come worship," "Sauce" is quite clearly about sex, and here, JT is saying there's nothing left to do but get down to the deed. But what's less clear is what his partner is saying "he won't" do (is this some sort of foreplay face-off to see who will give into temptation first?), or what "snap on a lover" means. Is he referring to Snapchat? Like his lover is over there Snapchatting her exes, and he's trying to convince her to put down her phone and come to bed? Either Timberlake is trying a little too hard to stay current, or he's now making up his own slang.
In any event, what is apparent is that Man of the Woods is not exactly the roots record fans may have been expecting. When Timberlake announced the project last month, it came with an accompanying teaser that flashed imagery of him roaming about the open woods à la the secluded cabin retreat that birthed Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. "This album is really inspired by my son, my wife, my family, but, more so than any other album I've written, where I'm from, and it's personal," Timberlake said on the video's voiceover, assumedly referring to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, a widely recognized Americana mecca.
But cut to the pulsating electronics of lead single "Filthy" and it became increasingly clear that the visual thematics were more a metaphorical representation than a literal interpretation. The rest of Man of the Woods reinforces as much. "Sauce" leans into '70s funk rock, "Midnight Summer Jam" puts a disco pop spin on traditional acoustics, and "Supplies" recalls the trap-saturated hip-hop that ruled last year's Top 40. There are small glimmers of the album Timberlake seemed to promise. The title track tops country melodies with his signature falsetto, and "Flannel" sounds like a church hymn repurposed as a campfire singalong, but it's still Timberlake miming his southern origins — an interpretation, not a direct embrace. That's all fine and well, but they could have reined in the marketing just a smidge.
As for "Sauce," it's decidedly not rap. Like much of Man of the Woods, it's Timberlake's version of rap. But apparently, throwing in a spoken word riff is the new white pop trend du jour. Hey, it worked for Swift on "Ready For It," right? Perhaps fans will appreciate this new side of Timberlake, but one thing's for sure: He's given them plenty to choose from. Man of the Woods might not be his biggest record, but it's certainly his most eclectic.