The Neptunes: Beats, Rhymes and Life
This Fall, however, youre going to see the Virginia Beach boys doing their thinga lot. The tandem that blessed clubs with such inferno-starters as Mystikals Shake Ya Ass, Ushers U Dont Have To Call and Nellys Hot In Herre is dropping their second album, Star Trak Presents: Clones, this month. Pharrells releasing a Snoop Dogg-inspired DVD, Dude, Were Going To Rio, in October. And in November, the chart-smashing duos coming back with another project under their N.E.R.D. pseudonym, the rock-heavy Fly or Die. All of that and the crew is still packingem in with the Roots and Talib Kweli on the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour.
Needless to say, if the hard-to-catch Chad Hugo sounds a bit winded in the following interview, a little compassion is in order. Dudes doing promotions, making beats incessantly and counting stacks of paper to the ceiling. Haters, you canget back to hating.now.
How did two kids from Virginia end up being the biggest producers of the past decade?
Me and Pharrell met during music education classes when we were kids. Weve had that foundation of learning to read and actually write music. We grew up in a formal training [environment]. Well, not formal, but formal enough to where we learned to read notes and everything. Weve always had those fundamentals of making music. And we just have a love for hip hop basically. We just took what we learned and flipped it. Were not just a bunch of kids making beats. To us, its like a bunch of kids making songs.
The blips and baps have grown synonymous with a Neptunes track. Were you all obsessed with arcade games and science fiction as kids?
Umm, I think it was those things that take you to another world. Weve always been fond of ficticiuous environments. When we were a band a long time ago, we did funky Parliament-Funkadelic record covers. Those kinds of records take you to another level, with their chord changes. Even in the days of the Wu-Tang Clan, they took you to that kung-fu world. You might not have been into martial arts but after you heard them, youd be into it. So, with us, we always try to take you to a different world when you hear our beats. Some of it may be blip-boppy, some of it may be different. I think music should always take you out of reality.
Yall definitely do thatNow, there was a time when I thought you all had found your niche and were sticking with a particular sound, but then you all produced the Clipses album, Lord Willin, and tracks like Commons Come Close. Do you ever worry about cuts sounding the same?
It really depends on that given amount of time. I think youre always going to get that kind of signature; thats what makes an artist an artist. You know a Van Goghs a Van Gogh. You know a Picasso. You can tell by the way it looks, Yeah, thats a Picasso. So, musically, thats how it is. Pharrell is ultimately a drum player. When I met him, he was playing drums. When he met me, I was playing keyboards and the saxophone. And he was a lyricist. So, I think in those worlds from the rhythmic sense to the melodic sensewe learned from each other. Hes playing more keyboards and Im playing more guitar and drums. Were always learning from each other. Those two combinationsthats what makes us us. Depending on the artists, some songs require more rhythm. With the Clipse, some of their rhymes were real broken down, really strictly beats. The Common song, for example, was more melodic. As producers, were like a band, switching different lead singers.
We mentioned the Clipses album, but whats been your favorite project to work on thus far?
My favorite project to work on thus far? Hmmm, that would have to be Justin Timberlake. The reason that I say that is because during that time, I wouldnt say we had conquered hip hop, but we were destined to be on hip hop radio. I find joy in reaching different audiences. [Justins] project was like the first that I could actually switch to a pop station. There was gratification with just branching out and doing something different. It was still the Neptunes but now your parents could buy us.
Aside from Ms. Kelis, have you all done anything R&B?
Umm, were working on it right now. We have this one girl whos featured on the Clones album. Her name is Vanessa Marquez. And were working on a little bit more.
Will you all be working with Mr. Kelis, Nas, anytime soon?
Will we? We have already. We did a song with him on the Charlies Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack called The Flyest. And were going to work on more shit.
Tell me about the Clones project, aside form it having everybody from Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss and Dirt McGirt on it.
It does have the whos who. And it also has the soon-to-be whos who. Its kind of our way of putting out the Star Trak name, the Star Trak label. You know how Puffy did Bad Boy? This is our Star Trak. It has everything from hip hop to a little R&B and it actually has some alternative stuff on there too. It has a little bit of everything.
Now, Chad, riddle me this: why dont we see and hear from you more often?
I think it has to do with timing. Sometimes I just dont have time to do it. I may not be able to do everything, but I have time to do the most important things and thats to make the music. Now, if that includes doing some public appearances, and I have the time for it, hell yeah. But its just a matter of circumstances. Pharrell sings hooks. I may not take advantage of that. Pharrell is an artist himself. He goes the extra way to express his artistry, which is all good. People may have the instinct of automatically comparing us in that way but it just happens to be that way.
So, whats the reception been like thus far on the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour?
Well, the tour just got started, and to be honest, Im in the studio while theyre on tour. But thats just how it is. Im actually going to Japan and Australia to promote the Clones album while the guys are on tour. Thatll kind of answer your question; we do whatever it takes to keep the ball rolling. We just rotate our duties to keep it happening.