DAR Legends: The Neptunes/Pharrell Williams

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-I remember the first time I heard a beat from The Neptunes and KNEW it was from The Neptunes.  It felt spaced out. It was all over the place. It felt different. It sounded interesting. The production captivated me from the jump, as the sounds of a recognizable voice yelled out "What?!, What?!", while the sound of a female voice helped accentuate the question/chant. Of course, this was the Noreaga classic single "Superthug", with Kelis doing background vocals on the hook. The most important piece of this song? The fact it was produced by the production duo that was known as The Neptunes. Made up of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, The Neptunes would rise to prominence, but Chad opted to stay in the background while Pharrell became the face of the duo. Although Noreaga's track was the first time I knowingly heard the Neptunes, it wasn't the first time I had heard a production of theirs.

The duo got their start in their hometown of Virginia, as they would work closely with Teddy Riley, who was producing a number of tracks for groups like Wreckx N Effect and his own group Blackstreet. The first actual placement they would get came from Mystikal, who allowed Pharrell to co-produce a song on his 1995 album Mind of Mystikal. The biggest first placement for the duo together came courtesy of one of the more popular SWV songs "Use Your Heart", which was from their album A New Beginning in 1996. The beat is slow and melodic, and carries an infectious sound with it. The track would become a huge hit for SWV, but for me, at the time, I had no idea who the Neptunes were. Yet. Still, this was a monumental moment for Chad and Pharrell, as the song would end up being their official debut (they also wrote the song) and gave them life as producers in the game.

From there, The Neptunes would end up doing production work for Total on their self titled debut album, but they still hadn't broke through the mainstream yet even with the Total and SWV success. They weren't in demand yet. In 1997, they would pull off their biggest placement with a production credit on Mase's 4X platinum album Harlem World with the hit single "Lookin At Me". This would increase their stock more, and I'm sure by then some were well aware of them, Young True still didn't know. Yet. It was the Noreaga song that introduced me to the "Neptunes sound" officially, and when I went back and found out they produced two songs I enjoyed prior, I became a bigger fan. Their keyboard melodic style instantly resonated with me, and the dizzying rhythms and variations in their productions captivated me. 

After the Noreaga production, I started to instantly identify Neptunes production due to a signature sound but also due to their drums. Their drums sounded nothing like the other producers of the time, and that's what set them apart at the time. They had what it took to become legendary producers, but the question was, will they stay relevant long enough to do so?
Before the answer to that question could be given at the time, 1999 proved to be a year where they got closer to a big time breakthrough. While their work on the Clipse unreleased album (Exclusive Audio Footage), Kelis' Kaleidoscope album, and more Noreaga productions helped boost their profile, it was an unlikely hit that took them to a new level. Working with the Wu Tang legend ODB, The Neptunes contributed three tracks to his solo album "Nigga Please", but no contribution was bigger than the Kelis assisted single "Got Your Money". That single gave them the momentum they needed to carry over into the year 2000 and that's when everything changed for the Neptunes. The year 2000 would become the rise of The Neptunes and there was no producer hotter in the game at the time. Whether it was a booming production for the 504 Boyz, a remix for the Backstreet Boys, a smooth hit for Beenie Man and Mya ("Girls Dem Sugar"), a hip hop banger for Guru, a mega single for Ludacris ("Southern Hospitality"), a classic for Jay-Z ("I Just Wanna Love U" which featured Pharrell on the hook), or two big singles for Mystikal ("Shake Ya Ass", which also featured Pharrell on the hook and "Danger"), The Neptunes were in high demand in the year 2000 and they didn't seem to disappoint the masses.

From 2001 and on, The Neptunes ruled a sector of music and carved their own lane as producers. Having a musician like Chad play the background while Pharrell was out in the forefront and doing hooks (and verses) while songwriting made them one of the most sought after producer duos in music history. Their run after 2001 is legendary, but I'll get to that in the outro. Today is all about The Neptunes. Chad and Pharrell. Their legacy together and separately, what they've done for music, and how they'll be remembered. Let's take a look at what the rest of the team has to say about Pharrell, Chad, and The Neptunes as a collective.

I’ve always known that the most talented music artists are found in hip hop. I’d like to think that hip hop culture is a catalyst for creativity, imagination, and overall talent development because it’s a genre so rich in all of those, which is why it’s no surprise that for this edition of DAR Legends, the topic is Pharrell (The Neptunes figurehead), the man who never seems to age. He was Virginia Beach’s best kept secret until 1991/92 when Teddy Riley from Blackstreet discovered him (and Chad Hugo) as The Neptunes from their performance in a high school talent show. His contributions as a producer, MC, writer, and entrepreneur were incredible and maintained his relevancy throughout the years.

By 1992, Pharrell Williams had his hands in various aspects of hip hop. On one side he was writing lyrics and recording verses and on the other, he was producing tracks for Blackstreet and Mase, but where The Neptunes (primarily Pharrell) caught my attention was in 1998 with their production of “Superthug” off Noreaga’s N.O.R.E album. They proved to be geniuses by creating beats specifically for the artist. From pop-like mainstream bangers to the gritty underground sounds of hip hop, every Neptunes produced track was sure to be memorable, unique and only worked to enhance the track and of course the artist. These first few projects would catapult Pharrell and The Neptunes as a duo to the most highly acclaimed and incredibly sought after producers who would go on to work with megastars from Justin Timberlake to Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Clipse, Gwen Stefani and everyone in between. They would become the most successful crossover producers ever. No matter who the artist, mainstream pop or hardcore rap, The Neptunes would produce chart toppers and maintain their “midas touch” on everything they did. 

As much as I love Pharrell’s contributions to the rap industry as a producer, it’s his business ventures that I like the most. He’s highly underrated as a business man but has just as many ventures as Nas, if not more. Pharrell learned the secret to business early on (it seemed) and it can be summed up in one word: exclusivity. Most of his apparel and accessories were made in limited quantities, just enough to be (very) profitable while ensuring visibility and anticipation. At first, I thought Pharrell was only behind Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream but I was SO wrong. He actually had his hands in everything. Not only did he have his own apparel and footwear lines, he also did jewelry, home furniture, a line of glasses for Louis Vuitton, produced a TV show, owned a YouTube channel, collaborated in making various art sculptures that were unveiled at the an art show in Besal, Switzerland, he also collaborated on a project with G-Star Raw, which was featured in the American museum of Natural History. There is no doubt that his knowledge and ventures cover the widest spectrum!

While Pharrell may have started out as a part of The Neptunes, it didn’t take long before he climbed up the ranks as a music artist himself but also established himself as a brilliant entrepreneur! It seems like every project Pharrell undertakes is a classic, a chart topper and wildly successful. Naturally we would say others like Dre or Timbaland are comparable but if you dig a little deeper, you’d find that Pharrell has really created his own lane and after 25 years, he’s just as sought after and reputable as he was when he first emerged! 

I first noticed the Neptunes on Ma$e's "Lookin At Me". It was a cool track that got my attention, but the one that got me hooked was N.O.R.E.'s "SuperThug" which was a crazy and odd beat for its time. I already knew what it was when I'd hear that helicopter sound come on. Their sound with Noreaga's adlibs and rhymes not only took him to the next level but also brought artists looking for a new sound to these still fresh producers. The Neptunes and Noreaga built great chemistry together giving us unforgettable hits like "Oh No", "Grimey", "Full Mode", and "Nothin". They reconnected years later on "Problem", which summed up their collabs. Never in my life would I have thought I'd hear ODB over a Neptunes track, but they actually cranked out a hit with the assistance from Kelis on "Got Your Money". Speaking of Kelis, she gave us "Caught Out There" and "Milkshake", both anthems over their production. 

Two more major tracks that they produced that I'll never forget are Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Luv U" and Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" because we went on a field trip to WSSU in November 2000 and this dope redbone from another school kept playing them back to back on the CD player. We had moments, laughed, flirted, she even slept in my arms on the way back from the trip. Long story short she got on her bus and I realized I never got her number... damn. Anyway, The Neptunes have been the push behind some revamped careers like Gwen Stefani with "Hollaback Girl", Britney Spears with "I'm A Slave For U" or Justin Timberlake's with "Like I Love You" which was easily accepted after his former band N'SYNC worked with the Neptunes on their single single "Girlfriend". They even put Robin Thicke on a bigger front worldwide with "Blurred Lines" (I still think them getting sued to that extent by the Gaye family was too extreme). 

Some of my favorite Neptunes produced tracks are:
Usher- U Don't Have to Call
Nas- The Flyest
Beenie Man and Mya- Girls Dem Sugar
Common and Mary J. Blige- Come Close
Snoop Dogg- Beautiful & Drop It Like It's Hot
Jadakiss- Knock Yourself Out & Rockin With The Best
Jay Z- Excuse Me Miss & La La La (The Remix)
Fabolous- Young'n
Busta Rhymes and Rampage- Call The Ambulance
Ludacris- Southern Hospitality

I could go on and on about the greatness of their work. Unlike the silent one of the duo Chad Hugo, Pharrell being the most vocal should be praised for his genius on the keyboards, his ability to carry a note, write songs and spit a decent rap verse. The Neptunes' sound is hard to explain. It's always changing, it always works, it makes artists better and it's unable to be duplicated. If you played each drum loop, riff, synth and sample alone, it would sound corny and cheap, but the way they bring sounds together can be sometimes chaotic and futuristic or mellow and smooth, but the end result is always the same...dope. Overall, Pharrell (and The Neptunes as a whole) is definitely a top 5 producer.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-The Neptunes have such a long history as producers that it's impossible to list all their great productions and placements. They have had some great years in music and have been all over the radio for almost two decades now. If I had to pick their biggest year, 2000 comes to mind, but 2001 was even bigger. Along with furthering their Star Trak record label, when 2001 rolled around, they were on top of the world as producers after having huge hits for Jay-Z, Mystikal, and more as I mentioned earlier. Everyone wanted a Neptunes production. Angie Martinez, Babyface ("There She Goes" was a great song and a hit), Lil Bow Wow ("Take You Home" was all over the radio), Britney Spears (the biggest pop star at the time was blessed with a huge single in "I'm A Slave 4 U"), Busta Rhymes ("What It Is" was a hit), Fabolous ("Young'n" was definitely big in the streets and radio), Faith Evans, Foxy Brown ("Candy" was a hit thanks to the beat and hook from Kelis), Jermaine Dupri, Joe, Ice Cube, Krayzie Bone, Mary J. Blige, Mystikal (again), N'SYNC (of course, "Girlfriend" was a huge hit in 2001 and 2002), Diddy, Ray J (who could forget "Wait A Minute" and "Formal Invite"), T.I., Usher ("U Don't Have To Call" was a smash hit), and even a group they were invested in Philly's Most Wanted ("Cross The Border" and "Please Don't Mind" are still great) received great production from The Neptunes. That's a long list of people and artists who were blessed by the Neptunes and it's only from 2001.

After 2001, The Neptunes remained active, though not as active as they were in '01, but the fact remains they were still everywhere. They would release their first project as N.E.R.D. in 2002, and along with that, they would provide more hits as well. The likes of Beenie Man, Beyonce, Birdman (there's no denying how great "What Happened To That Boy" was), Busta Rhymes, Common, Nelly, and Scarface all received a production or two from the duo, but their best work came in doing extensive work on certain projects. They began a working relationship with Snoop Dogg, which spawned the hit "Beautiful", but their most fruitful relationships came alongside their work for Jay-Z on The Blueprint 2 (including "Excuse Me Miss"), The Clipse on Lord Willin ("Grindin" and "Gangsta Lean" are still prime classics), Noreaga on his God's Favorite album (which gave us too more hits in "Grimey" and "Nothin"), LL Cool J for his smooth comeback album 10 (which would spawn the hit "Luv U Better"), and of course, Justin Timberlake on his solo debut Justified ("Senorita", "Rock Your Body", "Like I Love You" are all classics). 2002 wasn't as active in terms of different artists they worked with, but it showed an evolution of The Neptunes as producers.

The prime of the Neptunes came during 2000-2002, but 2003 saw the coming of Pharrell as an artist. With their first ever compilation style album titled "Clones", The Neptunes enlisted Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Nelly, and more to contribute, but the biggest song from the album saw Pharrell getting some artist shine alongside a short guest verse from Jay-Z on the huge hit "Frontin". The song is melodic Neptunes perfection, and the Jay verse fits seamlessly on the song. After 2003, the Neptunes seemed focused on getting their artist ambitions out even more, along with producing, as they would drop a few gems here and there for Jay-Z ("Allure", "I Know", "So Ambitious"), Snoop Dogg ("Drop It Like It's Hot" and "Let's Get Blown"), Gwen Stefani ("Hollaback Girl"), T.I. ("Freak Though" and "Goodlife"), Mariah Carey ("Say Somethin"), Nelly ("Flap Your Wings"), Omarion ("Touch"), Solange ("I Decided), Beyonce ("Green Light"), Ludacris ("Money Maker"), Robin Thicke ("Wanna Love You Girl"), Twista and Madonna, but they were very focused on furthering themselves and their groups.

2004 saw the release of the excellent second album from N.E.R.D. (Fly Or Die), but 2006 was the year that we saw the Star Trak takeover. In addition to the second Clipse album (the classic "Hell Hath No Fury"), Pharrell stepped out on a limb and release two projects in succession as a solo artist. He would release a Gangsta Grillz mixtape with DJ Drama and then drop his first solo album In My Mind in 2006. In My Mind was actually a solid project that showed the two sides of Pharrell as an artist. One side was a bit rougher and more hip hop (he rapped on that section of the album), while the other side was more melodic and vocal related, as he sang through those songs. The artist focus would continue in between sporadic productions and contributions as N.E.R.D. released yet another album with their "Seeing Sounds" release in 2008. The Clipse would release their mostly Neptunes produced third album Til The Casket Drops in 2009 and a fourth N.E.R.D album "Nothing" arrived in 2010, but from there, we rarely saw The Neptunes together or working as a unit. 

Pharrell would work on the Despicable Me soundtracks and produce for Jay-Z and Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Game, Kendrick Lamar ("Alright" is an anthem), Future ("Move That Dope" is classic) and others, while Chad would produce a track on Beyonce's 2011 album 4 titled "I Care", along with some small productions for E-40, The Oh Hellos, Yuna, The Internet, and more, but stayed in the background as usual. Pharrell found his comfort zone as a solo producer and artist, and he's never looked back, and over the last few years, he's had a lot of success alone. He would have a huge yet annoying single with "Happy", which led to his next solo project "G I R L". Make no mistake about it, while The Neptunes aren't the collective force now that they once were, they're still contributing to music separately in different ways, which only enhances their legacy as The Neptunes to me. They've gone on to many different things besides music like films, entrepreneurship, jewelry, and more, showing that at the end of the day, success knows no bounds. While we love and know Pharrell more, Chad still has a legacy of his own, and when we think back on the greatest producers in history, you can bet Pharrell and Chad will be on that list.



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