FLASHBACK FRIDAY: The Neptunes

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In hopes that the rumored Clipse reunion circulating the blogosphere this week is for real, we’re going through the best moments in The Neptunes’ career, which now spans two decades if we consider Blackstreet’s “Tonight’s the Night” their first official gig as a production team. Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams have come quite a long way since 1994, hitting the top ten in Billboard’s Hot 100 with 24 of their produced tracks throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s and collecting Billboard and Grammy awards left and right along the way. Here’s a rundown of a few of their more memorable successes:

N*E*R*D

The Neptunes’ side project with Shay Haley is now sort of a cult favorite, though most would recognize their early ‘00s hit songs “Lapdance” and “She Wants to Move.” The trio deftly mixed rap with funk and rock, exuding swag long before the word was a trend. N*E*R*D gave Williams and Hugo the space to do everything their own way and show off the former high school band geeks’ instrumental abilities.

Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U”

Brit knew she wanted a turning point in her already well-established pop career, and she chose the right guys to make it happen. “I’m a Slave 4 U” was not only produced but also written by the Neptunes, who had originally intended it for Janet Jackson; but let’s be honest: in Jackson’s hands, the song would’ve come off as more of the same. In the hands of a 19-year-old, virginal Britney Spears, though, it was explosive. And—especially when paired with an albino python at the 2001 VMA stage—it was perhaps the peak of this megastar’s career.

Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”

After working with No Doubt on “Hella Good,” The Neptunes continued collaborating with Gwen on her breakout solo album, co-writing and producing the hottest hit off of Love Angel Music Baby. It seems like this is what the Neptunes do best: turning pop musicians into pop superstars.

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Work with Kelis

The Neptunes’ very first full album production gig came with Kelis’ debut record, 1999’s Kaleidoscope. In fact, they didn’t just produce that entire album, they also wrote, arranged, and provided instrumentation and vocals for the majority of it. Kaleidoscope didn’t do so well commercially but critics gave it high praise and Kelis continued to work extensively with the Neptunes for her sophomore record, Wanderland, and of course for her third record, Tasty, which featured the Neptunes-penned track we all know: “Milkshake.”

 

“Drop It Like It’s Hot”

Snoop Doggy Dogg may have come up under Dr. Dre, but his first single to ever reach number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 was written and produced by none other than the Neptunes. For a while, this song was the most substantial mainstream representation of Pharrell, who provides vocals and is heavily featured in the video, but his and Hugo’s behind-the-scenes production work on the track is what gave it that unforgettable, tongue-clicking sound.

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Work with Clipse

Pusha T and brother Malice were to the Neptunes as Eminem was to Dre. Their mainstream success was limited back in the day—“When the Last Time” being their biggest hit—but Pusha T in particular has significantly developed his sound, especially with last year’s solo album My Name is My Name. Any new Clipse material would likely be a huge step forward from their last release, ’09s Til the Casket Drops. Pusha T recently posted pictures on Twitter of Hugo and Williams in the studio, so here’s to hoping Malice is getting in there soon, too.

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Justin Timberlake’s Justified 

As most of us know, JT’s debut solo album included pop gems like “Senorita,” “Like I Love You” (featuring Clipse), and “Rock Your Body,” all of which have the Neptunes’ instantly recognizable fingerprints all over them. Truth is, Justin’s transition from N’SYNC to solo career would not have gone so incredibly smoothly without the Neptunes’ work on those supersmash hits; and who knows, without the crazy success from his first foray as a one-man-show, maybe today’s JT wouldn’t be nearly the pop legend he has become. So let’s all take a moment to silently thank Hugo and Williams for introducing to the world the Justin Timberlake we all know and love today (not just figuratively but literally, if you count those first few seconds of “Senorita”).

2004 in general

This was a great year for the dynamic duo, who snatched the Grammys not only for “Best Pop Vocal Album” as the producers on Justified but also for “Producer of the Year, Non Classical.” The Neptunes were also nominated that year for “Best Rap Song” and “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration” as producers for Jay-Z’s “Excuse Me Miss,” Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful,” and Pharrell’s own “Frontin’.” These guys were basically ubiquitous in 2004—hell, even the New York Times ran an article about them. This was their heyday, but hopefully with Hugo and Williams back in the studio along with Pusha T, plenty of good things are on the way.

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