The Neptunes are one of, if not the most ubiquitous hip-hop producers of the last 15 years, and trying to sum up their prolific career with just a few short paragraphs and some mp3s is a daunting task. Pharrell Williams’ falsetto and Chad Hugo’s synthesizer riffs harken back to a time in the late 90s when the synthetic G-Funk sound was the hottest thing going in hip-hop, and the Neptunes movement was at the front of the pack. They’re two of the most successful hip-hop producers of all time, and there’s a good chance you really love a good portion of their work.
Pharrell and Chad formed their musical bond at a summer camp for gifted children, where Williams was a drummer, and Chad played tenor saxophone. After a stint in an R&B group managed by Teddy Riley (Blackstreet) called The Neptunes, the pair shifted their focus towards production and songwriting. Teddy Riley assisted in getting the group some exposure through producing tracks for 1990s R&B groups SWV and Total, but it was producing the song “Lookin’ At Me” for MA$E that would showcase the definitive Neptunes sound as you know it today.
In 1998, the Neptunes enjoyed the success of a breakthrough hit, with N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug,” giving the relatively green producers some industry buzz for the first time. They scored a huge coup when Ol’ Dirty Bastard utilized their talents on “Got Ya Money” featuring Kelis, a massive hit that spawned a long-term working relationship with Kelis.
The Neptunes’ success with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, MA$E, and N.O.R.E. afforded them the opportunity to champion emerging artists, focusing much of their time shaping the careers of The Clipse, Kelis, and Justin Timberlake’s solo career. They were also able to release their own music (via the project N.E.R.D.) through forming their own record label called Star Trak Entertainment. Star Trak is host to artists such as Snoop Dogg, Kelis, Robin Thicke, and more.
It’s impossible to hit all the bases in just a few songs, but let’s do our best at sampling the best of the Neptunes’ stripped-down synthesized funk for this edition of the Friday Mixtape.