The GOAT (Greatest of All Time) of Hip-Hop production will always be debated amongst fans of the genre. DJ Premier, RZA, Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, Kanye West and Timbaland are just some of the names that get thrown into the discussion. But, it is unfair to describe The Neptunes as just Hip-Hop producers. They dwell in and out of Hip-Hop, R&B, even alternative rock; but they do it so well, and their sound is so unique and genre defining, that they automatically are considered as one of the greatest producers, regardless of the genre. I can not think of any other producers in history that have had such an influence on more than one genre of music.
Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo’s first worldwide acclaimed hit as ‘The Neptunes’ was not even a Hip-Hop track, but rather SWV – Right Here, a legendary R&B song. It sampled Michael Jackon – Human Nature and got the ball rolling and showed the world the type of sound that The Neptunes were after. Baring in mind that song was released in 1993, where the likes of Dr. Dre and RZA were at the top of the Hip-Hop genre, The Neptunes sound was completely different; no where near as ‘gangster’ or as ‘dark’ as anybody else in Hip-Hop. A breath of fresh air.
Throughout the 1990’s, they maintained some relevance in Hip-Hop, producing songs for big artists like Jay-Z, Mase, Noreaga and The Lox. But the sound The Neptunes had was not the popular one in Hip-Hop. Rappers were still chasing the darker sound, and it seemed like The Neptunes would get left behind. But then, in 2000, at the start of the new century and perhaps finally a new era and new sound for Hip-hop, The Neptunes would create a beat and give it to Jay-Z, and the song ‘I Just Wanna Love U’ was born. To this day it remains of the most well known and catchy hooks in Hip-Hop history. You do not have to be a fan of the genre to appreciate the greatness of the production on that song. 16 years later, if that song came out today, it would sound as fresh as ever. The song landed #1 on Billboards Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart and since then, The Neptunes have never looked back. It is a song that can be described as one of the first that changed the sound of the genre. Other than Kanye West and The Neptunes, no artist has been credited with changing the sound of Hip-hop. Britney Spears, who was probably the biggest pop star in the world at the time heard I Just Wanna Love U and begged The Neptunes to produce for her. That year they produced Boys and I’m A Slave For U for Britney Spears, 2 of her biggest songs to date. That’s just what they do. They produced the biggest rap song of the year and then dwelled into R&B and produced the biggest R&B songs of that year. Once their sound had broken into the mainstream, there was no stopping them.
Over the course of the next few years, in both Hip-Hop and R&B, they produced hit record after hit record. A song produced by The Neptunes was near the top of the charts consistently. A few examples that you may have forgotten, overlooked or just didn’t know about:
Usher – U Don’t Have To Call,
Justin Timberlake – Senorita, Like I Love You, Rock Your Body
Clipse – Lord Willin’ and Hell Hath No Fury albums in their entirety
Jay-Z – Excuse Me Miss, Change Clothes
Nelly – Hot In Herre
Beyonce – Green Light
LL Cool J – Luv U Better
Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like Its Hot, Beautiful, Let’s Get Blown
Pharrell Williams – Frontin’.
Those are just off the top of my head. All hit records that to this day people will describe as songs that defined the 2000s. All Neptunes production. Their influence on the sound of music throughout the 2000s and today is undeniable. We would have no artists like Kanye West, Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, ASAP Rocky and perhaps even Drake without The Neptunes. Superstars in the music industry describe Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo as ‘Gods.’ Tyler, The Creator cried the first time he met Pharrell Williams. He couldn’t believe he was meeting the man that allowed someone like him, a skateboarding hipster kid that wore Supreme and Varsity Jackets to even pursue a career like rapping. Kanye West may have the image as someone who is arrogant and self obsessed but he will be the first to say that without The Neptunes, there is no Kanye West.
The Neptunes produced SWV – Right Here in 1993 and in 2015 produced Kendrick Lamar – Alright. They’ve been doing this for 22 years now. Across all genres. Producing some of your favourite songs each year. In my eyes it is almost undeniable that they are the greatest producers of all time. Based on the uniqueness, the hits and the tenure for which they’ve been doing it, who even comes close in comparison?