The comeback king of the year is indisputably Pharrell Williams. After being relatively off the radar for a couple of years, the Virginian singer/songwriter/producer roared back into the pop consciousness with a vengeance, thanks to the 1-2 punch of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (which he produced) and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” (which he sang on.)
He (often joined by his talented but unsung partner-in-crime Chad Hugo) started his career over two decades ago, as an apprentice of supa-producer Teddy Riley. From under Riley’s shadow, Pharrell and Chad (AKA The Neptunes) became one of the most influential producer teams of recent times, with an approach that slid back and forth between minimalist boom-bap to a smoother pop-soul sound to rock-influenced productions (such as the work Chad’s done with singer-songwriter Kenna.)
The Popblerd team has gathered up this list of the 10 best Neptunes songs-give a listen and drop a comment if you feel like we left something out!
From Kelis’s “Tasty” (2003) Chart Peak: #3
Kelis was the first pet project of the Neptunes, and she caught the attention of the urban underground fairly quickly. It wasn’t until her third album, though, that Kelis saw mainstream success. The dance jam “Milkshake” soared to the top three of the pop charts and had the whole world wondering “what the hell is Kelis talking about?” Hell, I still don’t know what Kelis’s milkshake is. However, apparently it brings the boys to the yard, and it definitely brings the boys (and girls) to the dance floor to shake their asses. (MJ)
There’s a famous Justin Timberlake quote that has been around since before he released his first solo album Justified. Justin wanted people to be surprised at the style of music he wanted to make which was different from what people heard from him with *NSYNC. He said, “Nobody’s ever heard anything like that before … a white boy singing this kind of music.”
As the story goes, The Neptunes listened to Michael Jackson”s first two adult solo records Off The Wall and Thriller for inspiration in producing Timberlake. It shows with what would become Timberlake’s first solo single.
I really enjoy two things about Like I Love You; the drums and a hot verse by the rap group Clipse. I’m personally not a huge Clipse fan, but their verse gave Timberlake a small edge which helped people realize this wasn’t a solo version of *NSYNC. I thought it was a brilliant move by the Neptunes to pair the two together.
Eleven years later, you can still throw this on and people will start dancing. It has a long way to go before it becomes timeless (and Rock Your Body may have edged it out as favorite party single), but for Justin Timberlake’s first single, it was close to perfect. (GG)
“Got Your Money” was ODB’s biggest pop single ever. The Neptunes blended “Children’s Story” from Slick Rick with a bouncy and funky head-bopper featuring the debut of Nas’ future ex-wife, Kelis, on the now infamous hook which was all over the radio in 1999. What’s interesting about the song is that it’s radically bouncier than many of the other Neptunes singles of the time, which focused on lots of synths. The Dolemite influence on the song and video were both fantastic. (Big D)
7. Drop It Like It’s Hot-Snoop Dogg f/Pharrell
From Snoop Dogg’s “R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta)” (2004)/Chart Peak: #1
So Wikipedia tells me that not only was “Drop It Like It’s Hot” a number one single, it was top 50 (#48, actually) for the entire decade from 2000-2009. This is insane. This is not a standout rap from Snoop. It’s just one of many self-aggrandizing sets of verses that touches on every one of his constant touchstones: gangs, women, status, and money.
Two things made “Drop It Like It’s Hot” huge: Snoop’s inflection on the word “hot” (and words that more or less rhyme with “hot”), and The Neptunes. Even if you didn’t know a single word of a single verse in 2004, you were still walking around unconsciously muttering “Drop it like it’s hooaaawwwt” over and over again. The other thing that made “Drop It Like It’s Hot” stand out? A beat based entirely around easily imitated syncopated tongue clicks. The rest of the beat is so spare as to be nearly nonexistent — after the initial tongue-clicking novelty, it fades out of view, and then boom, there’s that huge ’80s synth break that shows up and disappears, and suddenly your foot’s tapping again. Those synths are the perfect “HEY! OVER HERE!” for the song, which pulls off the impossible trick of both getting under your skin and being impossible to keep in the background for any length of time. This is the pinnacle of The Neptunes’ “less is more” approach, and it’s so different from the “more is more” approach of the average pop song that it immediately stands out on the radio.
And just like that, Snoop Dogg stayed relevant just a little bit longer. (Mike S.)
6. Blurred Lines-Robin Thicke f/Pharrell and T.I.
from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (2013) Chart Peak: #1
Folks didn’t pay too much attention to “Blurred Lines” when it came out earlier this year. However, between the song’s catchiness and the eye-popping sexuality of the nekkid lady-filled video, this simple party jam turned in to the biggest hit of the year. It gave Robin Thicke the biggest pop success of his decade-long career, it gave Pharrell his biggest production success in ages, and it certainly raised the ire of Marvin Gaye’s family, who brought forth a lawsuit after determining the musical bed was a little too close to the late soul singer’s “Got To Give It Up.”
Does Gaye’s family have a case? I don’t have a horse in that race, although, to be fair, it’s not the first time Pharrell has been accused of playing another song too close-see “I’m A Slave 4 U” vs. Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” There’s a thin line between “influence” and “ripoff,” I guess. But whatever. When you want to throw your cares away and dance with reckless abandon, “Blurred Lines” is the best 2013 has to offer. C’mon, I know you want it. (MJ)
5. Beautiful-Snoop Dogg f/Pharrell & Charlie Wilson
from Snoop Dogg’s “Paid Tha Cost To Be Tha Bo$$” (2003)/Chart Peak: #6
Honestly, I had stopped paying attention to most of Snoop Dogg’s music until 2003, when he released “Beautiful”- a song produced by The Neptunes, featuring Pharrell singing on the chorus. At the time, I couldn’t get enough of Neptunes-produced beats, or Pharrell’s singing (and I admittedly am still hooked on both), so that was the initial draw to the song. But the breezy melody, simplistic, yet catchy, chorus (“You’re beautiful/I just want you to know/That you’re my favourite girl”), head-nodding beat, and smooth raps from Snoop (lines like, “Long hair, with your big fat booty” aren’t terribly awe-inspiring, but damn if he doesn’t sound cool rapping it), were what kept me listening to the song on repeat for most of Spring ’03. (Brittany)
4. Right Here/Human Nature-SWV
from the “Free Willy” Soundtrack (1993) Chart Peak: #2
One of the biggest hits of the summer of 1993 was SWV’s “Right Here.” In its original incarnation, it was a pleasant, uptempo new jack swing number, but put in the hands of Teddy Riley and his apprentice Pharrell Williams, it became a melodic masterpiece. Of course, the significant sampling of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” didn’t hurt. The mixture of hard-hitting beats with “Human Nature”‘s airy synths, and of course the vocals of Taj, Lelee and Coko, were so dope that the song spent over a month at #2 on the pop charts (behind UB40’s remake of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”) Pharrell the vocalist makes his debut on this track, although all he does is recite the group’s name during the song’s bridge. “Right Here/Human Nature” originally appeared on the MJ-curated “Free Willy” soundtrack before being appended to SWV’s already multi-platinum It’s About Time album. (MJ)
3. Rump Shaker-Wreckx-N-Effect
from Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Hard Or Smooth” (1992) Chart Peak: #2
My No. 32 black Orlando Magic Shaquille O’Neal jersey. Ping pong at the Boys & Girls Club. My then 12-year-old brother, and his friends, calling their bike “gang” Regulators. Prank calling people that gave some geek their number in last year’s yearbook. Really? Did they think I was going to call them? I barely knew them. Though years later I’m wondering if the girls that did leave their digits actually wanted me to call them. Did I miss the boat on that one? Oh, sorry, and “Rump Shaker.”
This is how I thought I remembered the summer of ’93. (After fact checking I realized that O’Neal was drafted in summer of ’92, the same year that “Rump Shaker” was a hit. Warren G’s “Regulate” wasn’t released until 1994, the same year I got my first high school yearbook. And I dominated the ping pong tables of the Boys & Girls Club from ’92-’94.)
Anyway, how did “Rump Shaker” make it on a Neptunes list? Mr. Pharrell Williams was a co-writer (writing Teddy Riley’s rap verses) for the song that – thanks to Whitney and that Bodyguard ballad – couldn’t break No. 2 on the Billboard 100.
Years later it’s still a club classic, with all anyone wanting to do is “zoom-zoom-zoom in a boom-boom” while gyrating their rumps … pretty much like a Rump Shaker. (KJ)
2. I’m A Slave 4 U-Britney Spears
from Britney Spears’ “Britney'” (2001) Chart Peak: #27
Britney made a splash in the pop world with her first two LPs, both of which yielded chart topping hits. While her previous singles were well crafted dance pop, their songwriting and production were fairly rote in the context of contemporaneous pop trends. Leading off her third LP. “I’m a Slave 4 U” was the first Britney single that sounded different, even interesting. It’s a perfect example of the difference that a crack songwriting and production team can make for a performer with little creative aptitude of her own. “Slave” finds The Neptunes weaving an tribal beat with sparse synth lines, the combination of which is reminiscent of Vanity 6’s lone hit, 1982’s “Nasty Girl.” Initially intended for Janet Jackson, “Slave” was (for me at least) the first moment that suggested with the right team behind her, Britney might be more than just another vapid pop singer. (Gonzo)
from Clipse’s “Lord Willin'” (2002) Chart Peak: #30
I’m one of those rap fans. Which is to say, I’ve never been a big fan of hip-hop that glorifies activities like drug dealing. Or at least, I moved past all of that when I left my teens (and left Brooklyn, and realized the toll that things like drugs take on black folks.) So…it should go without saying that I find Clipse’s “Grindin'” topically reprehensible, and am somewhat embarrassed at the fact that I like the song as much as I do.
Never mind the appropriately icy deliveries of brothers Pusha T and Malice. The winner here is the skeletal musical bed concocted by Pharrell. It’s equal parts minimalist old-school and some kinda futuristic shit that the world has yet to catch up to 11 years later. It’s a complete love/hate song for me, but I have to admit that I love it enough that I can excuse the subject matter (like a ton of excellent hip-hop, I might add.) My head might be hanging in shame, but it’s nodding hard as fuck too. (MJ)
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