If you want innovators, simply visit my home state of Virginia.
Timbaland, Missy Elliott, D’Angelo – some of music’s most creative minds come from that fertile land. And for the past 20 years, creativity has been the hallmark of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams.
The duo known as The Neptunes enjoyed a meteoric rise in the music industry, from quietly producing some of your favorite R&B tracks in the mid-90s to exploding at the turn of the millennium and reshaping the scope of production in the 21st century. Their resume is a who’s who of music luminaries.
Let’s look back at 25 of their greatest scores. From soothing R&B to synthy pop to rugged hip-hop, Chad and P could do it all. Here’s their best work.
Honorable mentions: Fabolous, “Young’n”; Mystikal, “Danger”; Clipse, “Ride Around Shinin'”; Justin Timberlake, “Rock Your Body”
25. ODB featuring Kelis, “Got Your Money” (1999)
ODB’s sophomore (and final) album N**** Please was 45 minutes of sheer chaos. But in the midst of that anarchy, The Neptunes created an infectious disco-themed record that would become the Dirt Dog’s biggest mainstream hit.
24. Jay Z, “Allure” (2003)
On what was supposed to be Jay’s last album (eye roll), the Neptunes provided the perfect farewell track – a lush instrumental that sounded almost heavenly. It would have been the perfect way to say goodbye. This, of course, was far from Jay’s finale but still remains a staple of his catalog.
23. Snoop Dogg, featuring Pharrell and Charlie Wilson “Beautiful” (2002)
The airy, light production, the gentle bass – and of course Pharrell’s crooning – all set the stage for the perfect summer jam.
22. 702, “I Still Love You” (2003)
A few years back, I stumbled upon an interview with Pharrell in which he proclaimed this track as one of the best he’s ever produced. I was happy to see him show it some love – those heavy synths are some of the best The Neptunes have cooked up.
21. Jay Z featuring Pharrell, “Excuse Me Miss” (2002)
I know the “La-La-La” remix gets most of the praise but when it comes to production, it’s hard to beat the original. The laid-back groove is perfect for the stepper set.
20. SWV, “Use Your Heart (1996)
This track is recognized as The Neptunes’ first shot at stardom and they didn’t waste the opportunity. The soulful backdrop is the perfect setting for SWV’s love letter. It was just the beginning of a long, lucrative career.
19. Britney Spears, “I’m A Slave 4 U” (2001)
In one song, The Neptunes transformed Britney from girl next door to sweaty sex symbol. As they were prone to do at the time, The Neptunes went nuts with the synths, creating an off-kilter, addictive dance track.
18. Clipse, “Keys Open Doors” (2006)
Yeah, expect a LOT of Clipse songs on this list. The Neptunes always seemed to pass along their strongest material to their Virginia brethren, and this haunting track is no exception.
17. Pharrell featuring Jay Z, “Frontin'” (2003)
There’s not much to this track and that simplicity is part of its beauty. Sparse keys, random bass, percussions scattered here and there – the gentle mix made for extremely easy listening, and became the springboard for P’s solo career.
16. Nelly, “Hot In Herre” (2002)
Unless you were in a womb or a tomb in 2002, chances are you know this one well. Synths, synths and more synths were all Nelly needed for his first No. 1 single
15. N.E.R.D. featuring Lee Harvey and Vita, “Lapdance” (2001)
N.E.R.D. was ahead of its time, along with this rock-influenced instrumentals here. Heavy bass and untamed guitars brought hip-hop to the mosh pit and became the band’s signature hit.
14. Kelis, “Get Along With You” (1999)
Yeah, I know the brazen “Caught Out There” allowed Kelis to kick down the door but “Get Along With You” is what proved that she deserved a seat at stardom’s table. The Neptune’s melancholy production worked seamlessly with Kelis despondent lyrics – it’s an emo kid’s dream track.
13. Justin Timberlake featuring Clipse, “Like I Love You” (2002)
This one is all about the guitars. Frenzied flamenco guitars really raise the tempo on this one, giving JT his first (of many) solo smash hits.
12. Busta Rhymes featuring Puff Daddy and Pharrell, “Pass the Courvoisier Part II” (2002)
This is an exercise in controlled chaos. The Neptunes bring a cocktail of sounds to the table, which could easily have resulted in a jumbled mess. Instead, the arrangements match Busta’s intensity and the party begins.
11. Mystikal featuring Pharrell, “Shake It Fast” (2000)
Trust me, young’ns, these bongos RULED the clubs in 2000. Mystikal was always on the cusp of breaking out while part of the No Limit army, but this is the track that launched him into the limelight.
10. Ludacris, “Southern Hospitality” (2000)
2000 was the year Luda marched to mainstream fame, and The Neptunes cooked up the quintessential fight song for his ascent. The beat was just as aggressive – and addictive – as Luda’s flow.
9. Clipse featuring Slim Thug, “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” (2006)
The Neptunes refused to be put in a box. Here, they take Indian-influenced sounds to the next level, tossing out all subtlety and making every note forceful and impactful. It’s arguably the most underrated track in The Neptunes’ portfolio.
8. Kelis, Milkshake (2003)
This track is the very reason why just hearing the word “Milkshake” instantly makes you want to dance. Those beloved synths are back, along with a distinctive chime that quickly becomes an earworm. It’s hard to believe this song is more than a decade old – it has become a fixture in pop culture.
7. Jay Z featuring Pharrell, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” (2000)
Full disclosure – I’ve never been a big fan of this beat. It’s a little too off-kilter for my tastes. But you can’t deny the mastery it took to create it, nor its lasting success. It’s futuristic funk for sure, and yet another summer staple.
6. Usher, “U Don’t Have to Call” (2001)
Sounding like an intergalactic night on the town, this Neptunes beat is laden with quirky sound effects that really set it apart from other songs of the era. Despite the weirdness, it’s still grounded with R&B elements for just a smidge of soul.
5. Beanie Man featuring Mya, “Girls Dem Sugar” (2000)
Leave it to The Neptunes to make Beanie Man an international superstar. Once again, those synths rule supreme, working alongside with some ear-catching drums to create a cut perfect for the dancehall.
4. LL Cool J, “Luv U Better” (2002)
Credit The Neptunes for giving LL one last great anthem for the ladies. This cut is effortlessly smooth, tailor-made for LL’s heartfelt ode to his lady. Also, shout out to Marc Dorsey for his uncredited hook – that’s what really ties it all together.
3. NORE, “Superthug (What What)” (1998)
When Noreaga went solo and connected with The Neptunes in the late 90s, they were still largely unknown. This beat changed EVERYTHING. The energy here is incredible, buoyed by soon-to-be trademark synths and creative arrangements that instantly set it apart from everything else in the landscape. This is the one that change the game for The Neptunes.
2. Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (2004)
It might feel weird to say it today, but Snoop slowly began to slide into obscurity by the early ’00s. That’s until this song put him on top yet again. The barely-there production sound like a mess on paper – it’s little more than random synths and that mouth-popping noise kids made to annoy teachers in third grade. But that was all it took to build Snoop’s first No. 1 hit.
1. Clipse, “Grindin'” (2002)
Yeah No. 1 was pretty obvious. And there’s a reason for that. On the surface, it’s a pretty simple construction – it’s not much different than when we used to pound out beats on the lunchroom table during high-school freestyling sessions – but it’s the aggression that is the hallmark. The out-of-the-box production has spawned many imitators, but they all pale to this, which somehow still sounds futuristic a decade later. It’s classic Neptunes.
Did your favorite Neptunes beat make the list? Let us know below.