The Neptunes

The Neptunes
The Neptunes
Origin Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.
Genres Hip hop, jazz rap, dance, dancehall, pop rap
Years active 1992-present
Labels Star Trak, Interscope
Associated acts N.E.R.D, Clipse, Tyler, The Creator, Jay-Z, Nelly, Usher, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Dr. Dre, Ludacris, Kanye West, Game, Lupe Fiasco, CRS,Mariah Carey, Timbaland
Pharrell Williams
Chad Hugo

The Neptunes are a record production duo consisting of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who are credited with contributing the sound for many successful hip hop, R&B and pop artists in the late-1990s and 2000s.

The Neptunes' sound is a distinctive brand of off-kilter, stripped-down electronic funk with sounds from Middle Eastern and Asian music including percussion and woodwind.

Pharrell sings and (later) raps on records and appears in videos, unlike his production partner Chad, and sometimes vocal partner Shay Haley, who tends to stay behind the scenes.

The Neptunes are estimated to have a net worth of $155 million and are considered one of the most successful producers in music history, noted by numerous top 10 hits during the late-1990s and 2000s.[1]

In 2009 Billboard ranked The Neptunes No. 1 on their list of Top 10 producers of the decade. Readers of Vibe Magazine named The Neptunes as the 3rd greatest hip-hop producers of all time behind Dr. Dre and DJ Premier.[2]



Pharrell and Chad met at a summer camp from the school of The Gifted and Talented in Virginia Beach, where Williams was a drummer and Hugo played tenor saxophone.[3] They were also both members of a marching band; Pharrell played kettle drum and Chad was a student conductor. In 1990 Chad and Pharrell formed a 4-piece "R&B type" group along with friends Shay and Mike Etheridge, which they named The Neptunes. Upon entering a local talent contest, they were discovered by Teddy Riley, whose studio was close to Pharrell's school.[4] After graduating from high school, they signed with Riley as a group.[5]

Through working with Riley, Pharrell went on to write a verse for Wreckx-N-Effect's 1992 #2 (billboard hot 100) hit "Rump Shaker". In 1994, Hugo and Williams had established themselves formally as a production duo under the previously used name "The Neptunes", and produced "Tonight's The Night" from Teddy Riley's group BLACKstreet's self-titled debut. Over the next three years they continued to produce occasionally. Some of the production, such as for SWV (1996) and Total (1996), had little resemblance to what would become their distinctive sound, while other songs such as Mase's 1998 No.8 (Billboard hot 100) hit "Lookin' At Me" (from the Harlem World album, 1997) showed clear signs the Neptunes sound was developing.

Their first major production hit, and the most clear beginning of the distinctive Neptunes sound, came with N.O.R.E.'s "Superthug" in 1998, reaching #36 on the Billboard Hot 100, and gaining them widespread attention for the first time. The duo then went on to work heavily with Kelis, producing her first album Kaleidoscope and Ol' Dirty Bastard's record Got Your Money, on which Kelis is featured. They achieved huge commercial success with tracks like Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)", Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass", and then-newly-renamed Diddy's single "D.I.D.D.Y". Other notable hits during their commercial rise were Busta Rhymes' "Pass The Courvoisier pt. 2" and Usher's "You Don't Have to Call".

Kelis was one of several artists whose careers Hugo and Williams have helped launch; artists such as the Clipse, Vanessa Marquez[disambiguation needed ] and Justin Timberlake's solo career were also closely tied to the Neptunes' involvement. They have also helped re-launch the careers of Snoop Dogg, Robin Thicke and Mystikal.

In 2001, The Neptunes gained their first worldwide hit with Britney Spears' single, "I'm A Slave 4 U", which reached #1 in several countries in Europe and South America. The following year they reached #1 in the U.S. with Nelly's single, "Hot in Herre". In August of the same year, The Neptunes were named "Producers of the Year" at both The Source Awards and the Billboard Music Awards.

In 2003, they released a self-credited album called The Neptunes Present... Clones, featuring songs and remixes from various Star Trak artists. This album topped the US Billboard 200 Albums Chart.

The Neptunes went home with two Grammy Awards in 2004, one for "Producer of the Year, Non-Classical", and another for "Best Pop Vocal Album" for their work on Justin Timberlake's No.2 Billboard hit Justified. They also gained their first UK #1, again with Nelly, and Flap Your Wings.

The Neptunes sound

Their 'sound' is mostly synthesizer riffs, Sampling Keyboard and modules. The Neptunes sound was first heard on Noreaga's 1998 track "Superthug", although not their first production, the song made it officially known as "The Neptunes Sound". Another example of "The Neptunes Sound" is in the Daft Punk song "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," which they did a remix of. The song was released in Daft Punk's remix album titled "Daft Club," which was released Internationally on December 3, 2003 and in the U.S. on January 27, 2004. Along with The Neptunes remix, there were also remixes by Jess and Crabbe, Basement Jaxx, and many more.


A Neptunes production is typically characterized by flat, punchy drum machine sounds and the use of module presets. "Grindin'" was a drum track that paid tribute to Eric B. & Rakim's song of the same nature, "My Melody". Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You" paid tribute to the drums of the funk era, where the loop consisted of various snare sounds. On Busta Rhymes' "Light Yo Ass On Fire" they used a heavy chorus effect on the rhythm track suggesting an industrial or robotic theme. They have used the popular Roland TR-808 drum sound on such songs as LL Cool J's and Jamie Foxx's collaboration "Best Dress" but later production work introduced 'live' drum sounds similar to the ones they would frequently use under their N*E*R*D guise.

The Neptunes' engineer, in an interview with Sound on Sound magazine, revealed many of their production techniques.[6] In reference to their drums he said, "Williams will play a standard drum kit, then I will cut 16 bars of it into a loop, before using the same method for other instruments including guitars. That's where a lot of the feel of their records comes from — it's not just machines and loops."[7]


Many Neptunes productions feature a hook with Pharrell singing falsetto, including Jay-Z's "Excuse Me Miss", Jadakiss' "Hot Sauce To Go", Kelis' "Flashback", and Snoop Dogg's "Beautiful". Pharrell also adds his own rhymes to his productions, including "Drop It Like It's Hot" in 2004 and "Can I Have It Like That" from his solo debut album In My Mind. Sometimes he is credited as a featured artist and other times he is not.


Another sound found on Neptunes productions are their distinctive use of synth lines (popularized by Dr.Dre in the early 1990's with his G-funk sub-genre). Examples include the sharp unfiltered sawtooth bass on Busta Rhymes' As I Come Back or Kelis' Milkshake, the heavily phased strings in Jay-Z's "Excuse Me Miss (Remix)", and hard clavi sounds which is used in N.E.R.D's "Lapdance" reminiscent of those associated with rayguns or video game sound effects from the 8-bit era. The synthesizers they use include a MicroKorg, and a Minimoog Voyager.

Studio equipment

There has been much speculation about their tools of the trade. For sequencing they use the Korg 01/W, for drum sounds they use the sampling keyboard Ensoniq ASR-10, their sound modules include the Roland JV 1080 and JV 2080 and for basslines and filtering they have used the MicroKorg. They are also well known for using the Korg Triton and incorporating live percussion and acoustic instruments into their music.[5]

Other Neptunes-related ventures

Star Trak

The Neptunes' record label, Star Trak Entertainment, includes acts such as Snoop Dogg, Slim Thug and Robin Thicke. Star Trak artists generally benefit from more frequent production from The Neptunes, however, criticisms include poor promotion and release scheduling. Former artist include (due to parent label disputes) Kelis.


The alternative group N*E*R*D is composed of Pharrell, Chad and Shay Haley. It is a backronym of No one Ever Really Dies. Their group hits include "Lapdance", "Rock Star" and "She Wants To Move". The first two singles came from their debut album In Search Of... released in 2001, while the latter came from their eagerly anticipated follow-up Fly Or Die in 2004. The band released a third album, Seeing Sounds, on June 10, 2008 and released their fourth studio album entitled "Nothing", on November 2, 2010.

Pharrell as a solo artist

In 2003, Pharrell released his first solo single, Frontin' featuring Jay-Z. At the time he claimed it was a one-off song, and that he was not a singer in his own right. However, after several delays, Pharrell released his debut solo album on July 24 , 2006, titled "In My Mind". The first single from the album was a collaboration with Gwen Stefani titled "Can I Have It Like That", released in 2005. The album features numerous guests, including Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Slim Thug, and Kanye West.

In recent years, Pharrell and Hugo have written many songs and produced beats separately on different projects, despite production still being credited to The Neptunes in all cases except Pharrell's solo debut In My Mind and Hugo's work on Kenna's New Sacred Cow. Notable examples include the Clipse's 2006 release Hell Hath No Fury,& 2009 release of Til The Casket Drops, where Pharrell or P.Williams is the only member of the duo who receives writing credits, as well as N.E.R.D.'s 2008 album Seeing Sounds, where nine songs are written solely by Pharrell and 3 are written by both Pharrell and Chad (Hugo received credits for additional keyboards and horns). Hugo, meanwhile, co-wrote the majority of Kenna's 2007 album Make Sure They See My Face, with the exception of two songs co-written by Pharrell and two written by Kenna alone. Basic speculation has to do with the fact that Pharrell now resides in Miami and Chad still resides in Virginia, but according to Pharrell, the two are very much still a team, despite recent allegations that the duo were splitting ways back in October 2008. The most recent project to receive substantial writing input from both Pharrell and Hugo has been Common's Universal Mind Control while Asher Roth recently confirmed that he was colloborating with both on his latest album.[8]

Watch The Throne collaboration

As speculation began to surface that Jay-Z and Kanye West were collaborating on an album titled Watch the Throne, Pharrell expressed great interest to work with them on it. Although Hugo was busy with Kenna's sophomore album, he too expressed interest. Finally, during production of the album, Jay-Z and Kanye West paid a visit to Pharrell's Hovercraft Studio in Virginia. This was West's first collaboration with The Neptunes as a formal production duo. (He worked with Pharrell on his album In My Mind.) What began as simple sampling on the Ensonique ASR-10 turned into an eight hour studio session that resulted in the rap duo's second single "Gotta Have It". It presented heavy bass and the signature Neptunes snare claps. Pharrell added eccentric hi-hats to maintain consistency between the album's wild eccentric rap flow. The final piece to the track was West's sampling of an Egyptian song's female vocals. West earned production credits on the track, with The Neptunes earning primary credits. "Gotta Have It" failed to impact the radio as well as its predecessor "Niggas in Paris". Still, Jay-z claims its his favorite track on the album, citing a positive unique synergy between him and Pharrell. West often remarks that he wanted to work with The Neptunes, and the two plan to collaborate again on West's next album.


Awards and nominations

The Neptunes awards and nominations
Awards and nominations
Award Wins Nominations
Grammy Awards
3 11
Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards
2 6
Awards won 5
Nominations 17

The duo has received numerous awards, such as from the Grammy Awards, where they have been nominated every year from 2004 to 2007. The Neptunes have received three Grammy Awards: "Producer of the Year, Non-Classical", "Best Pop Vocal Album" for Justified, and "Best Rap Song" for "Money Maker". Overall, The Neptunes have received five awards from 17 nominations.

Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards

The Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards are sponsored by Billboard magazine and is held annually in December.[9][10][11]

Year Nominated work Award Result
2002 The Neptunes Songwriter of the Year Nominated
Producer of the Year Nominated
2003 The Neptunes Songwriter of the Year Nominated
Producer of the Year Won
2004 The Neptunes Producer of the Year Nominated
2009 The Neptunes Producer of the Decade Won

Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States.[12][13][14][15]

Year Nominated work Award Result
2004 The Neptunes Producer of the Year, Non-Classical Won
Justified Best Pop Vocal Album Won
"Frontin'" Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Nominated
"Beautiful" Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Nominated
Best Rap Song Nominated
"Excuse Me Miss" Best Rap Song Nominated
2005 "Drop It Like It's Hot" Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Nominated
Best Rap Song Nominated
2006 The Neptunes Producer of the Year Nominated
2007 "Money Maker" Best Rap Song Won
In My Mind Best Rap Album Nominated


  1. ^ "Panache Report". Panache Report. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  2. ^ Nigel D.. "Billboard’s Top 10 Producers Of The Decade | RealTalkNY". Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  3. ^ "Q&A with The Neptunes, Q&A with The Neptunes
  4. ^ "Chad Hugo: Rock Star, an interview with Yolk Magazine, 2002
  5. ^ a b "Neptunes production techniques; an interview with Chad Hugo" on, from the December 2003 issue of 'Sound & Recording'
  6. ^ Dan Daley. "Recording The Neptunes". Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  7. ^ Sound on Sound "Recording the Neptunes", July 2005
  8. ^ "Asher Roth promises "dope" music - Music News". Digital Spy. 2010-04-03. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  9. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album". Billboard. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  10. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums". Billboard. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  11. ^ "Finalists & Winners". Billboard. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  12. ^ "46th Grammy Awards - 2004". Rock on the Net. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  13. ^ "47th Grammy Awards - 2005". Rock on the Net. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  14. ^ "48th Grammy Awards - 2006". Rock on the Net. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  15. ^ "49th Grammy Awards - 2007". Rock on the Net. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 

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