Ain't no secret, The Neptunes got that Midas touch. Over the last decade, super-producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have blessed the likes of ODB, Jay-Z, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Snoop with radio-friendly beats that charted from jumpstreet while still sounding raw. "Drop It Like It's Hot," "I Just Wanna Love U," "Rock Your Body," "I'm A Slave 4 U," "Hot in Herre"... it just don't stop.
The Neptunes make minimal, skeletal, anti-pop pop. It's a sound that reached its apotheosis on 2002's monster single, "Grindin," perhaps the most avant-garde composition ever to hit top-40. You want to reconstruct "Grindin" at home? Record the sound of steel doors slamming shut, add some hand claps, and for the chorus... well the chorus you're on your own, lord only knows what digital magic was used to conjure up that ghostly tonal melody. It sounded utterly unique then, and still sounds out of this world now.
The boys of Clipse aren't gonna win any medals for their lyrics on "Grindin," but they get in some clever lines. "I move 'cane like a cripple... kids call me Mr. Sniffles." Their subject matter rarely deviates from jewels, cars with the roof off, and the flip of that co-cai-ene-ah, but for coke rappers they're above average. You get the sense, though, that these boys would be nowhere fast were they not under Chad & Pharrell's wing. That's the problem with super-producers-- it doesn't really matter how good the MCs spitting over their beats are, because a tight instrumental is all that's required for a hit. Lyrics are just icing on the cake. Am I the only one who routinely scrapes frosting off his cake?
Clipse may not be 5-mic wonders, but they sound like T.S. Eliot when compared to N.O.R.E., the rapper whose phoned-in lyrics lace 2003's "Put Em Up." Although "Put Em Up" is the hottest track on the Neptunes compilation Clones, N.O.R.E. is not exactly spittin' hot fire. Sample quote:
"I'm just chillin with my shorty / drinkin on a 40 / private stock, Old English / about to get some naughty"
HOLD UP, SON RHYMED SHORTY WITH 40!!! Who could have seen it coming?
I don't care, at the end of the day "Put Em Up" is a mad banger guaranteed to induce bouncing, head-snaps and general excitement wherever it's played. Bump it at your next party and watch the energy level go to 11. Anybody who didn't know how to spell PIMP before is about to learn. I especially love the jump-rope rhymin Long Island accented chicks at 0:46 who proclaim, "It's NORE NORE!"
Clipse - Grindin'
Star Trak Entertainment, 2002
N.O.R.E. fet. Pharrell - Put 'Em Up
Star Trak Entertainment, 2003