Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes want to broaden their
audience — even if it means losing some of their staunch hip-hop fans.
The star production duo knew they were taking that risk when they pulled the
plug on their debut as N*E*R*D and reconfigured it with live instrumentation
instead of programming.
Hugo said fans who have heard the revised In Search Of … via online
leaks haven’t all turned back positive reviews — but that’s OK with him.
“We wanted to step out of that so-called in-the-pocket hip-hop sound and
just do something totally different,” Hugo said from the Neptunes’ Virginia
studio on Friday. “The other day I checked online and people weren’t feeling
the new album because it was totally a step beyond what they’re used to from
the Neptunes. And that’s what we meant to do, because we’re trying to
broaden our audience. We didn’t want just the typical hip-hop listener to
feel this album. We wanted people who like to sit in the corner with their
guitars and piano and sing songs to themselves all day.”
In Search Of …, which also features vocalist Shay, was originally planned for a July release in the States — it was already out overseas before the Neptunes decided to revamp it (see “Neptunes Trash Their N*E*R*D Debut” ). They recruited Virginia four-piece Spy Mobb to supply the live elements and pulled it together in less than two weeks.
“We dig old nostalgia Steely Dan, old America stuff,” Hugo said. “We used
to listen to those records all day and study the chord changes and the way
the drum sounds. Spy Mobb were actually making that type of music but in a
newer, updated form.”
Working with live instruments is as natural for the Neptunes as tootling around with ProTools. “We started out as bandmembers anyway — it wasn’t like we got into this music game with just a drum machine,” Hugo said. “Pharrell and I met in music class in high school. From the start we were up on playing with a band with live instruments. But I
guess doing the sh– with No Doubt kinda reminded us we can do that all
“We still want people to bob their head and mosh at the same time, if that’s
possible … If you like Neptunes beats and you have an open mind, you may be
up on the N*E*R*D stuff, but at the same time we don’t want to limit
ourselves to Neptune hip-hop fans.”
Hugo said he expects the album to hit stores in January. Meanwhile, the
Neptunes continue to rack up credits as the hottest producers around. Their
work will surface on upcoming albums by Kelis and Britney Spears (see “Neptunes Working With Britney, Kelis, But Dreaming Of Michael Jackson” ).
“She’s a real laid-back cool chick,” Hugo said of Spears. “She’s just like
one of the crew — she can hang out, burp and laugh goofy. It was an easy job
getting along with her.”
He added that he and Williams wanted to steer Spears in more of a club
direction on Britney, due November 6. “Back in the day, you would
hear pop songs in the club as well as on the radio. We were all dancing to
[Janet Jackson’s] ’Control’ in the middle of a hip-hop set. We wanted to
bring back that old-school feel, that funk feel like Vanity 6 and Prince, to
a pop artist.”