No more asking the Neptunes to make carbon copies of their previous hit songs: The famed production duo are commanding and receiving leeway to approach each project with their own distinctive perspective.
"Everybody is letting us do what we wanna do," half of the squad, Pharrell Williams, said last Wednesday in New York. "The most important thing is not having any real constraints and making sure something works for the artist and not doing something just to do it or to make money and just to have a song for an artist."
Justin Timberlake is on the long list of performers giving the team elbow room. They got together for his debut solo LP, Justified, which is due out in November (see "Preview Of Justin Timberlake Album From Neptunes' Hugo").
"We did seven joints on there," Williams said. "Justin's album is incredible because of the amount of musicality he gave us the room to bring to the project. It's a whole other level."
And while the industry is buzzing about the Neps' work on the baby-faced singer's first single, "Like I Love You," people are also chattering about the collaborating going on between Pharrell and Beyoncé Knowles. However, it's not the Neptunes-produced "Work It Out" that is the source of most of the lip service — it's the rumored romance between the Destiny's Child singer and the 'Tunes frontman.
"Beyoncé is a talented person, but as far as those rumors, they are just rumors," Williams insisted. "You know what happens, you work with an artist that's beautiful and they automatically say something's going on with me and her. She's very much into her career and I couldn't tell you about her love life. I don't know her on that level. Girls, I'm still single. It's a cute rumor, but it's not true."
Whether or not you believe the talk about his love life, Williams has had a halfway decent track record over the past few years when it comes to churning out hits, so maybe people should start taking his word when he talks about a smash he produced with his Neptunes cohort Chad Hugo that hasn't even surfaced yet. Even if he isn't saying much.
"The new Jay-Z stuff, I got some crazy beats, man," he said about hooking up in the studio again with Jigga for the upcoming Blueprint 2 LP. "It's crazy material, man, it's gonna be classic, classic material. I can't really talk about what the songs sound like or how many [I produced], but it's incredible."
Jay and the Neptunes are both part of the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour (see "Jay-Z Intros Blueprint 2; Hoobastank, N.E.R.D. Challenge Security At Tour Launch") and have been working while on the road. The Neps, who are performing under their N.E.R.D. moniker, have found time to put in work on their second album as well.
"We're three songs into the new N.E.R.D. project," the group's third member, Shay, said last week. "In the back of the tour bus we got a studio."
When the Sprite opportunity reared its head, the Virginian trio could not turn down the chance to say thanks to their fans.
"We wanted to interact with the people who bought the album, who are fans of the Neptunes' production as well as N.E.R.D.," Shay explained. "So we felt like we owed them at least to come to their town and perform for them live. It's been going good. It's a well-rounded show."