Topping 2002 isn't going to be easy for the Neptunes.
As the producers behind Nelly's "Hot in Herre," Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You," No Doubt's "Hella Good" and a dozen other hits, they were as ubiquitous last year as corporate scandal and talk of war. And let's not forget their own projects, N.E.R.D.'s debut and the Clipse.
In an industry as fickle as music, how do Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo plan to stay on top? "Grow," Williams said on Monday.
Not only are the Neptunes widening the range of artists they work with, they're exploring new sounds, from garage rock to dancehall.
"We try not to repeat ourselves and [try to] go in different lands and do different stuff," Williams explained. "We try to pioneer, and you can't pioneer something that's already been pioneered. That's why people trust us to go to Never Never Land and bring back something cool. They let me do what I do because they all realize that it'd be stupid to rebirth something I've already done."
Williams — who lent his smooth voice to Britney Spears' "Boys" and Busta Rhymes' "Pass the Courvoisier," among other dance floor favorites — is not one for talking about the music he produces, especially before it's released.
"I like for you to hear it and go, 'What the f--- was that?' But you won't do that so much if you already have something in your mind," he explained.
Still, MTV News convinced the producer to give us the nitty gritty on the Neptunes' slate of projects for the new year:
- Beyoncé Knowles
After "pushing the cuff" on the "Austin Powers in Goldmember" track "Work It Out" last year ("It was a bit forward for America," Williams said), the producer feels the world is ready for "I Think I'm Ready," the sole Neptunes-produced track on Knowles' upcoming solo album, Dangerously in Love. "It's from a different era, like late, late '70s or early '80s."
- Britney Spears
Williams said the Neptunes are going to work with the pop princess, but he "couldn't talk about" any details.
Drummer Travis Barker appeared in the latest N.E.R.D. video and asked Williams to return the favor by producing the band. Williams has some ideas but isn't sure yet how many songs they'll do. "I gotta see what Travis and Tom [DeLonge] and those guys have up their sleeves."
- Limp Bizkit
The Neptunes will likely have two tracks on the rap-rock band's as-yet-untitled fourth album, due April 1. "We did Asian-influenced songs," Williams said, "with Fred [Durst] rapping."
- Sugar Ray
The duo just finished one song for Mark McGrath and company's latest (see "Neptunes Help Sugar Ray Find Fresh Sound On New LP"). "It's incredible. It's called 'Here She Comes.' It's some futuristic Beach Boys sh--."
- Foxy Brown
Williams and Hugo have logged two tracks for Foxy's album, including one with Pusha T from the Clipse. "She takes the Red Bulls and just goes crazy," Williams said. "She's incredible."
- Papa Roach
Furthering their rock explorations, the Neptunes hit the studio with Jacoby Shaddix and crew late last year for "Don't Look Back" from the "Biker Boyz" soundtrack, due January 28 (see "Papa Roach, Neptunes Team Up For 'Biker Boyz' Soundtrack").
Williams is secretive about the direction, but he promises the second album from N.E.R.D. (Williams, Hugo and rapper Shay) will shock people. He did reveal that the album would be accompanied by a cartoon DVD, "kind of like [the Beatles'] 'Yellow Submarine.'"
- The Clipse
The Neptunes plan to keep working the first release on their Star Trak label and have set "Cot Damn" as the next single.
"He's the godfather of dancehall," Williams said of Star Trak's latest signing. The Neptunes are planning to produce most of his album, due mid-summer.
- Rosco P. Coldchain
The Neptunes also plan to release this rapper's debut this year, if they can keep him out of trouble long enough, Williams joked. "He sounds like Samuel Jackson. He's 20 years old and he paints the illest pictures in the world and rhymes incredible. I'm going to walk him through this industry and blow him up."