Read a local critic of some prominence complaining that the Neptunes were really spreading themselves too thin, compromising the freshness and originality of their work on the (original version of the) N.E.R.D. album. Which I found a bit odd, 'cos when I first heard In Search Of...
I'd thought the exact same thing about that album vis a vis Kaleidoscope
- in essence, that what had once been a very unpredictable sonic approach had been flattened out into an easily reproduced blueprint that was destined to have less and less appeal the more times it was disseminated.
And above and beyond the N.E.R.D. album (which I like a lot more now) 2001 didn't see the producers do an awful lot that was mindblowing, with only their remix of the Backstreet Boys's "The Call" and Mystikal's "Bouncin' Back" at the beginning and end of the year totally bowling me over - the rest was more like a constant stream of very-goodness. Compare to the almost profane fertility and fecundity of 2000 - with "Got Your Money" and "Caught Out There" still in the charts and basically the whole of Kelis's first album to wow over, then "I Just Wanna Love You", Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" and especially "Danger", and of course "Southern Hospitality" (still their most futuristic slice of minimalist void-flirtation). What distinguishes the songs listed is their sense of boundlessness: in these tracks alone the duo offered a vast array of different directions they might subsequently take, many of which (particularly the chocolate factory dazzle of many of the songs on Kaleidoscope
) were oddly and shamefully abandoned.
2002 felt, in many ways, like a partial-but-conscious resumption of this sense of possibility; for all their increasing ubiquity, the duo's work again began to feel like it could be coming from a number of different minds and/or production teams. Apart from the undeniable "Hot In Herre", my favourite Neptunes track from last year was probably Jay-Z's "Nigga Please", for so many reasons: its awesome bass fart not low on the list, but check also the way the groove in the Indian sections feels so jaw-droopingly loose
(the fact that they probably programmed it seems near-preposterous), the tossed-off genius of having little kids saying "wa-waaaah". To accuse this - or its sprightly third-in-a-holy-trinity companion "Nothin'" - of "sounding too much like the Neptunes" is to be needlessly harsh. Yeah, there's that seductive menacing hip-swivel to the groove that instantly earmarks it as the duo's work, but this is much about an attitude that the producers bring to bear as it is about some formal technique they employ.
That menacing funk sound - which now characterises a good deal of their work, from the heavily compressed strum of "Pass The Courvoiser II" to the live drums of "Like I Love You" - may end up being what makes the duo "important"... or rather, it would if I were to judge such matters. It's much, much more unique and intriguing than I think many acknowledge. If you don't believe me, make a Neptunes mix-tape, play it at a party, watch the way people dance. They dance... differently. No time to elaborate now, but in the meantime here's my list of last year's best Neptunes tracks, so get to work on that mix-tape now:
1. Nelly - Hot In Herre
2. Jay-Z - Nigga Please
3. Noreaga - Nothin'
4. Clipse - Grindin' (Selector Mix)
5. Busta Rhymes - Pass The Courvoisier II
6. Jay-Z - Fuck All Nite
7. Justin Timberlake - Senorita
8. Clipse - Young Boy
9. Justin Timberlake - Like I Love You
10. LL Cool J - Luv U Better