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Attack of the
Neptunes: The Neptunes Present...Clones
Star Trak/Arista, 2003
Posted: October 23,
Kevin Forest Moreau
Just as cinema is arguably a director's medium, so is hip-hop more and
more a producer's playground. That's no secret: knob-twirlers like RZA,
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz have been stars in their own right for years.
But it took the rise of the ubiquitous production duo The Neptunes to
firmly, even forcefully, cement that notion into the pop-cultural
consciousness, and the proof is in The Neptunes Present...Clones,
the ultimate acknowledgment of that truism -- or is it?
Certainly, The Neptunes -- Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo -- are
recognizable even in their background maneuverings; three-quarters of the
tracks assembled here would be recognizable as Neptunes productions even
without the billing. But the pair proves that its real talent is a
chameleonic ability to tweak its signature beats and flourishes to
accommodate and compliment a particular artist. Thus, "Light Your Ass On
Fire" shines due to Busta Rhymes's sexed-up trickster shtick ("Watch me
get deeper than a Navy SEAL"), which in turn feeds on the track's spare,
whispery momentum; "It Blows My Mind" similarly hangs on Snoop Dogg's hazy
flow, sparked by stately, reverberating drums accentuated by gossamer,
wind-chime-y percussion. The Neptunes' gift is the near-seamlessness of
this symbiotic relationship; while identifiable as their own, their
touches rarely overwhelm. The title aside, there are no clones here.
But that symbiosis is only as strong as its most talented half: Thus,
turns by Fam-Lay, N.O.R.E. and the ridiculously named Rosco P. Coldchain
lag behind impressive thumpers from Clipse ("Blaze of Glory," "Hot Damn"),
Ludacris ("It Wasn't Us"), Kelis ("Popular Thug") and even Nelly ("If").
Forays outside of the pair's hip-hop bread and butter prove engrossing,
especially Spymob's "Half-Steering," a charming slice of Todd
Rundgren-meets-Digable Planets pop-rock. The High Speed Scene's generic
punk-pop spurt "Fuck N' Spend," by contrast, is hummable enough but
instantly forgotten, and N.E.R.D. -- the duo's rocking, Spymob-backed side
project -- oddly scores a dud with the aptly titled "Loser."
Those missteps don't prove fatal, however. Yes, Williams injects his
paper-thin falsetto into the mix far too often. The lite-soul lark "Frontin'"
finally stamps an expiration date across the charm quotient of his limited
bag of vocal tricks, so endearingly earnest on N.E.R.D.'s
In Search Of... (save it
for the solo album, guy). And yes, at 19 tracks, Clones is stuffed
with at least one-quarter filler. But its many high points and its sheer
diversity (think of it as the ultimate pre-assembled mix tape) are enough
to gloss over any minor transgressions. That it underlines the star status
of its (mostly) behind-the-scenes ringleaders is just the intriguing icing
on the cake.
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