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Attack of the Clones

 

The Neptunes: The Neptunes Present...Clones

Star Trak/Arista, 2003

Rating: 4.1

 

 

Posted: October 23, 2003

By 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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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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