By 2003, The Neptunes had become one of hip-hop’s most celebrated architects of the culture’s sound.
Prior to dropping their booming compilation album “Clones”, the production duo of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo had used their trademark beat-making prowess to craft tracks for a variety of artists outside the traditional hip-hop realm. But with “Clones,” they fully
Released on August 20, 2003, the project featured the who’s-who of rap at the time, including Ludacris, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Busta Rhymes and fellow Virginia duo Clipse, among others.
And while the tracklist had hip-hop fans excited to cop the CD, one of the more notable moments on it was the highly-anticipated new N.E.R.D. track “Loser.” The song conflated the notion of “we will not be the losers” as a sort of antithetic anthem to Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” This then sets up a masterful performance from Jadakiss and Super Cat on “The Don Of Dons (Put De Ting Pon Dem)” just a few tracks later.
“Clones” boasted some of hip-hop’s top acts of the time. But the compilation project remains best known for its production.
The Neptunes took the sonic helm of every track — with their ability to be very technical but also extremely simplistic. This was evident on the album’s final track, “Popular Thug,” which showcased flowing organ punches under the rapping of Nas and singing of his then soon-to-be wife Kelis.
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The most memorable single to come from “Clones” is undoubtedly Pharrell’s “Frontin.” Featuring Hov, the track delivers the classic laid-back drums Williams is known for. While a smooth, funky instrumental helps his likewise minimalist singing thrive. And Jay floated on the track as if it was just another beat or “shorty to put the naughty on.”
It’s perhaps the Clipse that come off the strongest on “Clones” lyrically. That’s likely unsurprising, considering they dropped their own major label debut Lord Willin’ exactly a year prior. A project that pushed them to the top of the hip-hop world. Pusha T’s opening verse on “Hot” specifically proves to be perfect over the minimalist drums provided by Hugo and Williams.
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The LP was also an encapsulation of Hugo and Williams at both their critical and commercial peak. “Clones” fared very well commercially upon its release. The LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 250,000 copies in the United States within its first week of release. It had reached over 450,000 units sold by the end of the third week. And “Clones” was later certified Gold by the RIAA.
The timing of the “Clones” anniversary is also somewhat coincidental amid the current-day musical developments for Pharrell. During a recent cover story interview with GQ, it was revealed that the superproducer has “three albums worth” of music in the stash.
Perhaps some of that could be related to The Neptunes? But for those looking to feel a little nostalgic about the greatness that is the Virginia production duo, stream “Clones” today.
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