The story of The Neptunes is a story about the revenge of the nerds. Pharrell Williams met Chad Hugo met in junior high school at a band camp for musically gifted students. They formed a group called The Neptunes and were discovered by R&B legend Teddy Riley after a chance meeting at a talent show. From there they tiptoed into the world of hip-hop production in earnest, scoring early production credits for girl groups like Total and SWV before rappers like Noreaga and Jay-Z started seeking them out.
By the early ‘00s you couldn’t get through an hour of rap radio without hearing their signature sound: A mixture of brashly synthetic keyboard sounds and off-the-wall polyrhythmic percussion tracks. As rap quickly became America’s most popular music form, pop artists like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake came to them looking to liven up their sounds with a little hip-hop attitude. The Neptunes responded with lush productions full of live instruments, with string and horn sections fleshing out the sound. When they started feeling boxed in by that, they went back to the drawing board, delivering a series of defiantly minimalist beats during the mid-to-late 2000s that redefined the genre's production even as they genuflected to the sounds of the early days of rap.
This is a list of the 50 Best Neptunes Beats, from their humble beginnings in the late ‘90s to their early 2000s hit parade, through their tinny synthetic funk period, their ornate live band phase, and the era when they broke hip-hop down to its base elements to reinvent themselves. Click through for a look at the finest work of one of the most reliably inventive and fearlessly adventurous hip-hop production teams of all time.
Written by Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ)