Album: Lord Willin'
Label: Star Trak, Arista
The Neptunes had trouble breaking the Clipse early on. Their gully 1999 debut single "The Funeral" didn't take off like they intended, and their album, Exclusive Audio Footage, was permanently shelved. The team went back to the drawing board and returned in 2002 with a formal reintroduction in the form of the coke rap classic, "Grindin'." "Grindin'" might be the quintessential Neptunes beat: Out-of-the-box instrumentation, sparse melody, and subtle deference to Chad and Pharrell's musical forefathers all rolled into production that manages to sound accessible and slyly inventive at the same time.
There's a timelessness to it too. It sounds like it could've just as easily been created in 1988 as 2002, or, more to the point, like a song from 1988 being played in 2002 on whatever tools were available. It's perfectly fitting that the beat could be heard tapped out on desks, lockers, and lunchroom tables throughout the remainder of the year.
Pharrell actually lured Pusha into the studio by telling him, "'Listen, I got this record and if you don't come to the studio right now I'm gonna give this record to Jay-Z," knowing it would inspire Push. But the beat was also so futuristic that Pusha had a hard time initially grasping it. He was later quoted saying, "When I heard 'Grindin'' I was like, 'How do you rhyme to this?' It was was so unorthodox that I couldn't really catch it."
"Grindin'" put the Clipse and Star Trak Entertainment on the map and proved that the Neptunes were not only adept at aiding established artists back onto the charts, they could mold and build new careers too. They had bigger successes before and after, but the synthesis of conventionality and weirdness and the overarching sense of place in the continuum of great rap beats on display on "Grindin'" scarcely mixed this perfectly for them again.