Chad Hugo has an extraordinary way of talking about music. It’s the kind of storytelling that involves very few words. Sometimes he doesn’t even use any words at all, replacing them with sounds and motions that imitate instruments and percussion. When there’s a particular key he wants to draw out while listening to music, he plays it on the air-keyboard. Other times, he whistles, booms, or clicks his teeth to emphasize a specific element of the beat. Chad and I are tucked away in a hidden corner of The Highline Hotel, discussing his prolific discography as one half of legendary production duo The Neptunes. It’s a warm day in late May and I’m playing a handful of singles from my laptop. Chad reacts with few words and many sound effects, which occasionally causes his stories to be difficult to follow, but makes him even more fascinating to converse with. 

The fact that Chad Hugo is sitting down on the record is a stroke of good luck and timing. By contrast to his more accessible partner in production, Pharrell Williams, Chad is the more elusive creative genius, and enjoys his time behind the scenes rather than in the limelight. Until recently, Chad very rarely spoke with the press, but after being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in February 2020, he says the time has finally come to reemerge from the shadows. 

“I’m very proud of the work that I’ve been a part of with The Neptunes and my involvement with N.E.R.D.,” he explains, seated inside the hotel with his eyes shielded behind a pair of opaque black sunglasses. “I just felt like it was… not overlooked… but maybe it’s about time to make a statement, to make note of the legacy for our next up-and-coming music makers and people who are interested in music. It’s been a blessing that we are being accepted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.”