“You niggas is clones / I hand out styles like ice cream cones” brags Pharrell Williams on the remix to “Hot Damn”, just one of the many tracks that grace The Neptunes Clones compilation, and a truer statement couldn’t have been made. After all, The Neptunes are the “it” guys of the moment when it comes to hip-hop production, and after rejuvenating careers of artists like N.O.R.E., Busta Rhymes, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Snoop Dogg, and others (all of whom appear on this album), everybody wants a Neptunes beat on their album, and seems like Pharrell and Chad are happy to oblige.
Despite the title, while The Neptunes have elements of their production which make it easy to pick out their beats, they have managed to reinvent themselves several times over, never afraid to experiment with new styles or breathe new life into old ones. Case in point, “Blaze Of Glory”, starring Clipse, Pharrell, and Ab-Liva is a hard-hitting posse cut that is abstract as it is addicting, and one so different that most big time producers would be afraid to put out there. Same goes for Snoop Dogg’s “Blows My Mind”, a phat chronic anthem that brings back the 80′s lowrider car-show boom, re-imagined with a killer horn section. FamLay also takes us back to the 80′s with “Rock N Roll”, a drug-dealin’ anthem that bangs with Ice-T/Eazy E style cadence. And N.E.R.D. steps back on the scene, vastly improved, showing Outkast-like chemistry as they team up with Clipse for “Loser”, which is one of the few rap/rock collaborations that has ever worked. And speaking of rock, Spymob once again proves why they were a worthy enough band to back up N.E.R.D. on In Search Of… with the incredible “Half-Steering” (they’re next big thing, MTV).
Nevertheless, for however experimental the Neptunes are, they do have cater to the masses by delivering mindless drizzle like Busta’s “Light Ya Ass On Fire”, which plays like an X-Rated meeting of the minds between Newcleus and Kraftwerk. Not to mention each Ludacris, N.O.R.E., and Ol’ Dirty Bastard who deliver “It Wasn’t Us”, “Put ‘Em Up”, and “Pop Shit”, respectively. The Neptunes show their sensitive side with two winners on both “Frontin’” and “Popular Thug”, where resident Trakkies Pharell and Kelis share tracks with dueling kings of New York, Jay-Z and Nas. While mindless drizzle it may be; fun, catchy mindless drizzle it is.
However, the one flaw with Clones is that it is all over the place, and while it’s purpose is to obviously show off the diversity of sound that The Neptunes present, one might not be in the mood for the Green Day-esque “Fuck and Spend” by High Speed Scene, after listening to Snoop Dogg rap about weed for 4 minutes. And the comp does hit low points at times, with tracks that actually do clone themselves after stuff we’ve heard before. Nelly’s “If” sounds like a rehash of every other Nelly song that ever existed; Vanessa Marquez’s “Good Girl” lazily waters down the “Grindin’” beat for some 16-year old girl R&B crooning; and sorry Roscoe P. Coldchain, but “Hot” was a much hotter beat when Skillz did it earlier this year on a few mixtapes.
Clones will lay the groundwork for what’s to come from Star Trak Entertainment over the next few years. From the sounds of things, hopefully the label will concentrate on sure-fire acts like Clipse, N.E.R.D., Kelis, and Spymob, as this compilation once again proves their worth. As far as the new batch goes, only time will tell; but hey, The Neptunes made Justin Timberlake sound good.
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