The Neptunes

The Neptunes Present ... Clones

The Neptunes -- a producing duo consisting of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo -- are considered by magazines like Vibe to be among hip hop's royal family. When producers held this status two decades ago, they mainly stuck to cashing checks and making records or, in the case of, say, Quincy Jones, established a reputation as musicians that exceeded their abilities on the mixing boards. Apparently, however, today's music industry has decided that the technicians behind the scenes are as entitled to the spotlight as the artists they produce. Hence, the Neptunes.

While Clones is admittedly a great radio-ready pop compilation, it's less the debut it's being touted as and more like a greatest-hits collection: Some of these tracks -- like "Popular Thug" from Kelis' Wanderland -- can be found on the performers' own CDs (making the distinction of Clones particularly appropriate). It's as if this disc could've been called Now That's What I Call the Neptunes' Music.

But perhaps there's a more important question to ask: Is the Neptunes' musical vision so unique that it deserves to be called fresh, or are they just shaking the frozen concentrate that is today's pop music? Judging from Clones, it's probably the latter. Take the Nelly track "If," for instance, a pedestrian pop song full of pre-processed beats that would fit unremarkably on any other Nelly record, with or without the Neptunes' signature "stamp." Unlike the aforementioned Jones, who was indeed a pop music visionary, the Neptunes merely recycle the sound that already fills the airwaves. In the case of Clones, they even recycle their own work: Ludicris' "It Wasn't Us" off his Incognegrowas as enjoyable back in 2000 as it is on this disc, so why, then, is it included here if not simply as a means to net its creators yet another gold tooth? If the Neptunes -- and producers in general -- want to be considered artists, then they would do well to focus more on the art of their game and less on thinly veiled moneymaking schemes such as this one.

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