The 50 Best Neptunes Beats

6. Gwen Stefani "Hollaback Girl" (2005)

Album: Love.Angel.Music.Baby.
Label: Interscope

When Courtney Love took a potshot at Gwen Stefani in a 2004 issue of Seventeen magazine saying, "I'm not interested in being a cheerleader. I'm not interested in being Gwen Stefani," she got an elite level "Fuck you" in the form of "Hollaback Girl." Which is why Stefani starts her first verse with the line, "I that you were talking shit and you didn't think that I would hear it."

Meanwhile The Neptunes served up their version of a school marching band: Drums that replicated the sound of a step team at work and keys that mimicked a horn section, and Gwen belted out her revenge, interpolating Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" in the verses and chant-rapping the song's vindictive chorus. It played like a 2000s update of Toni Basil's late '70s cheerleader anthem "Mickey." Gwen ultimately got the last laugh, as "Hollaback Girl" became her most successful solo hit and the first single to sell a million copies digitally, and Courtney is... wherever Courtney is.

5. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell "Drop It Like It's Hot" (2004)

Album: R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece
Label: Doggystyle, Star Trak, Geffen

"Drop It Like It's Hot" represented a new beginning for Snoop Dogg, who signed to Star Trak Entertainment after the success of 2002's "Beautiful." It was also a new beginning for the Neptunes, whose production on it pared their already minimal sound down to only its most necessary elements. The beat is all mouth clicks, hydraulic hissing sounds, and light drums, along with a zooming synth sound lifted off Danish electro group Laid Back's 1983 single "White Horse," here manipulated to sound like it's saying Snoop's name. The oddball production and Snoop and Pharrell's cold trash talk on "Drop It Like It's Hot" awarded Snoop with his first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after twelve years in the game.

4. Jay-Z f/ Pharrell "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" (2000)

Album: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam

The Neptunes were still an up-and-coming force in hip-hop production coming into 2000, but when Hov dropped "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)," all that quickly changed. "I Just Wanna Love U" typifies the early Neptunes sound, which was an economic pairing of defiantly artificial clavichord hits and spacious boom bap drums adorned with additional layers of synthetic hand percussion sounds. "I Just Wanna Love U" sounded alien, like robots from the future discovering funk. It gave Jay-Z his first #1 single on the Billboard rap charts and solidified the Neptunes' death grip on rap radio.

3. Mystikal f/ Pharrell "Shake Ya Ass" (2000)

Album: Let's Get Ready
Label: Jive

Mystikal did great work during his tenure on No Limit with the label's in-house production team Beats by the Pound, but it wasn't until he made a clean break and hooked up with Southern rap production luminaries like Outkast's Earthtone III and the Neptunes on 2000's Let's Get Ready that he started logging hits as a solo artist. The first of these was "Shake Ya Ass," which touts one of hip-hop's funniest opening lines ("I came here with my dick in my hand/Don't make me leave here with my foot in your ass") and a beat full of bongos and various woodwind instruments.

2. Noreaga "Superthug" (1998)

Album: N.O.R.E.
Label: Tommy Boy

Capone-N-Noreaga hit a snag when Capone got locked up not long after the release of 1997's highly regarded The War Report. Rather than let his career go cold, Noreaga went solo on that ass. The most memorable hit off 1998's N.O.R.E. album was "Superthug," which tapped the then-relatively-unknown Neptunes for a beat that matched booming, elaborate percussion to a synth line that one-upped late '90s' noisy rap impresario Swizz Beatz in both the volume and artificiality of the instrumentation.

1. Clipse "Grindin'" (2002)

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.

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