In case you didn’t check out the thoroughly enjoyable breakdown of The Neptunes’ ill catalogue over at Metal Lungies earlier this week, I’m keeping the vibe going by making this installment of Three For Love an extended Neptunes Beat Drop.
The first one I’m posting is a SERIOUS guilty pleasure of mine, so guilty that I’ll probably lose alot of male friends….but gain more FEMALE friends, so eat shit guys! Of course I’m talking about the song…..
I know….not hip hop. However, when this song came out, I could not help myself to like it. And that’s the mark of great songs/producers/artists–looking over the tracks the Neptunes have done, I realized how many I secretly loved in the past (“Danger,” “Southern Hospitality,” “Nothin”) but fronted in order to protect my image of “underground hip hop stalwart.” What can I say–I was 18-22 years old and reading Kafka at Temple. And I didn’t even do drugs!
Now that I’m older and fatter, I have no problem enjoying a great song. And that’s where “Girlfriend” comes in. As a last gasp for NSYNC to stay relevant, “Girlfriend” coupled with “Gone” opened them up to the urban audience for the first time in their hair gelled career. You don’t know how many people came up to me at Coconuts circa ’02 and said, “Yo dog, y’all got that NSYNC jawn? Da jawn wif “Gone” or whatever? It’s on Power 99 all the time.”
“Gone” was a great ballad though I could’ve done without seeing Justin Timberlake’s bare feet and godawful cross tattoo in the video. “Girlfriend” used the same clavinet sound from Beenie Man’s “Girls Dem Sugar” and the same Triton drums used on almost every Neptunes song from ’98-’04. Nelly’s 2 verses are whatever, but I’d still much rather hear him spit that MC Lyrical Pyramid Purifier. And the hook is as catchy as the clap at Nite on Broad.
I’m just Kidding like Jason–but why is he on the Olympics men’s basketball team?
Another forgotten gem of the Neptunes catalgoue is their remix of Sade’s “By Your Side,” an absolute gorgeous song from her comeback LP Lover’s Rock. There is no guilty pleasure association in regards to Sade–the woman has been melting grown men since the 80s* and her backing band’s 2 albums as Sweetback are required for late night rendevous.
*I remember when Sinbad had his own show on FOX in the early 90s and in his apartment he had a framed picture of Sade which became a prominent prop/theme on the show. As I recall, she wasn’t half naked or doing anything remotely saucy on the poster, but Sinbad could not help himself from gushing over her in the show. I was too young to appreciate Sade at the time, but I imagine there were many grown men who felt like Sinbad at the time (though hopefully they weren’t wearing polka dot pants with a semi-Gumby fade).
The Neptunes remix of “By Your Side” has more prominent drums than the original and combines an ambient flute with stutter step guitars and bright bells on the chorus. It has a trip hop feel to it without being all cold and British. It’s just as beautiful as the original with an updated sound that doesn’t get in the way of Sade’s vocals, which should never happen on any recording ever. It manages to be contemporary without feeling forced or making Sade seem younger or hipper.
Finally, this is an artist I’ve been meaning to highlight since I started this blog during the lean and trying times of May 2008. Kenna is one of the best artists alive that only nerds know about. He did have a song featured in a Verizon commercial last year and he toured with Nelly Furtado, but it’s hard to draw a pop audience to a tall drink of water from Cincinnati by way of Ethiopia who picks the weirdest Neptunes track to sing on. And by weird I mean amazing.
“Sun Red Sky Blue,” with its guitar and rhythm reminiscent of The Police, is from his last album Make Sure They See My Face which was incredible and got almost no pub. Kenna’s sound is almost exclusively built by Chad Hugo, the heavily tatted “silent” member of the Neptunes who can play the tuba and wear T-shirts I could never fit in. It’s more challenging work but more rewarding because Kenna’s voice is so distinct, his beats so layered, his persona so vacant. I remember getting a bootleg copy of his first album New Sacred Cow in college and including at least 1 song from it on every mix CD I made for myself or others for a good 2 years. Make Sure They See My Face is a more synth heavy and radio friendly album, but it doesn’t sacrifice the leftfield mambos that make his work with Chad Hugo so enjoyable the first time around.