At least this much is sure – you won’t have to guess who produced any of the tracks on this album. Then again, if you guessed “The Neptunes” for at least one out of any five songs you hear on the radio, odds are that you’d be right. They have an inner circle of “Star Trak” artists that get full albums featuring their work, peeps like The Clipse and Kelis, but then you’re just as likely to remember Pharrell’s crooning falsetto on Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U” or their stomping beat on Noreaga’s “Grimey.” Their sound is everywhere, and last year RapReviews.com even profiled their self-produced rap debut as N*E*R*D on “In Search Of.” The album was good, but it may have left some people confused – two different versions came out, one with a live band and one with the traditional synthesized Neptunes style and sound. Which was better? Both were good actually, although as rappers Chad and Pharrell weren’t really as dope as the talent they usually work with.
As such “The Neptunes Present… Clones” might seem like the perfect marriage – the beats of a red hot hip-hop production duo with some of rap’s best talent, including a lot of artists they’ve already worked with before. At times it is. Busta Rhymes “Light Your Ass on Fire” is one of those Neptunes tracks that’s right for being so wrong, a feeling those who heard DJ Premier and Jeru the Damaja wrecking “Come Clean” to a decade ago can relate to. The track is taken down to almost nothing but a set of synthesized drums, but at times a pile of tools seems to clatter to the floor in a cacophony of noise; most notably after the first chorus. It’s electronic, obtuse, and has enough boom and pound for Busta to tie it together with his manic energy that makes even a whispered rap seem louder than a thunderstorm. On the Clipse track “Blaze of Glory” featuring Ab-Liva, Neptunes go 180 the opposite – heavy on horns, hand claps, and burping bass that scream funk. Coming back to back as they do on “Clones,” the songs make a powerful statement – there’s no style of rap track Neptunes can’t attack successfully.
The misses on this album are all the more glaring as a result. The Ludacris “It Wasn’t Us” featuring I-20 can get over on the strength of a rap that sounds like “Act a Fool” meets “Rollout,” but the track is full of silly sound effects paired with a track that tries to be Trick Daddy and can’t even be Trina. The Vanessa Marquez “Good Girl” song is generically R&B, from the music to the singer. Rosco P. Coldchain’s “Hog” is full of guest stars and built on a beat that seems to be going backwards, musically and in terms of the waning interest you feel listening to it. The High Speed Scene’s “Fuck N’ Spend” seems grossly out of place on this album. Think Green Day or The Sly Caps. The Neptunes can certainly produce this sound, but I don’t think it’s one rap fans are keen to hear. They might be up to hear some Jamaican riddims, but Supercat’s “The Don of Dons” has no dancehall fire and will probably send rude bwoys to the bar for a Red Stripe instead.
There are some good songs on the album though. The updated version of Clipse’s “Hot Damn” builds on everything right with the original, just adding more piano and more raps. Nelly’s “If” matches his sound to a tee, and might even fool you into thinking it was a Jay-E beat. Snoop Dogg wound up on one of the experiments that worked right – a clattering of bells that lets Tha Doggfather live up to his song’s title – “It Blows My Mind.” Long-time Neptunes favorite Noreaga seems also to have lucked into one of their best beats as he always does, and rips the high-octane “Put ‘Em Up” with passion. Ol’ Dirty fans will not be dissapointed by “Pop Shit,” and Nas and Kelis fans alike have already heard “Popular Thug” around the scene for a while now and will not be dissapointed by it’s inclusion. Still though, for an album which had so much potential to be the best of both worlds, “The Neptunes Present… Clones” falls far short of living up to either one.