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Members include Chad Hugo (born on February 24, 1974, in Portsmouth, VA), music producer; Pharrell Williams (born on April 5, 1974, in Virginia Beach, VA), music producer. Addresses: Record companies--Arista Records, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10106. Star Trak/Rocksoul, P.O. Box 5017 New York, NY 10185-5017, website: http://www.startrakmusic.com. Website--N.E.R.D. Official Website: http://www.n-e-r-d.com.

The Neptunes--powerhouse record producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo--have used innovative rhythms, memorable melodies, and their own powerful songwriting abilities to create an impressive string of hit singles and albums. In the process they've blurred the lines between musical boundaries and transformed the careers of artists as diverse as Jay-Z, Nelly, Britney Spears, No Doubt, and Mary J. Blige. As Williams explained to Time magazine, "Taking somebody from A to B is cool, but when we produce we want to take people from A to D, to challenge their artistic natures, their image, everything." Although the Neptunes began as hip-hop producers, their forays as performers with their own rock/electronic/hip-hop group N.E.R.D. have made them a groundbreaking and much-sought-after team, one whose assistance in 2003 commanded as much as $150,000 per song.

Although the Neptunes are best known as formidable producers in the gritty urban world of hip-hop, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams started their lives in suburban Virginia. "I'm no rapper," Williams told Time magazine, "I'm like a suburban kid." Hugo was born into a Filipino family on February 24, 1974, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Williams was born on April 5, 1974, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Pharoah, a house painter and handyman, and Carolyn, a school teacher. The two met as twelve-year-olds at a summer music program called Center for the Gifted Arts. Eventually Hugo and Williams, who were both obsessed with music at an early age and played multiple instruments, starting mixing beats and performing together. "By high school I was on a mission. I wanted to make beats and my parents wouldn't let me have any money for equipment, preaching about working hard for what you want," Hugo told the Los Angeles Valley Beat. "I wasn't having it, so a friend and I stole an Apple computer from the school library for sequencing tracks. We were busted, but I didn't care. I was just going to do whatever I had to do to get on top."

The pair got their break when New Jack Swing producer Teddy Riley opened his Future Recording Studios and Lil' Man Records in a building adjacent to their school. Riley, who had multiplatinum successes with artists such as Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown, spotted the duo at a 1992 high school talent show and recognized their talent. That same year Williams penned Riley's verse on Wreckx-n-Effect's smash hit "Rump Shaker." The duo earned their first production for Blackstreet's 1994 debut "Tonight's the Night." The pair then moved to New York where they began producing on their own, working on albums for SWV and Total. Their track "Lookin' at Me" on Mase's successful 1997 album Harlem World and Noreaga's 1999 smash hit "Superthug" cemented their reputation as solid hip-hop producers.

Unlike most producers, whose work revolves around a single music genre, Hugo and Williams--now calling themselves the Neptunes--cross musical genres and boundaries. Hugo generally works on the track's melodic core while Williams establishes the beat and assists the performer with the lyrics. Although best known as hip-hop producers, Williams and Hugo were inspired by soul and rock music, respectively. Williams cites the Isley Brothers, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder as strong influences. Hugo, surprisingly, claims classic rock group ELO's Jeff Lynne among the producers in he most admires. As Williams explained to Time, "I would never let my appreciation for one type of music keep me from listening to another."

The Neptunes' appreciation for all types of music gives depth to rap and hip-hop acts and street credibility to pop artists. Mixing classic rock riffs and hip-hop beats with touches of old-school pop culture, the Neptunes are masters of the crossover hit. They helped Mystikal's "Shake Ya A**" get radio airplay, made Nelly ("Hot in Herre") a multi-platinum seller, and turned pop princess Britney Spears into a viable adult performer with "I'm a Slave 4U."

In 2001 Hugo and Williams joined their friend Shay Haley to form the band N.E.R.D., an acronym for "No One Ever Really Dies." The group made headlines when their heavily promoted all-digital debut In Search Of ... was pulled before it even hit the shelves. After working with rock group No Doubt, N.E.R.D. apparently opted to rerecord the album using a live band, choosing SpyMob, an obscure Minnesota rock band, to back them. When it was finally released in 2002, In Search Of ... sold 249,000 copies in its first week, won the Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music in October of that year, and went gold a month later.

In January of 2002 the Neptunes and manager Rob Walker signed an agreement that brought the Neptunes' Star Trak label to Arista Records, uniting the renowned production team with legendary record executive L.A. Reid. The agreement contracted the Neptunes (along with Walker) to develop new talent and produce acts for both Star Trak and Arista. Some of the artists signed include SpyMob, Kelis, and Clipse, whose debut 2002 album Lord Willin' hit the top ten on the strength of the Neptunes-produced single "Grindin'."

In August of 2003 the Neptunes released The Neptunes Present ... Clones, a critically acclaimed compilation CD. Jim Farber of the Daily News conjectured, "Given the duo's market power, its album could bring the trend in compilation CDs to a new commercial high. While such sets have increased over the years--with pop hits collections, soundtracks and deejay-driven releases--'Clones' is the rare example of a production team with enough clout to release a disparate clutch of cuts under its own name." The compilation also introduced new Star Trak artists and featured a well-received performance of Williams singing with Jay-Z on the track "Frontin'."

by Nicole Elyse

The Neptunes's Career

Discovered by producer Ted Riley, 1992; received first production credit for Blackstreet's "Tonight's the Night," 1994; produced breakthrough single "Superthug" for rap star Noreaga, 1999; worked with Jay-Z, Nelly, No Doubt, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and many more, cementing their reputation as hit-makers, 2001; as N.E.R.D., released In Search of ... , with Shay Haley, 2001; signed their Star Trak Entertainment label to Arista Records, 2002; released The Neptunes Present ... Clones, 2003.

The Neptunes's Awards

American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) R&B Songwriter of the Year Award (Chad Hugo), 2001; Billboard Producer of the Year (Chad Hugo), 2002; BMI Songwriter of the Year Award (Pharrell Williams), 2001, 2002; MOBO Best Producer Award (in association with uk.MP3.com), 2002; Shortlist of Music Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music (N.E.R.D.) for In Search Of ... , 2002; Source Award, Producer of the Year, 2002; Billboard R&B and Hip-Hop Best Producer Award, 2003; BMI Urban Producer of the Year Award, 2003. Source Award, Producer of the Year, 2003; Grammy Award, Producer of the Year (Non-Classical), 2003.

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