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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The Neptunes – Now For Adults!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When it comes to producing music Timbaland is the king of the pop stars, gaining huge notoriety for working with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. Kanye West is the Hip-Hop producer every rock critic seems to love and boy does he enjoy telling people about it. During all this time, however, one production team has played the back and simply made consistently good music. They used to produce everyone's songs and be up in everyone's videos to the point of dominating the airwaves, both audio and visual, with their presence, but now they’ve grown into a new role. They are The Neptunes. Yeah, you remember them. And over the past few years they’ve been doing some incredible things in music that have been flying under the radar.

It’s interesting to the think of The Neptunes as being non-mainstream, but their most groundbreaking work has continually been passed over by programming directors in favor of songs that cater to the eighth grade dance crowd (Soulja Boy, Hurricane Chris, Rihanna, Chris Brown) and artists who stir up controversy, whether real or faux (like 50 Cent and the aforementioned Kanye West). What’s happened, in my opinion, is that The Neptunes grew up musically and are now making adult music. This makes sense, though, as their audience from their days of producing for NORE are now full grown adults wanting something more than the danceable Hip-Hop of their high school and college days. Unfortunately, that audience that’s calling for it isn’t getting much of an opportunity to hear it.

The Neptunes started their foray into musical experimentation with their first NERD album back in 2002 (one could even argue that their work on Kelis’ first album back in 1999 qualified as “adult”). It wasn’t as well received by the masses as a more traditional Neptunes project would have been and people openly wondered what they were doing. What they were doing was growing. Last year The Neptunes produced two fantastic albums, The Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury and Pharrell’s solo release, In My Mind. Hell Hath No Fury was critically hailed, but sold poorly, while In My Mind, although bordering on brilliant, was never really given a chance. I think the issue with both albums was that they were for adults.

Earlier this month another Neptunes produced release hit stores, Kenna’s Make Sure They See My Face. Make Sure They See My Face sees The Neptunes continue with their NERD style of production, crafting creative pop-rock songs with addictive bass lines that, once again, cater to the no-longer-teenybopper crowd. It’s a safe bet that if you’re cranking dat Soulja Boy Kenna won’t be your style. What’s distressing to me is that Kenna’s album, much like Pharrell’s, is getting little to no airplay. This sends a clear message to up and coming artists -don’t grow.

In every other aspect of life we are rewarded for growing as people, but for some reason artists are being told not to. “Don’t grow. If you do we can’t compartmentalize you and easily sell you to a demographic!” The Neptunes no longer have a clear cut demographic, they just create really great music that’s always worth listening to. It’s sad that anything that qualifies as musically ambitious has been relegated to the bottom of the proverbial crates, but that just makes our job as music fans that much more significant. It may sound silly but as consumers and people who discuss music our job becomes more important with each great release that goes unnoticed. If we don’t talk about them, if we don’t buy them, if we don’t play them, if we don’t request them, who will? Radio stations will keep bombarding us with nonsense, sending us to our CD players and iPods. The problem with this is our CD players and iPods have headphones, which create a private environment. This isn’t like the 80’s where we could carry giant boomboxes around sharing our music (sometimes to the dismay of many around us). Listening to good music has become a private experience. We need to change this and let others experience it, as well. Maybe it’s time for a new radio format, Rhythmic Adult-Contemporary 25-40, for new and classic music my generation can get down with without all the kid-hop. Here’s a potential tagline – “Because you still love new music, you just don’t want to learn some stupid new dance move.”

There was no reason for Hell Hath No Fury or In My Mind to flop other than the fact that people didn’t spread the word about them. Everyone who enjoyed them enjoyed them privately. Well, Kenna's Make Sure They See My Face is fantastic, The Neptunes are still ridiculously on point, and I’m telling you all this very publicly. Give it a spin, enjoy their growth, and tell a friend to tell a friend. And you know what, if you don’t like the album, that’s fine, too. Tell a friend about an artist or a group you do like. Keeping your favorite artists to yourself may make you feel like you have an awesome secret the world doesn’t know about, but it’s time to let everyone in on it.

Related Links

ReactMag.com – My interview w/ Chad Hugo from 2002


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:54 AM  
  • At 11:40 PM, Blogger Nyaze said…

    That's a good point about the private experience of the Ipod revolution. Of course, when we talk about that, we're still talking about a segment of society that has money. Most people I know in the 'hood don't have Ipods and still prefer to blast their music from their cars. In fact, in some ways, I think you could make a case that the ever-shrinking radio playlists are actually encouraging artists to go outside the box, since they know there's only a Vegas-odds chance they'll be accepted on the airwaves. I mean, DJ Drama aside, it ain't like mixtapes are going anywhere.

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