Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

The Neptunes -- Clones
Arista Records; 2003

What do you do when you've already taken over the world of music? Why, put out your own compilation, of course!

Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes have conquered the hip-hop genre, producing the hottest hits that have been bumped in cars and club everywhere. Providing artists such as Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg with idiot-proof beats, the Neptunes have proven themselves to be masters of production. The question then arises: wouldn't a collection of their latest and greatest be the ultimate party soundtrack? The answer can be found on Clones, a compilation of Neptunes joints that shows a great deal of potential.

The Neptunes boys pull no punches in the line-up they assemble to grace Clones, calling in favors from their heavy-hitter friends. Busta Rhymes opens the album with his patented rapid fire flow on "Light Your Ass on Fire," spitting verses over an electric jungle rhythm made from 80s synths and ominous drum patterns. Snoop Dogg drops by for "It Blows My Mind," an ode to his favorite vice. Gigantic bass drum hits form a pounding pulse, while wind-chimes pepper the track with melody. Dirt McGirt (Ol' Dirty Bastard) risks violating parole to lay down a track that finds him a little rusty, but relevant enough to make the track a hilarious success.

Clones also shows off the strength of the artists from the Neptunes' own label imprint, Star Trak. Flagship group N.E.R.D. swing for the bleachers on "Loser" and hit the car outside the park. The upbeat song about not letting people down jives all over the place, and makes great use of infectious synths and happy-go-lucky handclaps. Clipse drop their two strongest songs to date, with rhymes slinking around the brassy horn stabs and twanging bassline of "Blaze of Glory." Their success is reprised on "Hot Damn," a decadent piece that utilizes Pharrell's soulful wails and a gospel piano loop.

Star Trak shows the diversity in their imprint by releasing two rock and roll tracks from Spymob and The High Speed Scene. Spymob contributes "Half-Steering...," a highly technical pop-rock track that recalls 80s rockers Boston and Rush. The High Speed Scene supply the most hilarious track, filled with pop punk guitar parts and ridiculous lyrics. The songs' brevity (clocking in at 1:27) keeps the song from becoming irritating while remaining humorous.

Despite the many impressive tracks, Clones encounters the same pitfall that almost every compilation does: you can't please them all. A surprise disappointment is the Ludacris song, which is plainly annoying with a sound like a convulsive marching band. Pharrell drops the lead single of the album with "Frontin'", an unimpressive R&B jaunt that offers very little musically. Jay-Z even delivers a banal verse with only the admission that he's "...too old to be frontin'" standing out. Vanessa Marquez's "Good Girl" is startlingly out of place on this compilation, despite a percussion section that would be well suited for a rap song.

The Neptunes didn't have to do much to reassure audiences that they were still the kings of hip-hop production, so Clones appears to be both a victory and the raucous party afterwards. The regal production stands as the key buying point, with high profile vocalists accentuating the power of the music. Clones also keeps the Neptunes on their toes by having to present all their artists, not just the ones guaranteed to get them recognition. Overall, Clones is a success and testament to just how much the Neptunes own today's hip-hop.

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