“The obvious, easy answer is, Hey dummy, they never left. Look at their Wiki Production List, 2010 was indisputably a very full year. Pharrell co-produced the Despicable Me score, worked with Chad on a large part of the Game album, made a N*E*R*D record. Still, the question remains, where have they been? A close look at that long list shows they’ve been making beats for big names steadily, only to have those tracks never reach release. The shelving of songs is itself no great harbinger of dead talent, it’s simply the business of cutting fat. But enough glut trimmed and you start to wonder when you’re getting to the meat. The list of potential collaborations that did not make the final cut is disheartening. What went wrong? The answer to that question is possibly watermarked on the songs that did get released—a jumble of okay tracks.
The semi-tepid “Haterade” by Gucci Mane, a forgotten Pusha T. track, a maybe decent collaboration with the kinda forgotten Lil Scrappy. Why, in present day, is a Neptunes/Drake collaboration not just a necessity but an irrefutable jam, a huge hit? Maybe their hearts aren’t in it, maybe the depths of soft synths have been wholly mined. Whatever it is, the last year or two have not been solid ones for the once dominant and ubiquitous duo.
But two tracks that have been released recently could be the first birds of The Neptunes new spring. “Raid” from Pusha T’s Fear of God mixtape and “Like The Way” from N.O.R.E.’s new Easter celebration mixtape knock with the same ferocity they used to to propel basic Nelly raps into the stratosphere. “Like The Way” is especially bananas, small synth layer cake with percussion lifted straight from Stomp, wily bells and some screech sound Pharrell makes with his mouth. “Raid,” featuring another former, and occasionally current, lion, 50 Cent has a similar peppiness with a ragtime piano and groovy bass. These songs are really, really good. Are The Neptunes back? Somewhere there will forever be someone dropping down and getting their eagle on, but what are the new jams? Who are the new middling rappers to be elevated by their once bulletproof production?
While the future always holds plenty of goodness for Pharrell, the important geek future is the one involving his and Chad’s rap beats for other people. What does that hold? One heavily exciting potentiality is what may come of the collaboration with Pharrell’s new BFF Tyler, The Creator. So far Tyler’s voice has been the domain of his own production and of a small circle around him. Odd Future, Lil B and Lex Luger are very young folks doing very exciting, new things in rap. Hopefully their new burst of energy can be bettered with the sageness of legends. And hopefully the Neptunes have gotten out their N*E*R*D, BBC, etc yayas for long enough that they just want to make some hit records. Whatever the reason, something’s in the water again down in Virginia Beach, or Miami or wherever they land their helicopter.”