Chad Hugo is a musician first. He’s become famous for not wanting to be famous, preferring to let superstar friends such as longtime musical partner Pharrell Williams, or Jay-Z or Justin Timberlake, stand in the spotlight, while he stayed in the studio fine-tuning their tracks. Through a career as a producer, as well as member of his own band N*E*R*D. Hugo has always focused on always keeping his records vital and fresh. For years he did this using the same digital toolbox everyone used until he realized what was missing was the soulful authority achieved only when real musicians play in real time.
The dimension of human artistry real musicians can bring to a track is undeniable and can’t be attained in any other way. Grammy.com spoke to Hugo about that revelation, and other ideas which have informed his remarkable career. His story starts in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where music first enlivened his world. He was only 12 when he met Williams in the school marching band. They both were drummers, but Hugo was the Drum Major, the leader of the band, while his friend was behind him in the drumline. In time, as the world knows, Williams happily stepped into the frontman role as Hugo held it down in the back.
Over the course of his career, Chad Hugo ofThe Neptunes and N*E*R*D has been responsible for helping craft a signature sound for some of music’s biggest hip-hop and pop acts, including Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell, and many more. Now, the producer is releasing a sample pack that includes 150 sounds from some of his most popular work. The pack is being released through music creation platform Splice and will allow producers to access the one-of-a-kind sound that has become synonymous with Hugo throughout his multi-decade career.
Earlier this year, Pigeons & Planes spoke with Hugo, who opened up about his legacy in music and maintaining his role as a creator who isn’t worried about the spotlight. “I do feel famous. I’m content with it. I also don’t feel famous at the same time. It’s good to just make an impact on people’s lives when you share the talent. Whatever magnitude is the result,” he said. Hugo also made mention of some his plans going forward as far as music goes.
“I don’t really have any desire to make music like, ‘It’s time to break out and be a solo artist!’ I make it just to make it,” Hugo explained. “It takes a lot of planning. If things happen, then things happen. I want to be a better horn player, and be a better guitar player, and I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that apex.” Any music producers that need some help cooking up a banger of their own can download the Chad Hugo sample pack after signing up for an account through Splice HERE.
Chad Hugo doesn’t do many interviews. He’ll turn up every couple of years, seemingly just to say hello and share what he’s been up to. Usually, it’s making music. Interviews, when they do arrive, often reaffirm Hugo’s dedication to his craft and disinterest in gossip. Hugo is well past the point of needing to boost his profile—but even early on, when The Neptunes and N*E*R*D were fresh voices rather than archetypes, Hugo demurred when the spotlight turned his way. Now that he’s one of music’s luminaries, the taciturn personality has, somewhat accidentally, enveloped Chad Hugo in an air of mystery.
That was certainly true for this interview—but after two false starts, we set a date and time. When Hugo appears in the lobby of a pristine new hotel abutting Brooklyn Bridge Park, he offers an apple. “This is for you,” he says, eyes still adjusting to the lobby’s morning light. Just a few hours earlier Hugo had been DJing a club night alongside Daniel Biltmore, the other half of his MSSLCMMND project. Their set hadn’t ended until 4 a.m., and Hugo had woke up hoarse—a rough break for someone who’s already softspoken. “Sorry if my voice is gone.”
Chad Hugo is the antithesis of how one would expect a world-renowned producer to act. Despite being one-half of one of the most lauded music production duos of all time, The Neptunes, the Virginia Beach native’s muted demeanor is a stark contrast to the notoriously gritty music scene. Evident by his decades-long career as a beat maker, he truly comes alive through creating sounds that have been loved the world over.
Hugo, who strolls into VIBE HQ on Friday, Jun. 1 with an assortment of costume changes and a subtle smile, is famously modest; you won’t catch him around press as often as his creative counterpart, Pharrell Williams. However, with a deejaying set later that night at Lot 45 in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, a then-upcoming weekend performance at Governor’s Ball at Randall’s Island and some new music of his own in the works, there was more than enough for him to talk about this time around.
“I met Chad Hugo at East West Studios in Hollywood, our first encounter was eating a kale salad. Toss and Turn came up at our main studio in Hollywood Hills, Chad came through in this GhostBusters Jumpsuit, stood outside the door of the studio mumbling a melody went in on the keyboard, did his thing and laced some classic Neptune drums and the rest was history. He is just a genius like that.”
“Chad is a very mathematical guy when it comes to music. He hears things in a way where we just can’t. He hears sounds and melodies in his head that no none does, aside from probably Pharrell. That’s why they are The Neptunes. They are out of this world.”
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