The Neptunes Present…Clones (2003)
With Clones, the Neptunes have made another world of glitter and glamour, love as lust and lust as an end unto itself. This universe is illustrated on the cover of the album, a photo that superimposes Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo over planet Earth rotating in space, a none-too-subtle nod to their years-long dominance of urban radio. In fact, one of its singles, “Frontin’,” already sits at number one on the Billboard singles chart. Three other tracks — Busta Rhymes’s “Light Your Ass on Fire,” Clipse’s “Hot Damn,” and Kelis’s “Popular Thug” — have been in heavy rotation on radio stations and in clubs for weeks. Then there’s the music itself: raw and minimalist, often cranked out with nothing but a keyboard and a drum machine. In the past, the Neptunes have been rightly criticized for churning out “clone” tracks that sound indistinguishable from one another, but Clones is rhythmically diverse. “Good Girl” has a precocious blend of airy melodies and Vanessa Marquez’s thin yet sincere vocals, while Busta Rhymes’ “Light Your Ass on Fire” sounds like the insides of an echo chamber that he fills with oversexed incantations of body parts. Unfortunately, most of the guests who appear over the Neptunes’ beats, an all-star roster that ranges from Ludacris and Snoop Dogg to Ol’ Dirty Bastard (christened here as Dirt McGirt) and N.O.R.E., deliver performances that feel half-hearted and bored. All that Ludacris can come up with on “It Wasn’t Us” is a reprise of his now-famous cadence from “What’s Your Fantasy.” Dirt McGirt, to his credit, gets suitably brolic on the knotty, RZA-like, “Pop Shit”; and Nas and Kelis combine for a charming duet on “Popular Thug.” Then there’s Rosco P. Coldchain’s “Hot” with Boo-Bonic and the Clipse’s Pusha T, a song that’s chilled by meandering raps and a flimsy 808 drum track. All this adds up to a bumpy hour of genuine hits and irritating filler. Star Trak, with distribution by Arista Records.