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Planet Rock - Brief Article - Critical Essay

They spin everyone from Moby to Michael into pop orbit. Meet superproducers the Neptunes.

QUESTION: DOES BRITNEY Spears really simulate an orgasm on her next album? The Neptunes won't say. "She's very, um, focused," says a slightly amused Chad Hugo, who's one half of the hip-hop superproducing team responsible for "I'm a Slave 4 U," a track that reportedly features the self-proclaimed virgin panting and moaning in wet, hot ecstasy. Months before its November release the song stirred up controversy in the tabloids, which speculated that Spears would provide a raunchy preview of her new, harder sound at an MTV awards show (a fact her publicist strongly denied). "I'll just say this," Hugo coyly intones. "You could see her visualize her dance routine while we were working."

What is uncontestably true is that these days your album is not complete until you've cut a track with the Neptunes, the twentysomething Virginia Beach--based producers who have quickly developed a reputation as chart-busting gurus with their trademark sonic minimalism and boombastic, dance-ready beats. They've crafted wonders for a startlingly diverse list that includes everyone from hard-core hip-hoppers (Jay-Z, DMX) to rock upstarts (Limp Bizkit, No Doubt) to pop wild cards (Moby, Sade). And naturally, as the music industry's new secret weapon, they're approached by plenty of artists looking for audio makeovers. (Next up for the duo: Michael Jackson. "It was weird." says Pharrell Williams, the other Neptune, "but he's the dancingest, singingest dude ever.")

Success has led them to turn down three times as many artists as they actually work with, partly to finish their own album, due next year, and partly out of worry of overexposure. "We're trying to master the assembly-line thing but still put our hearts into it," says Hugo. "Even we get tired of hearing our shit."

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