Ever since the two cats from Virginia known as the Neptunes were given a chance to show their production skills on Mase's 1997 "Harlem World" debut with the track "Looking At Me," the crew hasn't looked back since. Undoubtedly the hottest producers in the game for the last three years running, the Neptunes are seizing the opportunity to grab a choke hold of the industry with their own Star Trak label compilation - Clones. Throughout the disc's 18 tracks, the duo showcases the two reasons why they are such titans in the rap game:
Reason 1: Their amorphous nature and variety of beats and genres they can adapt to (the jury is still out on whether they're skate kids or true hip-hoppers)
Reason 2: Their boundless creativity and musical ability that span the scope from
hard-hitting, street bangers like "Grindin" to lush, melodic tunes like the "Frontin" joint featured on this album.
Clones plays like a music gathering of hip-hop's current elite, and the stars really come out to have fun on this one. Busta starts the proceedings off well with the above par banger "Light Yo Ass on Fire," which recalls the feel of his previous Kelis-aided "What it Is" produced by the Neptunes as well. Snoop rides his recent wave of hits and all-in-your-face celebrity with a stellar lyrical performance over a Neptune's P-funk influenced beat in the ode-to-chronic track, "It blows my mind." This track features an ill horn breakdown close to the end of the song that is followed by a bass-heavy percussion over which Snoop lays his game down quite flat with the following line:
/"It's the diabolical, chronical, mythological, psychological / make a model ho fuck a G/"
O.D.B. brings his signature brand of maniacal microphone madness to the early 90's sounding looped-up track "Pop Shit" - what's impressive is after all the time in the bing, O.D.B.'s darts still come off sharp as ever.
However, it's the usual suspects that bring the real heat on Clones - The Clipse stick to their unrepentant drug flows in the bare-boned gutter track "Blaze of Glory" featuring another hot verse from Philly representative Ab Liva. But the Neptunes reserve the most ether track on the disc "Hot" for their new draft pick with the spoken-word flow - Roscoe P. Coldchain. The Neptunes outdo themselves on this one and come with a track that sounds like a series of slow precise vinyl cuts looped together - all interspersed with LL-type bells that amazingly make this gutter track readily club accessible. Roscoe drops the album's most quotable line on this joint /"I'm Da Vinci - Don't make me draw your pain/"
The forays into rock territory by Star Trak artists like "Spymob" and "High Speed Scene" show the Neptunes variety and depth in being able to morph into all genres of music, but they also have a slight negative effect by taking away from the consistency and flow of the album.
The cameos by Jay and Nas on "Frontin" and "Popular Thug" give Clones a nice seal of approval - (as if at this point in the game, the Neptunes really need a co-signer) Overall, satisfaction is definitely guaranteed - even the few misses like the uninspiring "If" featuring Nelly and the tired-sounding Nore track are ultimately listenable .... So chalk up another winner for Chad and Pharrel - their reign on the top seems far from ending anytime soon.