Chad Hugo is a man of very few words. But he helped create some of the biggest songs of the early 2000s, and his music perhaps spoke louder than it ever could.
“It’s always been just gratifying to see how people enjoy the music when it’s played loud and you cultivate moments or opportunities for shared moments,” said the two-time Grammy winner. “When music is played, it’s a noise. And if we can share that understanding with what we’re hearing, then hopefully we’ll be able to understand each other’s souls and our purposes in this world.”
Legendary producer duo The Neptunes, consisting of Hugo and Pharrell Williams, will be officially inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday. The hitmakers are part of the pandemic-delayed Class of 2020, which also includes other icons like The Isley Brothers, Annie Lennox and Mariah Carey.
A songwriter can be selected 20 years after a song’s first commercial release and must have a notable catalogue. According to The Hall, out of the tens of thousands of songwriters of that era, only about 400 were inducted into this respected group, which included names such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jay-Z, Marvin Gaye, Burt Bacharach, Bruce Springsteen and Curtis Mayfield. Lil Nas X receives a special award.
“I never thought I would be considered a songwriter. You know, sometimes you just turn up the reverb,” joked the 48-year-old. “It’s great to be part of the making of records and to play an instrumental role in the creation of music.”
Much like his personality, the genius producer undercuts his musical impact. The production couple’s futuristic sound became so distinctive that they were nicknamed “The Neptunes Sound”. Her sound creations dominated the radio at the beginning of the millennium with mega hits like Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U”, Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”, Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”. and “Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake. They also created the Jay Z Pharrell collaborations Excuse Me Miss and Frontin’ and were the architects of the iconic beat for The Clipse’s Grindin’.
Hugo, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines, met Pharrell as young students at band camp and developed a close friendship through music. The Virginia Beach Natives eventually caught the attention of R&B legend and New Jack Swing innovator Teddy Riley, who signed them as a band before morphing into a production team. They would also eventually form the popular rock band NERD with school friend Shay Haley.
The ying to Pharrell’s flamboyant, media-savvy yang can be easy for the soft-spoken producer to miss. But when asked if the public adequately acknowledges his contributions, Hugo deflects the praise.
“I learned a lot from Pharrell and his music. He would bring records over and we would go through the records and get inspiration from the records,” said Hugo, who shared the 2003 Grammy for Non-Classical Producer of the Year with Pharrell. But when pushed, when he’s specifically getting the recognition he deserves, he says that’s not why he creates. “This is about the records and the experience when people listen to the records.”
While not collaborating as often, The Neptunes have found a foothold in the current era by collaborating with some of today’s stars such as Rosalia, Summer Walker, Snoh Alegra, Brent Faiyaz and the late Pop Smoke. Separately, Hugo has been in the studio with MIA, up-and-coming artist The BLSSM, working with fellow American Jo Koy on the soundtrack for the comic’s upcoming “Easter Sunday” special.
Hugo is also currently diving deep into the jazz he grew up listening to. He says he wants to constantly learn music — the same attitude that has led him to one of songwriting’s most exclusive clubs.
“It’s just great that we were able to develop these records and DJs took notice and played the songs,” said Hugo. “I’m just really grateful that we’re able to move people and be a part of people’s lives while also being an inspiration to the next generation or other musicians alike.” ___
Follow Associated Press entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton, using his name @GaryGHamilton, on social media.