Category Archives: The Neptunes

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 5/1/2015: “Peaches ‘N Cream” by Snoop Dogg,Pharrell Williams and Charlie Wilson

A dozen years ago,Snoop Dogg’s career was revitalized by The Neptunes. Half of which is Pharrell Williams,now the modern day Quincy Jones (as producer) himself. This was on the song “Let’s Get Blown”,featuring guest singer “Uncle Charlie” Wilson himself-the original Gapper. Today Pharrell,withdrawn musically from The Neptunes is absolutely on fire as a funky hit making producer/musician in his own right. And having the same effect on Snoop and Charlie yet again on the new song “Peaches ‘N Cream”.

A rigid,insistent beat counts down the full body of the song. The chorus consists of a clean,bubbling mid to higher toned electric bass line backed by a looser and slower 4/4 beat,accented with the ringing percussion on the last bar of the that bass line. The refrain of the song,which showcases Snoop’s melodic singsong rap, adds in a wonderfully Nile Rodgers style rhythm guitar along with a very dreamy style 70’s jazz/funk high electric piano solo wash hugging the guitar like a musical pillow to a blanket.  This dynamic stretches in and out in variations as the melody and rhythm evolve as the song itself fades out.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this song is how musically elastic it is. On that level alone? It treats funk as a genre worthy of great respect and dignity. The main rhythmic thrust of it is very much out of the boogie/post disco late 70’s/early 80’s dance-funk kick that’s defined Pharell’s current productions. Also in classic P-Funk style? The danceable mean beat really concentrates ones attention on the Paulinho Da Costa like ringing percussion and other rhythmic accents. That harmonic element of jazziness that comes from the keyboard playing on this song helps expand out it’s funky elasticity.

The vocal arrangement is fantastic. It seems to melt Snoop,Charlie and perhaps Pharrell himself on a thick vocal chorus of male tenor funkiness. Charlie himself provides his typically thick (and in this case distant) call and response cries in the back round. Snoop Dogg is clearly keeping up with the playing sexuality that’s at the core of his lyricism. Only thing is? I’ve heard him do this so many times before,in exactly the same way. Snoops lyricism goes very much to the core of funk at it’s most lustful end. Just feel he sounds bored here-as if it’s become a bit of a formula. Nonetheless that cannot diminish the musical power and funky serenity this songs instrumental and vocal arrangement provides.

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Filed under 2015, Boogie Funk, Charlie Wilson, dance funk, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, Nile Rodgers, P-Funk, Pharrell Willaims, post disco, Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, The Neptunes

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/17/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Stressed Out” by Babyface

By the time the new millennium had officially arrived? Kenneth Babyface Edmunds found himself in a position of becoming nearly a total musical cliche’. His high,soft voice matched with coaxing lyrical insinuation and an instrumental preference for very soft adult contemporary pop ballads-quite often oriented around the acoustic guitar, gave the impression of an artist barely capable of expressing either yearning sexuality or vitality of character. Inwardly the man had a very different side however. So ‘Face rounded on than new producer Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes to showcase another side of his musical talent that,even from his days as a member of the 80’s boy band The Deele,had been rather subdued. This is showcased most heavily on the song “Stressed Out” from the 2000 album Face2Face.

After a whispered declaration of “make your dreams come true” from Babyface,a keyboard/guitar oriented melodic solo kicks in with a pulsing choir sound. This melody,backed up by a marching beat,comes to a refrain of these phrase that features a straight up funky…well either it’s a guitar or a synthesizer simulating one. Due to the technological progression of the time it’s hard to tell. This stop/start funkiness is basically the instrumental bed for Babyface’s vocals on this songs-which he delivers in both straight ahead and more dragging vocal drawls that accompany the harmonic flow of the song. Toward the end of the final refrain,there is a beautifully written Stevie Wonder-like chord progression before the last verse of the song.

This song is also a case where I feel it’s important to focus on the lyrical content of the song,and how Babyface’s vocals present them. As mentioned earlier, Babyface presented himself as a man who was willing to sacrifice his own confidence to secure a given romantic association. On this particular song? Not only is physical sex more then a little implied, but Babyface is telling the lady in his life (unsure if this was written with Tracy Edmunds in mind or not) that her own fears of intimacy and distant attitude can only really be successfully alleviated if she merely relaxes (as he tells her not to “stress out”) and simply allows herself to feel some sense of joy and life in the experience. So here,Babyface is a romantically uplifting and encouraging force rather than a merely submissive one.

Musically speaking this song is not merely about Babyface changing his own approach to his craft,but also part of the ever evolving sound of Pharrel’s production as part of The Neptunes. With the success of similar minded songs to this,in particular Nelly’s famous “Hot In Here”? The sound that The Neptunes were developing during the early aughts were to become the popular R&B/dance sound of that era-spawning a number of very half baked imitations of their sound in what became known as “contemporary R&B”. This was a very similar chain of events that occurred with Teddy Riley’s innovation of new jack swing over a decade before this. But on this song and others from the source of The Neptunes? The sound had a strong,uptempo groove travelling on a vital musical road. A road right into the rhythmic nucleus of funk. And for Babyface that was just what the metaphorical Dr.Funkenstein ordered!

 

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Filed under Babyface, Contemporary R&B, Funk, Pharrell Willaims, The Neptunes

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Andre’s Pick : “Touch” by Omarion

Never ceases to amaze me how much Pharrell Williams was involved in so many of what I feel are the most instrumentally exciting funk of the past decade or so. As one half of The Neptunes with Chad Hugo,Pharrell helped spin musical gold for everyone from Kelis,Justin Timberlake,Jay Z,Snoog Dogg and even Britney Spears. And by 2004 Pharrell on his own was already being singled out as a pie in the sky artist/producer whom,like Quincy Jones before him was able to showcase the connectivity of soul/funk through the post millennial hip-hop era. Then in 2005,Pharrell turned his magic to Omarian,lead singer of the hip-hop/dance boy band B2K,as he released his debut solo album ‘O’ and,most impressively on the song “Touch”.

Follow a soft “huh” by Omarian,the song kicks right into gear at full power. The drum machine kicks out a very percussive Afro-Latin uptempo groove. Layered carefully within this rhythmic bed are two powerful synthesizer lines. One is a higher,almost digitized clavinet style effect playing a complex three chord sequence in very syncopated time. Below that is a very rubbery and flamboyant Moog bass line that has a lot of jazz/blues oriented “blue notes” and is almost played in fast paced be-bop style. As Omarian asks us to get comfortable,he begins to illustrate how he has “visions and fantasies”,and lyrically stays on the one with them throughout the song-illustrating both lyrically along with The Neptunes instrumentation the seductive energy of the song itself.

It was actually my blog-mate here Henrique who first introduced me to this songs several years ago. Having had a musical education that was equal parts Stevie Wonder,Prince,Teena Marie,Steve Winwood and Todd Rundgren? I always had the utmost admiration for musically eloquent multi instrumentalists. This song simply gave me goosebumps when I first heard it. So much so I totally forgot it even had any lyrics to it. The instrumental futurism and complexity of the drum machines and harmonizing lead/bass synthesizer was simply amazing. Especially with the tremendous physical energy and vigor with which it was played. This song revealed itself to me as an outstanding template for modern day,electronically derived instrumental funk. And forever had me digging deep to see what this apparently musically ingenius Pharrell Williams was up to.

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Filed under Funk, Hip-Hop, Omarion, Pharrell Willaims, Quincy Jones, Radio, Stevie Wonder, The Neptunes