NEW YORK — Chad Hugo is a man of very few words. But helping craft some of the biggest songs of the early 2000s, his music may have spoken louder than he ever could.
"It's always just been gratifying to see people enjoy the music when it's played out loud and you're cultivating moments or opportunities for moments to share," said the two-time Grammy winner. "When music is playing out, it's a sound. And if we can share that understanding with what we hear, then hopefully we'll be able to understand each other's soul and our intents in this world."
The legendary producing duo The Neptunes, comprised of Hugo and Pharrell Williams, will be formally inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday. The hit-makers are part of the pandemic-delayed 2020 class which includes other icons like The Isley Brothers, Annie Lennox and Mariah Carey.
A songwriter becomes eligible for selection 20 years after the first commercial release of a song and must have a notable catalog. According to the Hall, out of the tens of thousands of songwriters of this era, there are only around 400 who have been inducted into this prestigious group which boasts names like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jay-Z, Marvin Gaye, Burt Bacharach, Bruce Springsteen and Curtis Mayfield. Lil Nas X will get a special award.
"Never thought I (would) be considered a songwriter. You know, sometimes it's just cranking up the reverb," the 48-year-old joked. "It's awesome to be a part of making records and being an instrumental part in creating music."
Much like his personality, the genius producer undersells his musical impact. The production pair's futuristic sound became so recognizable that it earned the moniker "The Neptunes Sound." Their sonic creations dominated radio during the early part of the millennium with megahits like Britney Spears's "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 crafted the Jay-Z-Pharrell collaborations "Excuse Me Miss" and "Frontin'," as well as were architects of the iconic beat for The Clipse's "Grindin'."
Hugo, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines, met Pharrell at band camp as young students, forming a tight friendship through music. The Virginia Beach natives eventually caught the eye of R&B legend and New Jack Swing innovator Teddy Riley who signed them as a band before they morphed to a production team. They'd also eventually form the popular rock band N.E.R.D. with high school friend Shay Haley.
The yin to Pharrell's flamboyant, media-savvy yang, it's easy for the soft-spoken producer be overlooked. But when asked if the public properly 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 be inspired by the records," said Hugo, who along with Pharrell won the 2003 Grammy non-classical producer of the year award. But when pushed on if he specifically gets the credit he deserves, he says that's not why he creates. "This is about the records and the experience when people hear the records."
Although they don't collaborate as frequently, The Neptunes have maintained a foothold in the current era by working with some of today's stars such as Rosalia, Summer Walker, Snoh Alegra, Brent Faiyaz, and the late Pop Smoke. Independently, Hugo has been in the studio with M.I.A., rising artist The BLSSM, and he's working with fellow Filipino American Jo Koy on the soundtrack for the comic's upcoming "Easter Sunday" special.
Hugo is also currently deep-diving into jazz which he grew up playing. He says he wants to be a constant learner of music — the same type of attitude that has led him to one of songwriting's most exclusive clubs.
"It's just awesome that we were able to come up with those records and DJs taking note of it and playing the songs," said Hugo. "I'm just really thankful that we're able to move people and be a part of people's lives and be inspiring at the same time for the next generation or other musicians alike."