"No, no, it hasn't," he insists. "Because those are my boys, one. And two, Chad and I still do a lot of stuff together."
As producers, though Williams and Hugo have kept the Neptunes brand name intact, they've tended to work apart more in recent years. Williams, for example, recently finished some songs for Madonna's latest album, Hard Candy, an assignment that put his material head-to-head with that of another Virginia Beach native who has reached the innermost circle of pop importance: Timbaland. If Williams seemed less than enamored of the spotlight during his solo career, he clearly relishes the chance to compete with his old friend (prefame, he and Timba were briefly in a band together) and perceived rival.
The three megatalents of N.E.R.D. check their egos at the door.
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"His tracks [for Hard Candy] are crazy," Williams says with a laugh. "I couldn't fuck around. I had to come with it."
It's hard not to wonder, given how special N.E.R.D. seems to Williams right now, whether he's tempted to reserve his best material for the band.
"It's more a gut feeling I have of what belongs where," he explains. "It's just like what you do — writing freelance. If you write something, not necessarily something you were given as an assignment, then based on the feel and the style and the energy of it, you'd know what publication it fits the best. And it's the same thing with music. Sometimes I do a lot of sitting at the keyboard waiting for ideas, but when they come, I usually know where they belong."