Pharrell’s 18 Biggest Hits From Worst To Best

Estevan Oriol/Getty Images

Pharrell’s 18 Biggest Hits From Worst To Best

Estevan Oriol/Getty Images

Twenty years ago this past weekend — on July 8, 1998 — something very predictable happened on the Billboard Hot 100: Mase’s “Lookin’ At Me” became the third consecutive single from his Grammy-nominated, multi-Platinum album Harlem World to break into the chart’s top 10. Label boss Puff Daddy was in his opulent, shiny-suited prime, and Bad Boy was, for the moment, too big to fail. After the considerable waves Harlem World’s funky “Feel So Good” and steamy “What You Want” made on the radio in late ’97 into early ’98, “Lookin’ At Me” was a very safe bet for pop success.

In that sense, “Lookin’ At Me” represented the old guard. The behemoth that New York hip hop had become would soon devour itself and leave a vacuum in the pop-rap lane. But the irony of “Lookin’ At Me” and its chart success was its Trojan Horse-style smuggling of the Neptunes, a production duo that went on to steal a good deal of that airplay away from Puffy, into the mainstream. The single marked the first Top 10 hit produced by young Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. Five years later, at the end of 2003, they’d have ten more under their belts.

Today, we all know Pharrell as the ageless synesthete that somehow fits into a million pop and hip hop boxes at once. Producing for Jay-Z and BeyoncĂ© seems to come as easily to him as producing for Lil Uzi Vert, flipping a Despicable Me 2 soundtrack cut into a #1 single as easily as securing half of the real estate on Ariana Grande’s upcoming album. For years now, the more vocal, visible, and enduring half of the Neptunes has occupied an enviably multi-layered space in pop culture. While he’s busy making hits with modern stars like Migos, ensuing generations periodically play around with the iconic sound he and Hugo rode to the top at the start of the millenium — most recently, SoundCloud rap standout Rico Nasty flipped the Neptunes’ “Superthug” beat into something astonishingly fresh.

Chad Hugo’s trajectory deserves shine of its own — shout-out his little-known past as a techno producer and saxophone wiz (that’s him blasting away on Jay-Z’s “The City Is Mine”) — but most of his work in the past decade has been relegated to N.E.R.D’s comeback album, Snoop Dogg’s Bush, and Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods. But Pharrell, to borrow a phrase from Rich Homie Quan, has never stopped going in.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Lookin’ At Me,” we’re paying tribute to two decades of Pharrell’s pop dominance. Over that time, Skateboard P has produced, rapped, and/or sung on a whopping 18 Top 10 hits by everyone from *NSYNC to Daft Punk. Here are all of them, listed with the date and position of their Hot 100 peak, ranked from worst to best.

18. Pharrell – “Happy” (#1, 2014)

As the Neptunes’ hot streak fizzled out in the late 2000s, Hugo and Williams continued to produce as separate entities, with Pharrell’s clients increasingly high-profile and Chad’s more often in the realm of Kenna and Stalley. Then 2013 hit and Pharrell ascended to another echelon of stardom, thanks to a #2 single and two #1s. Between 2013 and ’14, Pharrell spent 22 weeks — almost half a year — on top of the BIllboard 100.

“Happy,” the Despicable Me 2 cut that I alluded to earlier, was the last of those #1 hits, and the most unlikely. Not only was it relegated to the soundtrack of a children’s movie, but it was originally intended for Cee Lo Green, and is far and away Pharrell’s biggest hit as a solo artist. Also worth noting: thus far, “Happy” is the only #1 single of the 2010s to be performed, written, and produced by one person. Especially considering the rise of the pop-by-committee approach that’s favored by everyone from Kanye West to Ed Sheeran, that’s no small feat.

And yet, “Happy” feels like an insignificant blip, the lowest common denominator of Pharrell’s career. It’s earnest, it’s retro, it asks you to clap along. The best wedding songs always feel like they’ve grown into that role after years of slowly being ingrained in pop culture; “Happy” came out of the womb tailor-made for weddings. Pharrell’s released far too much music for “Happy” to be the definitive choice for the worst song of his career (“Universal Mind Control” is a worthy competitor), but it’s almost certainly the least adventurous, boundary-pushing thing he’s ever done.

17. Robin Thicke Feat. T.I. & Pharrell – “Blurred Lines” (#1, 2013)

Five year after this song’s runaway success, you’re more likely to remember its surrounding circumstances — the drawn-out copyright infringement lawsuit, the NSFW video, Thicke’s subsequent divorce — than anything T.I. rapped on it. “Blurred Lines” is a pelvic thrust of lite funk that arrived six years too late for FutureSex/LoveSounds and just a few years too early to be rightfully “cancelled” for its rapey vibe.

Hinting at the direction he’d take on “Happy” just a few months later, Pharrell leaves behind the Star Trak futurism of his past in favor of retro mixology. You can certainly find inspirations for his playful percussion, sturdy bassline, and background whoops elsewhere outside of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” but the specific combination felt a little on-the-nose.

Years down the line, I think Pharrell and Chad Hugo will be remembered most for making Top 40 radio sound a little alien for a few years in the early 2000s — along with Timbaland, they deployed squelches, zaps, sproings, and whizzes where no such sounds had been heard before. “Blurred Lines” felt beneath Pharrell, and even if you don’t agree that he owes Gaye some of its royalties (I don’t), you can view the court ruling as karmic retribution for backsliding into pastiche after years of trailblazing.

16. LL Cool J – “Luv U Better” (#4, 2002)

An important stepping stone in every pop producer’s rise to relevance is a co-sign from a star past their prime. Metro Boomin got it from Kayne on The Life Of Pablo; Jack Antonoff got it from P!nk on Beautiful Trauma; Rick Rubin got it from Mick Jagger on Wandering Spirit.

In the case of the Neptunes, 34-year-old LL Cool J came calling hot on the heels of their first #1 single (Nelly’s “Hot In Herre”) Williams and Hugo were tapped for a third of the Queens veteran’s ninth album, including lead single “Luv U Better.” At this point, Cool J hadn’t had a top 10 hit since 1996, so the song’s success proved just how hot that Neptunes sound was becoming in ’02.

The beat’s cool enough, mostly composed of airy synths that hover like an early-morning mist and patiently-deployed Spanish-style guitar licks, which were a Neptunes staple at the time. But “Luv U Better” kind of flat-lines through its four minute runtime. Cool J tries on the loverboy shtick that he perfected on “I Need Love” for the umpteenth time, and despite how cut his abs remain in the video, the urgency in his songwriting starts to sag. Perhaps this is unfair to Cool J, but this song conjures up the image of a scumbag uncle slicking his hair back, over-applying cologne, and lighting candles before a booty call.

15. Jay-Z Feat. Pharrell – “Change Clothes” (#10, 2003)

Jay-Z and Pharrell: two great artists with plenty of great music under their belts, but whose collaborations rarely live up to their billing. The pair have been working together off-and-on since 1997, when Hugo did his aforementioned saxophone magic on top of a Jones Girls sample on the Teddy Riley-produced “The City Is Mine.” That song is, along with a couple others, responsible for Jay’s ill-fitting foray into shiny suit rap on parts of In My Lifetime Vol. 1, and as most Jay fans know by now, pop-rap is a style with which he only succeeds occasionally. For every “H To The Izzo” there are 10 “Run This Town”s.

One of those successes came on Pharrell’s first-ever vocal appearance on a Jay song, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” from 2000’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. It’s a bouncy, characteristically Latin-flavored Neptunes joint that’s just barely ineligible for this list (it peaked at #11 on the Hot 100). Of the three Pharrell/Jay singles that performed better, The Black Album’s “Change Clothes” is the worst and most inconsequential.

As a middle schooler only casually aware of popular rap music at the time of The Black Album’s release, I was nevertheless very aware of that album. “99 Problems,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” Jay’s fake retirement stunt, and even “Encore” in the wake of the Linkin Park mashup album, all registered on my radar. Lead single “Change Clothes” did not, and I was shocked to learn that it even charted, much less cracked the top 10. The beat is a plush enough homage to ’70s-’80s jazz-funk, but Jay just kind of… talks about changing clothes? And Pharrell’s chorus isn’t catchy enough for the radio in any era. The success of “Change Clothes” is more of an indicator of the hype that The Black Album commanded than it is an example of career-best work by either of its creators.

14. Jay-Z Feat. Pharrell – “Excuse Me Miss” (#8, 2003)

Can we talk about how bad Jay-Z is at being romantic when the object of his affection isn’t BeyoncĂ©? He willingly admitted that his earliest attempt at this, 1997’s “(Always Be My) Sunshine,” “killed” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, and his rakish playboy shtick didn’t improve until he had Bey’s pristine vocals to temper the clunkiness of his bars. The first example of this came before they were an official item, on The Blueprint 2’s “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” a fun romp bolstered by Kanye West production. Jay also gave the Neptunes a shot at making a seductive jam on that album, but it didn’t pan out nearly as well.

Jay begins “Excuse Me Miss” by creatively describing the luxuriant beat: “You can’t even drink Crist-OWL on this one / You gotta drink Crist-ALL.” He’s right — the Neptunes turned in a version of LL Cool J’s “Luv U Better” on steroids. But then Jay starts bricking pickup lines (“Can I get my grown man on for one second?”) and butchering Biggie homages (“I see some ladies tonight that should be hangin’ with Jay-Z”). It doesn’t help that Pharrell starts doing what Pharrell seems to reserve only for the hooks of Jay-Z songs: getting all yelpy and pitchy like Jay’s overzealous wingman.

The shimmering “Excuse Me Miss” beat is so great that Polow da Don, a great producer in his own right, pretty much blatantly pilfered it for Ludacris and Bobby Valentino’s “Pimpin’ All Over The World” a year later. In the hand of any capable R&B singer, it probably would’ve been a great song. But with a clumsy Jay and excitable Skateboard P at the reins, “Excuse Me Miss” is the rap single equivalent of a high-budget buddy comedy about hapless bachelors, minus any self-awareness.

13. Nelly – “Hot In Herre” (#1, 2002)

If you lived through the “Hot In Herre” moment, chances are you never want to hear the song again. Both the Neptunes and Nelly’s first #1 single, this thing was huge. It’s a silly, completely basic song, but that’s why it blew up.

When asked about the iconic “Ella-ella-ella-ay” section he wrote for Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” The-Dream called it “the dumb part,” explaining that it’s “the part that sticks to your brain and pulls up your antenna and makes you notice.” “Hot In Herre” is a song-length “dumb part.” From the overdramatic chords in the intro to the “Ah, ah!” sound effects to the pervy funk guitar licks, everything is in service of four minutes of hedonism.

It’s hard to rank “Hot In Herre” because A) it’s a completely ridiculous song and B) that’s kind of the point. It may be a quintessential Neptunes single, so indicative of their sound and pop trajectory that it’s impossible to ignore, but quality-wise, it’s certainly not essential listening.

12. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body” (#5, 2003)

Musically, “Rock Your Body” and “Hot In Herre” are very similar, mostly thanks to pervy electric guitar licks that belong in ’70s pornos. Both songs also have hypersexualized reputations, one simply because of Nelly’s lyrics, and the other because of a very public “wardrobe malfunction.” But what ever so slightly separates “Rock Your Body” — at least its beat — is that it’s carried out with a little more session-musician class to it.

There’s more going on in the verses of “Rock Your Body,” with a stomping beat, a wriggling bassline, one keyboard acting as the rhythm track, and the other keyboard providing distant, swirling sound effects. “Hot In Herre,” on the other hand, just has one keyboard track and a clanging percussion loop, but it sounds busier thanks to that constant pitter-patter of glass bottles or whatever drum machine preset was used. Only a year passed between the two, but it was clearly enough bring the Neptunes from novelty sound to an almost Quincy Jones-esque mastery of arrangement.

11. Pharrell Feat. Jay-Z – “Frontin'” (#5, 2003)

Pharrell’s biggest hit as a lead artist until “Happy” came along 10 years later, “Frontin'” was also the first song he ever released as a solo act. Its success came as a surprise, both due to his relative inexperience as a frontman and the song’s rather rudimentary beat. Still a bit iffy as a singer, Pharrell’s main achievement here is making “Frontin'” work despite its slightly amateurish vibe.

Over an unchanged, stuttery guitar loop, Pharrell courts ladies with an endearing “Aw shucks” vibe — both his falsetto and his promise to “Tear that ass up” sound plucky — like an overconfident underdog you can’t help rooting for. The song gradually blooms into something prettier with the sort of lush keyboard chords that’d come to inspire Tyler, The Creator. As wide-eyed, goofy R&B delivered by a genius who didn’t quite know how to carry himself yet, “Frontin'” is awesome. But then Jay-Z steps in.

All traces of youthful exuberance go out the window with Hov’s appearance, but then again, he’s probably the only reason the song got on the radio. Didn’t Pharrell know that there were dozens of rappers better at rapping about courtship than Jay-Z? Throw Cam’ron on here and the song’s a classic. Even Ludacris would’ve livened it up. Minus the blandness of “Happy” and “Blurred Lines,” the biggest blight on Pharrell’s career is the fact that him and Jay spent so much time trying to pick up girls together.

10. Ludacris Feat. Pharrell – “Money Maker” (#1, 2006)

The Neptunes’ number of hits steadily declined after 2003, with only one song per year breaking into the Top 10 in ’04, ’05, and ’06. What’s crazy, though, is that each of those songs went #1. “Money Maker,” the lead single from the album that began Ludacris’ decline, Release Therapy, capped off that unlikely run of chart-toppers.

With typically cartoonish rapping from Luda and an elephantine Neptunes beat, “Money Maker” goes above and beyond its low stakes subject matter. The opening alone, with its heavily-panned clamor, turns exotic dancing into an event of action movie proportions. This is Michael Bay making strip club rap, down to the impressively dumb dialogue (“You lookin’ good in them jeans, bet you’d look even better with me in between”).

Ludacris and Pharrell made minor hit “Southern Hospitality” together back in 2000, but in the next six years, remained in each other’s orbit without working together. Their styles seemed perfectly matched for each other, with Luda’s tactic of oddly enunciatiating syllables to create a bounce to his cadence somewhat reminiscent of the Neptunes’ ping-ponging sound effects. No one was more responsible for making 2000s rap radio sound like a neon-colored playground than Pharrell and Ludacris. “Money Maker” is a bombastic postscript to the era they briefly ruled.

9. Gwen Stefani – “Hollaback Girl” (#1, 2005)

Like “Hot In Herre” before it, “Hollaback Girl” is a silly song, perhaps even more decidedly so. But its success might be the best example of the Neptunes’ musical alchemy. How in the actual hell do you make a #1 single out of a former ska singer, a lunch table beat, and bridge that consists of gang vocals spelling out the word “bananas”? “Hollaback Girl” is the pop music version of an Iron Chef challenge.

Pharrell and Chad Hugo had already made the greatest lunch table beat of all time, The Clipse’s “Grindin’,” three years prior, so they simply dumbed it down into something white people could recreate en masse. Without this “Hollaback Girl” beat, Lil Mama probably never makes “Lip Gloss.” Without Gwen Stefani’s cheerleader chants and clear desire to culturally appropriate anything within her reach, Taylor Swift probably never makes “Shake It Off.”

8. Daft Punk Feat. Pharrell & Nile Rodgers – “Get Lucky” (#2, 2013)

Like Pharrell’s other 2013 hits, “Happy” and “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky” is a song whose DNA comes strictly from previous eras of music and contains almost zero innovation. That, as I’ve explained a few times already, runs counter to his overall legacy. But unlike those two songs, it’s hard to find a flaw in “Get Lucky.”

The lead single from Daft Punk’s comeback album, Random Access Memories, takes three entities instrumental to specific, disparate eras of pop/dance music and somehow successfully puts all of their work in conversation. Chic’s Nile Rodgers flashes the dextrous rhythm guitar licks that previously lit fires under David Bowie, Madonna, and Grandmaster Flash’s asses. Daft Punk flip their disco-plundering prowess into a pop song that retains electronic music’s tireless pulse. Pharrell reaches into a decade-and-a-half of pop achievements and emerges with the finest vocal performance of his career. It’s easy to sideline concerns about rewriting the rules of pop when completely orthodox pop music is this good.

7. Ma$e – “Lookin’ At Me” (#8, 1998)

Getting his start as a songwriter and producer under the tutelage of new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley, Pharrell had brushes with hit songs before producing and rapping on his own. In 1992, he wrote Riley’s verse on Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker,” which went #2 (there’s also been some confusion as to whether Williams also contributed production work, but co-producer Ty Fyffe recently dispelled that myth). That same year, another Riley-produced track, a remix of SWV’s “Right Here” that blended the song with Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” went #2, and Pharrell can be heard chanting “S… Double… U… V” during its intro. He also wrote a verse for the track, but it only appeared on a B-side version.

It wasn’t until “Lookin’ At Me” that Hugo and Williams’ actual fingerprints started appearing on pop radio. Right away, you can hear two elements that’d become the Neptunes’ bread and butter — that burbly keyboard preset and vaguely Spanish guitar picking. Diddy perfectly matched Mase’s mumbly flow with Kool & The Gang guitar licks on another one of Harlem World’s singles, “Feel So Good,” but the Neptunes found possibly even better analogues in their two-tiered melodic arrangement.

Today, it might not sound that revolutionary, but especially in the context of the big, bold Harlem World, this slinky little number presaged a complete shift in prevailing rap sounds. If there’s a “missing link” between the brassy late ’90s hits by Bad Boy artists and the slightly wonkier radio hits by artists like Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, and Outkast a few years later, it’s “Lookin’ At Me.”

6. Snoop Dogg Feat. Pharrell & Charlie Wilson – “Beautiful” (#6, 2002)

If Jay-Z was the out-of-town veteran rapper least suited for spunky Neptunes beats, Snoop Dogg was the opposite. His playful delivery and ability to switch from tough talk to flirting at the drop of a hat lent itself to the duo’s creative approach, and at this point in his career, he sorely needed exactly what they were offering.

By 2002, Snoop had already been bouncing around labels and producers for years. His stint at No Limit had ended, and he found himself with a new deal on Priority Records. For his next two albums, he’d rely heavily on the Neptunes, who produced seven songs between the two LPs. 2002’s Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Boss yielded two singles, both of which were Neptunes productions.

I’d argue that bombastic lead single “From Tha Chuuuch To Da Palace” is the better song, but as it only topped out at #77 on the Hot 100, “Beautiful” will have to suffice for this list. As they seemed to be fond of doing all throughout ’02 and ’03 (see: “Hot In Herre” and “Rock Your Body”), Pharrell and Chad leaned heavily on Latin sounds, but this time, they went all in. There’s bongos, bubbly organ, and of course, that workhorse rhythm guitar. The sound reinvigorated Snoop, and also roped in former Gap Band vocalist, longtime Snoop collaborator, and future Kanye West co-conspirator Charlie Wilson for his first big hit outside of his original group.

5. *NSYNC – “Girlfriend” (#5, 2002)

If you’re looking for ground zero for the Neptunes’ flirtation with Latin sounds, “Girlfriend” is the most likely answer. Included on *NSYNC’s final album, Celebrity, it was originally released in 2001 but didn’t hit radio waves as a single until Spring 2002, literally one day before “Hot In Herre.” The timing simply could not have been better. Their complete dominance of the radio with an instantly-recognizable sound was nigh.

“Girlfriend” is noticeably more primitively-constructed than similar ensuing hits “Hot In Herre” or “Rock Your Body,” and much more in-line with the aforementioned chintzy N.O.R.E. banger “Superthug.” Some might use this as a mark against the song, but if you’re already going to be serving up loose appropriations of Latin pop, I don’t think getting actual guitars and more expensive keyboards will improve much. “Girlfriend” sounds like a level of a SEGA Dreamcast game set in Mexico, and for a white, Dreamcast-era boyband, that’s absolutely fitting.

More importantly, “Girlfriend” is up here because it got the Neptunes’ foot in the door of actual, established pop music. They made *NSYNC’s last single, and they did it without streamlining their somewhat-cheesy sound into something more in-line with what Max Martin and Rodney Jerkins were doing at the time.

4. Snoop Dogg Feat. Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (#1, 2004)

99% of the time, beatboxing sucks. Unless you’re Doug E. Fresh, you probably shouldn’t even try it, and even then, you can’t expect to ever hear it on the radio. But hey, this is the Neptunes we’re talking about. They treated pop conventions like rules meant to be broken, and probably could turn a sample of a goldfish flopping around on dry land into a fantastic beat.

This was the pinnacle of the Neptunes’ mid-2000s partnership with Snoop, Snoop’s first-ever #1, and Pharrell’s first #1 as a vocalist. The fact that it all happened with such a weird, minimal beat is perhaps the greatest testament to the Neptunes’ genius. With the waves of white noise deployed rhythmically throughout, it’s easy to imagine elderly record executives wondering if their speakers were broken. Apart from the tongue clicks and “Snooooooop” loop, the only melody comes from synths that only appear on around 1/16th of the song’s runtime. Whatever Gwen Stefani said about her Neptunes-produced hit, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” is the one that’s truly B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

3. Usher – “U Don’t Have To Call” (#3, 2002)

Before “Girlfriend” or “Hot In Herre” hit the airwaves, there was “U Don’t Have To Call.” Released in January of ’02 as the third single off of Usher’s 8701, it marked the first the Neptunes first Top 10 hit in the nearly four years since Mase’s “Lookin’ At Me.” If you hadn’t been paying attention in the interim, the progression is immediately evident.

“U Don’t Have To Call” manages to be both extremely smooth and extremely strange. By themselves, the laser beam sound effects and stuttery synth-guitar flourishes would seem distracting, but combined with elegant acoustic strumming, strings, and keyboard, they just make everything pop off the page. The Neptunes would soon find ways to achieve similarly strange beats with less musical elements and clutter, but there’s no denying how thrilling it is to hear all of these disparate sounds combined into something that sounds misleadingly effortless.

2. N.O.R.E. Feat. Pharrell – “Nothin'” (#10, 2002)

There are some great Neptunes beats on this list, but much of my favorite Pharrell and Chad Hugo production is contained on material by less radio-friendly rappers. There, instead of being in service of hooks and melodies, they seemed to focus more on texture and cadence, shaping their sounds to the intricacies of rappers’ varied deliveries. Obviously, hometown pals The Clipse got their pick of the litter of Neptunes beats, but gruff-voiced guys like Slim Thug, Jadakiss, and T.I. also occasionally got bites of the apple.

One roughneck MC who had a longstanding, fruitful relationship with Pharrell, and whose career no doubt greatly benefited from the connection, was Queen’s N.O.R.E. (formerly Noreaga of Capone-N-Noreaga). I’ve already mentioned 1998’s “Superthug” as a pinnacle of early Neptunes success, but “Nothin’,” a track released four years later, actually somehow made it into the Top 10.

Possibly the most unlikely hit the Neptunes ever made, this wonky banger finds both its producers and its rapper using a eclectic approaches. On Pharrell and Chad’s part, that means combining a melodic, Middle Eastern-sounding loop (I have no idea what instrument it is) with bongos and a sporadically-deployed four-on-the-floor bassline. For N.O.R.E., that means talking about visiting a “white boy club” while Smash Mouth’s “All Star” is playing, and bragging that he’ll “sell more records than Creed.” Put “Nothin'” in the Oddities Of The Early 2000s Hall of Fame, if such a thing ever exists.

1. Kelis – “Milkshake” (#3, 2003)

This beat? Damn right, it’s better than yours. What an abrasive, downright strange piece of music. If Trent Reznor made R&B, it might sound something like this. If there’s schoolgirls in hell, and they still sing rhymes while jumping rope or playing hopscotch, this is what it sounds like. “Milkshake” is as Bizarro as pop radio’s ever gotten.

The Neptunes already had a longstanding relationship with Kelis when this song, the lead single from her third album, dropped. They produced the entirety of her first two albums, both of which yielded hits in Europe but didn’t succeed stateside. The “Milkshake” beat was originally intended for Britney Spears’ album In The Zone — and would’ve made for an insane one-two punch of singles if paired with the similarly unorthodox “Toxic” — but instead, it became Kelis’ biggest hit in her home country.

To date, there exists no better example of the Neptunes pulling pop music into their orbit. No under-the-radar producer could land something this abstract on the radio, and no A&R or label head could commision a producer to make something like “Milkshake.” A tried-and-true hitmaking team had to create this, insist it was great, and then hand it over to one of their most trusted collaborators. There’s no other sequence of events that leads to “Milkshake” becoming mass culture, and no other artists who could’ve taken it as far.

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