The Neptunes are everywhere. With five songs that they've produced currently on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, not to mention earlier chart-topping hits by Mystikal and Ja

The Neptunes are everywhere. With five songs that they've produced currently on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, not to mention earlier chart-topping hits by Mystikal and Jay-Z, the production duo of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo has already conquered the world of urban music from behind the boards. What's next? Their own album, of course. The pair's Virgin debut, "In Search Of...," arrives Sept. 25 under the N*E*R*D moniker.

Williams and Hugo grew up together in Virginia Beach, Va. It was there, at an 11th-grade talent show, that they were discovered by producer Teddy Riley. "His studio was next door to our high school," Williams says. "He gave us a shot, and we just kept making tracks."

The duo's first production was "Tonight's the Night" for Riley's group, BLACKstreet. They've since produced tracks for SWV, Total, Mase, Noreaga, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and labelmate Kelis, among others.

After deciding to record their own album, Williams and Hugo teamed up with childhood friend and rapper Shay and took their trademark sound to Virgin as N*E*R*D. "We had a good relationship with A&R man Keith Wood through doing Kelis' album," Williams says. "He understood us, so we decided to go with him and Virgin."

According to Williams, it took a year's worth of time -- creating a track and putting it away -- to get the music together for "In Search Of..." and a month to record the whole album. A combination of eclectic beats and message-oriented lyrics, "In Search Of..." presents a new perspective on hip-hop through such tracks as lead single "Lapdance." Released as a maxi-single in June, the song, which features Lee Harvey and Vita, is about being politically active.

"The label chose it because they thought it was the best way to make noise," says Williams. "The whole idea is to raise political awareness among the youth because they're not really thinking about that. They don't like to be preached to, so you tell them in a cool way."

For Eric Ferris, Virgin's senior director of product management, choosing the single was a no-brainer. He recalls, "When they initially presented the album to us, Pharrell said, 'N*E*R*D is about sex, politics, and hip-hop.' We thought 'Lapdance' represented those things in a nutshell."

Ferris acknowledges that the duo's production reputation may give N*E*R*D an advantage over other new acts. "A lot of [their music] is in people's subconsciousness already," Ferris says. "Everywhere you turn, you hear their sound."

With "In Search Of..." on its way to store shelves, N*E*R*D is already eyeing its next project. "As soon as we get the time, we're going to make another album," Williams says. "This album is basically a soundtrack for listeners... a soundtrack for what's going on now in life and society."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print