For music fans of a certain age (that certain age hopefully being 14 to 94), Chad Hugo is a legendary producer: half of The Neptunes, along with Pharrell Williams. Yet he always played the back — and has receded even more so in recent years. Hugo’s reticence may never fully give way in this profile from the incomparable Jeff Mao, but you finally, after all these years, get a sense of what makes him tick.
For this Asian-American listener, Chad’s subtle presence in Neptunes-affiliated music videos only added to his intrigue. You couldn’t help but notice this spiky-haired guy lingering in the periphery of a Clipse crew shot or playfully pantomiming his keyboard riffing alongside Snoop, yet he was also so clearly organic to the scene. He effectively became a legit if low-key Asian-American role model, something he acknowledges with a polite “Thank you” but won’t elaborate on much beyond, “Yeah, it’s scary.” If the longstanding and sadly unshakable perception for those of Asian descent in this country is that of Other, Chad managed the elusive trick of never looking like he didn’t belong by being himself.