Chad Hugo, from left, Shae Haley and Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D, whose new album is “No_One Ever Really Dies.” (Driely S)
Jay-Z had big hits before “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” his playful 2000 single that pleads with a woman for “that funk, that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff.”
There was “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” which sampled the musical “Annie” and reached No. 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100. And there was the sleek “Can I Get A…,” which drove 1998’s “Rush Hour” soundtrack to platinum sales.
But it was arguably “I Just Wanna Love U,” with its danceable groove and its chorus sung in a goofy yet cool falsetto, that turned the once-gruff Jay-Z into a cuddly mainstream pop star. And behind that transition was Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, known then as the Neptunes, the production duo who over the next decade would go on to help redefine hip-hop’s sound — and propel its reach into R&B and pop.