Pharrell Williams has already made history for being one of the most successful and prolific producers to emerge during the last decade. As part of the beat-making duo The Neptunes, Pharrell and his partner Chad Hugo have helped A-List pop stars sell millions of albums and even earn Grammy Awards for the likes of Justin Timberlake, Nelly, and Usher.
While producers are typically faceless, behind-the-scenes types, Pharrell has managed to become a star in his own right. It is usually his voice behind the infectious choruses for his hits, and his handsome face has been known to steal scenes in the accompanying music videos. He is a member of the alternative rock trio N.E.R.D., a teaming with Chad and childhood friend Shae Thornton, which has released two critically acclaimed, platinum albums. Plus, he has already had his own hit. His song "Frontin'," from the 2003 compilation The Neptunes Presentâ€¦Clones, undoubtedly sparked the buzz.
The timing could not be better for Pharrell to make his long-anticipated solo
debut, In My Mind, on his Interscope distributed Star Trak Records.
Interaction with supportive fans encouraged the Virginia Beach native to record an entire album. "The fans, when they come up to me, they just treat me like I've had an album," Pharrell says. "So I started thinking, 'What am I doing?' Maybe I should do an album."
In early 2005, Pharrell began working on In My Mind, an album that captures both his hip-hop and R&B personas. Pharrell explains, "The hip-hop songs are more the introspective side of my view and how I look at life, and the R&B stuff is the more vulnerable side."
"Number One," a collaboration with fellow producer-extraordinaire Kanye West, is Mr. William's new single. It follows the album's first single "Can I Have It Like That" featuring Gwen Stefani, in which Pharrell displays his solid rap chops over a nostalgic hip-hop grove reminiscent of something from LL Cool J's 1987 album I'm Bad.
And he uses marching band drums and thematic guitars for extra effect on "Keep It Playa" with Slim Thug.
As far as vulnerabilities are concerned, Pharrell gets serious on the R&B tracks. For "Angel," "Can I Have It Like That"'s co-lead single, Skateboard P contemplates meeting his girl's father. He and Jay-Z trade stories of dating younger women on the 80's, pop-leaning "Young Girl."
It is Pharrell's songs of encouragement that further separate In My Mind for other hip-hop records. The biographical "Best Friend" shares touching memories about his youth and late grandmother. The jazz infused "You Can Do It Too" tells listeners not to be afraid to pursue their dreams. And, the uplifting prayer "Our Father" conveys gratitude for his success and asks for forgiveness for his shortcomings.
Though Chad did not work on In My Mind, he still spent time in the studio with Pharrell, watching him work. Chad says he feels inspired when listening to the album. "We came from a small town which makes you kinda go through a lot," Chad adds. "Virginia is sorta like this 9 to 5 town that our parents probably didn't even expect us to take our music this far, and we've started out at band camp and we thought that was going to be it after a while. But we took that love and applied it, and I think his message is that you could do it too. And that's how I feel when I listen to his stuff."
There has always been a passionate connection between Pharrell and his music. When he was seven years old his family left the inner city for the suburban side of Virginia Beach, peaking his music tastes. "We lived across the street from a biker group called The Renegades, which were like Hell's Angels," Pharrell recalls. "They played a lot of rock 'n' roll, so they'd be playing 'Born To Be Wild' across the street. Meanwhile in my house, my mom and dad are playing Earth, Wind & Fire, but on the radio they playing Rick James and Queen. I never really lost that."
It was in junior high school band camp that Pharrell linked with Chad and later formed a group. Their performance in a high school talent show caught the attention of local New Jack Swing producer Teddy Riley, who had made a name for himself for his work on Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel album, as well as songs for his group Guy, Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure. Soon thereafter, Pharrell wrote Teddy Riley's rap verse for Wrecks-N-Effect's 1992 double platinum single "Rump Shaker."
Pharrell and Chad quickly landed work with SWV, and eventually met Sean "Diddy" Combs, who hired them to produce songs for Total and Mase. But it was Noreaga's "Superthug," the hottest underground rap track in 1998, that made The Neptunes a household name in the hip-hop community. Since, The Neptunes' credits have included everyone from Ol' Dirty Bastard, No Doubt, Janet, Britney Spears, *NSYNC, TLC, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Kelis, Busta Rhymes, Babyface, and Mariah Carey and Justin Timberlake. In 2003, they took home the Producer Of The Year, Non-classical Grammy Award.
Additionally, Pharrell has scored a number of business ventures. He designed a series of upscale sunglasses for Louis Vuitton. He has launched the Billionaire Boys Club clothing line and Ice Cream shoe collection. He created the Ice Cream skateboard team, and collaborated with skateboard icon Tony Hawk to encourage more inner city youth to participate in the X-Game competitions.
Pharrell is humbled by his accomplishments, and hopes that through his music, listeners will see his vision.
"I'm just trying to bring the ammonia back to radio and to television," Pharrell says. "When I was a kid, you'd run to the screen to see that rapper and the beat was, 'Oh my God.' You'd lose it. I miss that. I appreciate what's going on right now. I appreciate my opportunity. So with my opportunity I'm going to get in, I'm baseball batting. I want to break the color lines, and that's the way I grew up."