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— by Shaheem Reid

Pharrell Williams says he's just another backpacker with a lot to get off his chest — one who happens to make music. Skateboard P, as he's nicknamed himself, is one of those hip-hop success stories that you hear so often that you might forget the chances are one in a million: A kid from the projects (he lived in the PJs before his family moved to the suburbs) cultivates his love for music into roles as a artist, entrepreneur and Billboard chart baron.

Pharrell says he was only able to get where he is because there were resources available to him that so many kids will never have access to. He's so frustrated with corporations that he believes profit from hip-hop culture without giving back that he's calling them out. He wants to things to change and he wants Bill Gates on board.

Doesn't sound like the Pharrell Williams you know? Well you don't know Pharrell. He's had so much bottled up inside for years, but now he's decided to finally fully express himself — on his debut solo LP, In My Mind, and in his most candid interview yet.


MTV: Some of the lyrics on In My Mind are just so abstract. You know everybody's like, "Damn, what was this dude thinking?"

Pharrell Williams: The actual content of the album is just based on my life and the way I see it. My biggest question has always been "Why did I make it out?" My man Fleet, my man Dee Dee, my man Marvin — what happened to them? These are all my best friends. From ages 0 to 7, I lived in Atlantis Apartments in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and they'll tell you I was on a skateboard back then, too.

But when my mom and dad moved us from Atlantis to the suburbs, I seen a different life. And it's not like we were always in middle-class suburbs. We were in lower-class suburbs and then finally toward the end we got to the neighborhood that was kind of cool. ... It's wasn't hot, it wasn't like it was just the most incredible thing ever, it was just middle-class America. But even the lower class of suburbs is where you get more opportunities.

There's always like subliminal meaning with a lot of my [music], but there was no subliminal nothing with these records. These records were straightforward; they were straight from the bottom of my heart. "Back in the day when my clouds was gray and it seemed like my angels couldn't blow them away" — that was real. I felt like I couldn't move from under them dark clouds. I woke up one day like, "Yo, I really just signed a deal for a ton of money, and I really am putting these records out which I feel are incredible and groundbreaking for me." Not saying that it's the most incredible material to the world, but for me.

MTV: Coming from behind that mask, so to speak, and letting your real feelings out on In My Mind, what was that like?

Pharrell: It's crazy. ... My mind was boggled, like "Why am I saying these things? ... That ain't my thing." I'm a backpacker, right? But then that's the realization.


I stumbled upon success, man, unless that's what God wanted me to do. But imagine if you were raised around resources, imagine what you could do. You could surpass me, you could be anything you want to, you could outdo me a thousand times over. The unfortunate reality is that that ain't what's there at all.

I love my album, and I think my album is a byproduct of resources. ... I was exposed to resources, and I could explain how I felt coming from where I came from and showing you where you could be. You never knew that this layer was inside of me, but this is who I am. That's why I got Billionaire Boys Club, that's why I make Ice Cream sneakers. I be playing jokes on the corporates all the time. They didn't know what the f--- they was signing when they put me on, they just was like, "Oh, he's cool. The kids follow him."

MTV: How do we galvanize some of that? You have your businesses and you do what you do, but there's a lot of artists out there who really don't care about the 'hood.

Pharrell: How do we do it? Bill Gates, holla at me. Steve Jobs, holla at me. That's how we do it.

MTV: What about the hip-hop community as a whole, not worrying about Bill Gates?

Pharrell: Listen, we made them that money. Look at the majority of advertising that's going on: It's all hip-hop. That sh-- was created out of the culture of poverty. We are owed. ... Let's bring resource centers adjacent to these projects. I'm starting with my city right now. I've already contacted the Commonwealth of Virginia. They've told me that once I have my corporate sponsors in line, it's a done deal. ... Bill Gates loves to do this — this is what I heard — and I would love to join forces.

MTV: It would be great if Bill Gates would get involved, but there are so many people in the hip-hop community who have long paper. It may not be as long as Bill Gates', but from Jay and 50 and —

Pharrell: But how much longer do we have to tax these people? You're asking for their time, you're asking for their money. They're victims turned into successful achievers. Each one teach one? Cool. But I'm not looking for Jay-Z to come lead the kids. I'm looking for the [people] who sit there and cultivate and harvest. Offer the sowed seed that hip-hop planted. Everybody's cashing in.


The only thing I'm asking for from these corporations is to send help. Don't send us no money; don't send us no food. Give us the means to get our own sh--. Resources. Let us connect with people. Let us build our education. Let us build our intelligence, and let us move. Because when I was given that opportunity, when I moved to the suburbs and the smoke cleared beyond the front of the housing projects that I grew up in, I was like, "Oh sh--, there's so much to the world."

MTV: It sounds like you have a lot of stuff that you've thought about for a long time.

Pharrell: Years. Who wants to talk about it till you really find a purpose for it?

MTV: Some people might be scared of this new direction. They might be like, "Why is Skateboard P talking like that?"

Pharrell When they hear this album, they're going to know why. ... It's individuality at its best. I'm not professing that it's the illest. I'm just telling you that it's fire, and it's fire because it's real.



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Pharrell
"Can I Have It Like That"
In My Mind
(Star Trak/Interscope)



Pharrell
"Frontin'"
The Neptunes Present... Clones
(Star Trak/Arista)



The Neptunes
"Light Your Ass On Fire"
The Neptunes Present... Clones
(Star Trak/Arista)




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