Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams Rethinks R&B

The production duo's flamboyant half writes for Britney Spears, raises awareness with Mary J. Blige, Usher.

Like his childhood friend Timbaland, Pharrell Williams wants to do more than simply make hit records. The flamboyant half of production stars the Neptunes, and songwriter responsible for the Britney Spears hit “I’m a Slave 4 U,” would like to inject more variety into rhythm & blues.

“I want you to raise your awareness and listen to this R&B,” Pharrell forewarned fans Tuesday. “When I tell you I’m gonna reshape it, I’ma get rid of this Range Rover R&B and all this ‘platinum’ and ‘Bentleys’ talk. There’s so much more to black life and culture than the materialistic portion that seems to consume all the lyrical content on the radio. I want to offer our difference and perspective, and I promise we’re gonna make people move and feel R&B again.”

Joe, Eric Benét, Kelly Price and Faith are among the R&B acts Williams and his partner, Chad Hugo, have worked with recently. Mary J. Blige and Usher serve as conduits for the ‘Tunes’ soulful R&B revival on the tracks “Steal Away” and “U Don’t Have to Call,” respectively.

On the Mary J. song, which Pharrell co-wrote with the singer, she and Williams sing to one another about leaving the high-pressure world behind for a romantic rendezvous. Usher sings Williams-penned lyrics on his track, which finds the crooner distracting himself from problems with his girlfriend by partying on his own.

Williams said watching Britney debut “I’m a Slave 4 U” at MTV’s Video Music Awards made him feel like a star.

“It wasn’t just our production,” Williams said of the Neptunes-produced track. “Those were my lyrics and everything. I didn’t care if she flopped at the show, that was my moment. I didn’t care if everybody in the place hated it. We made it. Pop-wise, what little girl doesn’t know Britney Spears?”

The Neptunes also knocked out two tracks recently for the upcoming Limp Bizkit remix album.

“Fred [Durst] laid new vocals and I sang ‘Nookie’ like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. It’s really crazy. I did that and ‘N 2 Gether Now.’”