Hip-hop producers don't usually grace the pages of US Weekly, design Louis Vuitton sunglasses, or create exclusive clothing lines that transcend rap-world marketing by gracing the boutiques of Soho, Melrose and Tokyo's Shubuya. But Pharrell Williams is not an ordinary hip-hop producer. Through a mix of talent, charisma and ambition, Williams has become a pop culture icon, transcending the genre he helped remold as one half of the revolutionary Neptunes production team.
Along with his musical partner Chad Hugo, Pharrell has crafted hits for both rappers (from Ludacris to Jay-Z) and pop stars (Britney Spears to Gwen Stefani), using original synth-and-drums rhythms instead of relying on sampling or recreating old records. The Neptunes musical experiments also took on a different form with the Pharrell-led rock group N.E.R.D. (stands for No one Ever Really Dies), which precipitated the producer's gradual move towards the spotlight. His off-key falsetto began to increasingly grace the chorus hooks of the gargantuan hits the Neptunes were producing, opening up the possibility Pharrell would become a solo artist.
That possibility turned into reality in the summer of 2003, when the Neptunes released "Frontin'," a chart-topping single which featured P's show-stopping singing. Once he spit a quick 16 on Snoop Dogg's classic "Drop It Like It's Hot," the artist blueprint was in place. P's solo debut, In My Mind, contains his croon, his rhymes and a whole lot of slick talk. VH1 spoke with the Virginia native about his influences, his unintentional singing career, and some possible future projects. Yezzur!
VH1: Who were some of the singers that influenced you when you were growing up?
Pharrell: I don't really have influences singing-wise 'cause I ain't really a singer. But there are people that I love vocally. Stevie Wonder is incredible. Donnie Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, El DeBarge, Curtis Mayfield -- obviously. Eddie Kendricks, Sam Cooke, and Maurice White are incredible. I appreciate everybody because they all have a different kind of thing. Prince for sure, and Freddie Mercury is a monster, that dude had the illest range ever. Oh. I love Kim Burrell.
VH1: So you don't consider what you do singing?
VH1: Did other producers who sang like Teddy Riley, R. Kelly, and Babyface influence you at all?
Pharrell: Yeah, but the difference is that those guys are singers. Like R. Kelly, he's another guy I look up to, 'cause he's a singer. Me, I get by. My whole career started like, "Damn, we can't get nobody to do it. Let me imitate it until we can get somebody to do it and just have the idea." That's been the whole s**t. It's never been like, "Yeah, I'm taking myself seriously. I'm the singingest motherf*cker you've ever met in your life." Like with Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass," that was just the voice I was looking for and couldn't get anybody else to do it, so Jive [Records, who put out the song] wanted to keep my voice on there.
VH1: So you were just doing reference vocals?
Pharrell: Yep, that's how the whole singing s**t came about.
VH1: After "Frontin'," you said that was just a one-off. How did your artist career go from there to a whole album where you're singing?
Pharrell: I don't know [both laugh]. But one reason why I agreed to [record an album] was because I got to do it my way. I was just explaining to somebody else: my album is full of...you know how you get your favorite group and you like the singles, but there's a song on there you love but you know it definitely would not make it a single. That's my whole album -- 14 of my favorite songs, favorite great feelings, that were never meant to be singles.
VH1: So, what is your favorite verse off the whole album?
Pharrell: Either the second verse of "Raspy S**t" or the second verse of "Show You How to Hustle" because of the metaphors and visuals it gives you when you hear what I'm saying.
VH1: What song are you most proud of on the album?
Pharrell: I really couldn't say because so many of them just have drugs in them. That song with me and Snoop ("That Girl") and "Baby" are just drugs. "That Girl" is a tranquil shake.
VH1: I also like "Best Friend." That first verse where you talk about your grandmother dying from leukemia was crazy.
Pharrell: That song was hard to do. Yeah, I never f*****g do that. I wasn't in there crying, nothing like that, but it was personal and I don't really like doing that.
VH1: Who would you say that you haven't had a chance to work with yet, that you'd still like to?
Pharrell: I don't like to talk about what I'm about to do. But, it would be nice to work with Prince.
VH1: What's your favorite Prince song of all time?
Pharrell: There's too many, 'cause [his songs have] a lot of great different intricate moments and one doesn't necessarily outweigh the other. You can make a great comparison when it's two different reds or two different greens; but when it's just all kinds of great colors...how do you say that Sherbet Peach is better than Pearl White? That's where Prince has been genius, he's had so many different colors and textures with his career and songwriting that you can't really compare, and that's why you need them all. Some people, you hear one song and you've heard them all. Or, there's two great albums out of five. Prince ain't like that. That nigga will hit you with moments like bop, bop, bop, bop, bop.
VH1: One last question: I had read that Timbaland said he was working on the new Jay-Z album. So are you working on the new Jay-Z album?
Pharrell:That was smart. Nah, I'm sworn to secrecy. I have to keep my oath.
VH1: Alright, but there's a possibility that you could be contributing to the new Jay-Z album?
Pharrell: I mean, you know, I'm one of the knights at the round table.