Pharrell Williams

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About Pharrell Williams

In an interview with Apple Music, Rob Walker, manager of the Pharrell Williams-Chad Hugo production duo The Neptunes, described the group’s early misadventures at industry meetings. They’d go in feeling optimistic. But by midway through, Pharrell would be on top of someone’s desk, rapping, going crazy, and generally blowing it. He couldn’t help himself; he just had too many ideas. “Look,” Pharrell said apologetically. “I was young, I was Aries, and I was from Virginia. And you couldn’t tell me s**t.” But the same fearless uncertainty that held him back in the beginning ended up making him one of the most transformative figures in modern pop. From his production work with Hugo (Clipse’s “Grindin’,” Kelis’ “Milkshake,” Nelly’s “Hot In Herre,” Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U,” and countless others), his boundary-blurring albums with N.E.R.D, and his own pop-star turns (“Happy”), Pharrell has always seemed one effortless step ahead of almost everyone else in his field. He creates sounds that feel both classic and futuristic, and he helped to architect a now-familiar world where hip-hop functions as mainstream pop and pop can take on radical, avant-garde forms. He later said that when he tries to hit his target, he usually misses and just continues spiritedly fumbling ahead. Born in Virginia Beach in 1973, Williams met Hugo in junior high, launching The Neptunes professionally in their early twenties. The music they made together—both for other artists and with Shay Haley as N.E.R.D—reflected a new, utopian image of pop, drawing on everything from hardcore street rap to ’80s New Wave, funk, punk, jazz, and whatever else caught their ears. (It was weird, too: Burps, grunts, spaceship lasers, what seemed like fists banging on lockers—no other producer has made so many people dance to things that don’t sound like music.) By the mid-2010s, Williams had not only become a star in his own right (in large part through “Happy,” from Despicable Me 2, and his work on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”), but a multifaceted creative force tapped into the worlds of art and fashion, where he helped elevate streetwear to haute status. Once asked if he ever felt like he had to work to meet the expectations he’d created of himself, he said the only thing he served was his curiosity.

Virginia Beach, VA, United States
April 5, 1973
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