Songwriter To Stage: Pharrell Williams

by
Sophia Kamouyerou
-
November 20, 2017

Introduction

It may come as a huge surprise the amount of mainstream artists who first started their careers in the entertainment industry behind the scenes as songwriters. Artists like Lady Gaga, Sia, Frank Ocean, and Ne-Yo have written for Beyonce, Rihanna, Britney Spears, and more before starting singing careers of their own. With such ambitions, it’s crazy to think that one music mogul, in particular, was fired from three different McDonald’s locations in his younger years then later in life went on to produce the legendary hit jingle “I’m lovin’ it” for the globally recognized brand.

Pharrell Williams has written songs for Nelly, Gwen Stefani, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and more. He has had a music career spanning decades and is still working hard to bring us fire hit jams with the same guys who have been with him since day one. In light of N.E.R.D. reuniting to bring us a bomb new album in 2017, we want to celebrate this songwriter to stage journey.

“I don't know, the artist thing is not me. I love making music, though.”- Pharrell Williams

Early Life & Career

Pharrell

Pharrell Lanscilo Williams was born on April 5, 1973, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA. He was the oldest of three sons. His father, Pharaoh Williams was a handyman and his mother a school teacher. Pharrell had taken an interest in music at a young age. He recalls sitting in front of the stereo with his aunt listening to records for hours on end. He attended Princess Anne High School but always felt like an outsider. He once stated in an interview “I lived in Normalville USA and I didn’t look like the average kid.” Then he met Chad Hugo and the rest is history. They would eventually team up to become a powerhouse producing and performing duo.

Pharrell

In the early 90’s they formed an R&B group with friends Shay Haley and Mike Etheridge and called themselves The Neptunes. The group got their break when they entered the high school talent show and were discovered by Teddy Riley who had a studio nearby. Upon graduating from Princess High School, the group signed with Teddy. In 1992, Teddy offered Pharrell the opportunity to help write and produce Wreckx-N-Effect’s hit “Rump Shaker.” That same year he also performed a small rap solo on the UK remix for SWV’s second hit song “Right Here.” The two were introduced to rap duo Clipse in 1993 in Virginia Beach and got them signed to Arista Records through Pharrell’s now established Star Trak Entertainment.

Pharrell

They established a relationship with them and would continue to work together again down the line. Blackstreet released a self-titled album in 1994 that featured a song that was co-produced by The Neptunes, titled “Tonight’s The Night.” They continued to produce over the next few years, gradually developing their own unique sound which was first established by the Mase’s song in 1997 from his album Harl em World titled “Lookin’ at Me.” In 1998, they acquired global recognition for the first time when N.O.R.E’s “Superthug” reached number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. After Pharrell was introduced to Kelis through a mutual friend in 1999, The Neptunes went on to produce her entire first album, Kaleidoscope.

 

 

 

 

Neptunes to N*E*R*D

Pharrell

The Neptunes entered into the 2000’s full force, becoming well-established, with a developing audience and fanbase. They got the opportunity to work with Jay Z to produce the song I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) which was released as the first single for the album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, and featured Pharrell on the chorus. The song inspired Britney Spears to work alongside the Neptunes to produce her upcoming self-titled album released in 2001. The album featured the lead single “I’m a Slave 4 U,” a song that would become a defining factor in both Britney and The Neptunes careers due to the fact it debuted at number one in the Billboard 200.

Pharrell

That same year, Pharrell, Chad Hugo, and Shay Hayley released their first album, In Search of… under the name N*E*R*D, which stands for “Nobody Ever Really Dies.” The album did not do as good as they had hoped as it sounded too much like work they had done previously. So, they re-recorded the album with Spymob, a rock band from Minnesota, to make it sound different. The album was released worldwide in 2002, the same year The Neptunes were named “Producers of the Year” at the Billboard Music Awards and Source Awards. That year they also reached number one in the U.S.A. with Nelly’s single, “Hot in Herre“.

In August 2002, Clipse released their commercial debut album. The album, titled Lord Willin’ kicked off at number one on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and number four on the Billboard 200. It’s first two singles, “Grindin‘” and “When the Last Time” topped at number 34 and number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2003, The Neptunes released a self-credited album called The Neptunes Present… Clones with tracks and remixes that featured various artists. This one topped the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums Chart.

The Neptunes and more specifically, Pharrell Williams stayed catching the attention of the public eye as a result of his ties with Jay Z which allowed him the opportunity to produce several hit singles and two tracks on The Black Album for the rapper/artist. A survey in August 2003 depicted that the Neptunes had produced almost 20 percent of the songs played on British radio and 43 percent in the US at the time. That same year, the Neptunes remixed Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” song which they released on a remix album titled Daft Club which also had a brief rap section performed by Pharrell. In March 2004, N*E*R*D released their second funk-rock album titled  Fly or Die.

Pharrell

At the 2004 Grammy Awards, Pharrell performed the Beatles’ song “I Saw Her Standing There” on the drums alongside Sting, Dave Matthews, and Vince Gill. Pharrell was nominated for and won two Grammy Awards that night, one for Producer of the Year, and another for Best Pop Vocal Album for his work on Justin Timberlake’s hit album Justified. He also acquired his first UK number one, once again with Nelly, for “Flap Your Wings”. In September 2004, Pharrell was featured on Snoop Dogg’s hit single “Drop It Like It’s Hot” which peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Pharrell

 

This marked Pharrell’s first number one single in the United States. The song was also named “Rap Song of the Decade” by Billboard in 2009. Gwen Stefani released her debut studio album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. in November 2004 which featured the song Hollaback Girl, produced by The Neptunes. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 82 on the chart issue dated April 2, 2005, and within six weeksof its release, it eventually reached the top of the chart and became Gwen Stefani’s first number one in the United States.

 

 

 

Songwriter to Soloist

On September 9, 2005, Pharrell performed on the single from his first solo album In My Mind, “Can I Have It Like That”, featuring Gwen Stefani. The single did not do as well in the United States peaking at only number 48, but in the United Kingdom it did a lot better and reached number three. In that period between then and July 25, 2006, he released “Angel” and later “Number One” with KanyeWest. Before the album was released, several songs were leaked on the internet including “Mamacita” featuring Daddy Yankee and “That Girl” featuring Snoop Dogg.

Pharrell

In 2006, Pharrell and Hugo produced Clipse’s second studio album titled Hell Hath No Fury. Critics labeled the album the Neptunes best production in years, putting the duo back on the charts. A year later, in 2007, Pharrell Williams worked with Madonna on the song “Hey You.” The song was available for download on the MSN website and for each of the first one million downloads, 25 cents was donated to the Alliance for Climate Protection, in support of Live Earth.

Pharrell performed songs at the Concert for Diana on July 1, 2007 later that year. He performed again on July 7, 2007 at the Brazilian leg of Live Earth in Rio de Janeiro. Pharrell decided to do a remix album of In My Mind with his newly formed band “The Yessirs” that included Questlove of the Roots. It was produced by Questlove and keyboardist James Poyser. The album had built up a lot of anticipation with fans asking for it’s release, however, Pharrell’s label, Interscope Records shelved the album thinking it would not do well. Questlove started releasing the songs one by one on his MySpace and with every 10,000 plays, a new song would be uploaded. By July 4, 2007, the full CD had been placed onto the internet along with two other songs not featured on In My Mind: a remix version of “Mamacita” and “Creamsickle”.

Pharrell also produced Beyoncé’s version of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in 2007. He then wrote “Why Should I Be Sad” a song for Britney Spears produced by the Neptunes for her fifth studio album, Blackout. He produced two songs, “Well All Right!” and “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” from the Hives’, The Black and White Album. Madonna released her eleventh album, Hard Candy, in April 2008 in which Pharrell had a vocal feature on as well as production features from the Neptunes on several tracks. He then worked on a remix album for Maroon 5’s Call & Response later that year.

Pharrell also worked on songs for Shakira’s sixth studio album She Wolf including ‘Did It Again‘, ‘Why Wait‘, ‘Good Stuff‘ and ‘Long Time.’ Pharrell was credited as the co-writer of Jennifer Lopez’s song “Fresh Out the Oven.” It was released as a single from J-Lo’s seventh studio album Love? in September 2009. N*E*R*D released their fourth studio album in November 2010 titled Nothing through Pharrell’s label Star Trak. Later in 2011, Pharrell worked on three tracks for Mike Posner’s second album Sky High. He also collaborated with singer Adam Lambert to co-write two of his tracks for the album Trespassing. The album was released in May 2012 and songs written by Pharrell included the title track and “Kickin’ In“.

Mac Miller’s Pink Slime EP’s first couple songs “Onaroll” and “Glow” were the result of a collaboration with Pharrell. In 2012, he collaborated with Miley Cyrus for her Bangerz album and composed the new intro music for Chelsea Lately. He helped co-produced the track “Sweet Life” from Frank Ocean’s debut album Channel Orange.

Pharrell

Pharrell was featured on Daft Punk’s fourth studio album Random Access Memories on the songs “Get Lucky“, “Fragments of Time” and “Lose Yourself to Dance.” In March 2013, Robin Thicke’s single “Blurred Lines” – written and produced by Pharrell Williams – was released. The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States as well as 13 more countries including the United Kingdom and Germany. It was Pharrell’s third Billboard Hot 100 number one single.

On June 29th, 2013, Pharrell Williams became the 12th artist in the chart’s history to simultaneously hold the number one and two positions with “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”, respectively. As of July 2013 there had been only 137 singles in UK chart history to have sold more than 1 million copies; that month, Williams scored two million-sellers with “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines”.

Pharrell

In February 2014 Major Lazer announced they would be releasing a five-track EP titled Apocalypse Soon on the 25th of that month. The EP, released via Mad Decent and Secretly Canadian, will feature Williams and Sean Paul, among others. The first single off the EP, which features Williams, is titled “Aerosol Can”. Pharrell Williams contributed a verse to Future’s February 2014 single “Move That Dope“, which also featured Pusha T and Casino over production from Mike Will Made It.

 

 

 

Big Screen Success

Pharrell

In July of 2010, Pharrell composed the soundtrack to the movie Despicable Me, which was produced by Hans Zimmer and recorded with the Hollywood Studio Symphony. He then got the opportunity to compose and produce alongside Hans Zimmer for the music for the 84th Academy Awards. For the Despicable Me 2 sequel, Pharrell had the opportunity to write three new original songs alongside composer Heitor Pereira’s score. The songs he wrote included “Just a Cloud Away“, “Happy“, and “Scream” a song that featured Cee-Lo Green. His two original songs from the first film were also reprised on the soundtrack – “Despicable Me” and “Fun, Fun, Fun“. He was also a part of the drummer sessions for the soundtrack of Man of Steel by Hans Zimmer.

Pharrell released the first ever 24-hour music video in November 2013 for his Despicable Me 2 collaboration song, “Happy”. The music video included guest appearances by Magic Johnson, Steve Carell, Jimmy Kimmel, Jamie Foxx, Odd Future, Miranda Cosgrove, Janelle Monáe, and many others. The music video received approximately 5.5 million views as of Christmas Day, 2013. The music video for the song is nominated for Best Male Video and Video of the Year at The 2014 MTV Video Music Awards.

It was announced in December 2013 that Williams had been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including Producer of the Year. In the same month, a press release from Columbia Records announced that Williams had signed a contract with the label and would be releasing an album in 2014, entitled Girl, featuring the single “Happy” from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. For “Happy”, Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. On February 18, Williams announced via Twitter that his second album, Girl would be released on March 3, 2014.

At the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, 2014, Williams’s song “Happy” lost to “Let It Go” from Frozen. Afterwards, when GQ magazine asked Williams “how badly” did he want the Oscar, he responded: “When they read the results, my face was…frozen. But then I thought about it, and I just decided just to…let it go.” The Dear Girl Tour was a European concert tour, in support of his second studio album, Girl. It was Pharrell William’s first solo tour since 2006.

In May 2014, Williams received an Innovator Award at the iHeartRadio Music Awards. In May 2014, Williams curated an art show named after his album, “Girl,” at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris, France. The show included 37 artists including Takashi Murakami, JR, Daniel Arsham, and Marina Abramovic among others.” Comme des Garçons developed a unisex fragrance with Williams scheduled for release in late 2014. Kaws designed the bottle artwork.

Pharrell

In January 2015, Williams and Al Gore announced that they are teaming up to create a 7-continent “Live Earth” concert on June 18 to raise awareness about and pressure governments to act on climate change.

He is the musical director. On February 8, 2015, Williams made a cameo in an episode of The Simpsons titled “Walking Big & Tall” where he comes to Springfield to write a new anthem for the town.

Pharrell recorded three songs for the soundtrack to the animated film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water including “Squeeze Me,” “Patrick Star,” and “Sandy Squirrel.” He also recorded a song “Shine” with Gwen Stefani for the Paddington movie. At the 2015 Grammy Awards Williams performed an orchestral rendition of “Happy” with composer Hans Zimmer and pianist Lang Lang that included a tribute to the Black Lives Matter “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement inspired by Eric Garner’s death and the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

 

When life gives you (LEMON)’s …

Pharrell

On November 1st, 2017, the iconic N.E.R.D. trio formed by Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Hayley returned out of the blue and gave us LEMON, a track with an insane beat featuring the legendary pop princess, Robyn (Rihanna) Fenty, who actually raps a legitimate verse in the song. This is the first track that N.E.R.D. has put out since The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water soundtrack in 2015.

The track is from their forthcoming album titled No_One Ever Really Dies. Days after they released the single, they were scheduled to perform at ComplexCon, a music festival in Long Beach, California that is led by Pharrell Williams. This was their first live set since 2014’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, but instead of performing the single, the group decided to use this moment as an elaborate form of a listening party.

The 11-track set featured artists Kendrick Lamar, 

Pharrell

Future, and André 3000. The set was set up as if it were an urban street, and an array of dancers would perform while N.E.R.D. sat atop an illuminated mini van. At some points, Pharrell and Shay Hayley jumped down to perform live vocals along with the recorded music.

The album is set to be one of the year’s most stirring albums, with songs that are technical and about real life issues including police violence, set to a track of irregular arrangements, possibly trying to mimic the chaos in America in 2017. It is said by those who’ve heard it to be a different feel from that they have done before, much more intense and harsh, trippy and psychedelic. The group hasn’t told us exactly when the album will be released this year, we can only hope it’ll be soon!

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