Before we celebrate how Pharrell vampired his ways into your mom’s dreams throughout 2013, lets go back for perspective on his oft taken for granted longevity. In the mid ’90s Pharrell earned his stripes working on material for Wreckx-N-Effects, SWV (yes, that’s P rapping), and Blackstreet near the tail-end of the New Jack Swing era in R&B. Then Pharrell, alongside Chad, gained a sonic identity by producing Noreaga’s most combustible song, “Super Thug”, from his 1998 debut N.O.R.E. This lead to one of the most unique and undeniable production runs in contemporary music.
The Neptunes’ sound took the celluloid sex-synth of golden-era Prince, laid it over the skeleton of a comatose R&B landscape, and compressed them under the organic feel of Native Tongues-era Tribe. Over the following six years, Pharrell (as part of the Neptunes) would sit on top the R&B, Rap, and Pop charts like a regal but humble king providing hits for Britney Spears, N’SYNC, Jay-Z, Mystikal, Nelly, ODB, Kelis, Gwen Stefani, Common, and of course Clipse. In short, next to Dre and Timbo, Pharrell and Chad were the faces of the super-producer.
But that was nearly a decade ago. After releasing decent to great albums as part of N.E.R.D. (can someone please tell me what Shay did), the Neptunes continued to give various artist production credits here and there, while the hits became fewer and far between. By ‘06 Pharrell was releasing solo work to mixed critical fair and gave Pusha and Malice one of rap’s most revered releases of the mixtape/internet era with Hell Hath No Fury, which to this day has not gone gold. After the Neptunes “officially” split in ‘08, one could argue that Chad, and in particular Pharrell, who was becoming an international pop culture brand, were gaining placements due to their past successes. Sure their sound (particularly Pharrell’s hooks) still permeated through the old heroin addict veins of the crumbling music industry, but the music was nowhere near as dominant or essential.
Yet, after Pharrell low-key kilt the soundtrack for the great Despicable Me in 2010, the pop culture demi-gawds seemed to give their favor back to Skateboard P. The tides further moved in Pharrell’s favor in 2012 as he co-produced “Sweet Life” and “Golden Girl” for Frank Ocean’s breakthrough debut, Channel Orange. He also landed a definitive placement on Kendrick’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, which as an album, become the most water into wine moment for West Coast rap since Snoop met Dre.
Now over these past 365 sunrises and 12 full moons, few of us have been able to breathe air without Pharrell’s production, voice, or face joyfully lingering through space. I don’t care if you are a curmudgeon music snob breaking down dirty weed in the bedroom of your momma’s house; the douchebag with a backwards baseball cap chuggin’ bud lights at the local sports bars; or the pseudo dime piece rolling your man’s Benz—at as some point in 2013 you were bobbing your head or shacking your ass to something Pharrell had his hands in.
Pharrell’s most ubiquitous hits in 2013 were his MOR funk production for Robin Thicke’s summer anthem “Blurred Lines”, and his vocals on the anachronistic cocaine-roller-disco of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. But if jubilant sonic celebrations of a lil in-out-in-out aren’t your cup of mocha frappuccino, Pharrell still gave us that minimalist punchy menace of his rap productions: check Pusha’s “S.N.I.T.C.H.” and “Suicide”, and Earl’s blunted-wave “Burgundy”. Still not happy and need a little more substance? You could’ve bounced to Aloe Blacc’s soul-stirring “Love Is The Answer”, which yes, Pharrell also produced. Or you could look to Mayer Hawthorne’s “Reach Out Richard”.
Even still there was more. Pharrell’s solo single “Happy”, accompanied by the innovative “24 Hour video”, shot throughout various parts of Los Angeles, was pure unadulterated feel good. Pharrell also contributed to Beyonce’s new LP, which broke the internet, and arguably co-produced the album’s best song, “Blow”. No matter how many half-assed negative dissertations we can conjure up about popular music, the industry, or mainstream culture, when we look back at the musical milieu of 2013, it would be damn near impossible to speak about it without mentioning Pharrell Williams.
Trust, you are a special member of the madarati if not one in the mentioned list of songs/artist did not move you in 2013. Near 20 years deep, Pharrell is still crafting multivalent techniques in the art of moving butts. Whether mainstream or underground, if it’s good, it’s good. It is for these reasons we name Pharrell 2013’s MVP. Here at Potholes, we do it for the people… heyheyhey.