Pharrell is back like he never left. And though it's been nearly eight years since his last solo project, he's been far from absent from the music scene. But have we really given him the props he deserves for over 20 years of musical excellence?
The Virginia Beach native's new album, G I R L---typed with two spaces in between each (capitalized) letter---features heavyweights Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk and Alicia Keys (and, also, Miley Cyrus.) Available for consumption via iTunes Radio prior to this week's official release, P’s sophomore solo set is already earning praise as a light-hearted, melodic glimpse into the mind of a 40-year-old creative guru who's still discovering new sounds after decades in the game.
Of course, the controversy behind the (lack of) pigment on the album’s cover is a black eye. Proponents from both sides of the argument continue to engage in a verbal battle which has become less about Pharrell than it has the consistency of colorism and the ease with which Black women's concerns are dismissed.
Strictly music, however, G I R L is innovative enough and capable of living long past its release date and promotional run----not exactly common in today’s musical landscape. In celebration of his latest triumph, let's take a quick look back at his legacy to date.
Diverse Longevity: Pharrell has long since fancied himself as jack of many trades and master of many talents, from clothing to music. He’s found success solo, as a member of the iconic production duo The Neptunes and the Hip-Hop/rock/soul/alternative band N.E.R.D. His early hits include writing Teddy Riley’s verse on Wreckx-N-Effect’s 1992 hit “Rump Shaker” and co-writing and co-producing Blackstreet’s 1994 single “Tonight’s The Night” with SWV and Craig Mack. Speaking of SWV, that's Skateboard P famously chanting "S...the double...the U...the V!" on "Right Here (Human Nature remix)"
The Neptunes’ exclusive sound also helped expand Ma$e’s then-rising-celebrity with “Lookin’ At Me” in 1997 and the same with a newly solo Noriega (later, Nore) on “Superthug” a year later. We also can't forget the introduction of Harlem's own Kelis, who benefited from the Neptunes sound on her first three albums. From there, the catalog of artists attached to Pharrell’s name reads more like a Grammy A-list party than singular rap sheet: Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, The Clipse, Kanye West, Lenny Kravitz, Nas, Justin Timberlake, Brittney Spears, T.I., Lil Wayne and more.
In fact, The Neptunes’ run in the early-to-mid 2000’s proved dynamic and cemented their awe-inspiring genius. Pharrell and partner-in-production Chad Hugo not only liberated the Clipse and their street gospel “Grindin” from their Lord Willin’ LP, Slim Thug’s still-underrated debut Already Platinum, Justin Timberlake’s first post-NSync project – the Grammy-winning Justified – but they also awarded Snoop Dogg his first ever No. 1 hit in “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”
The same “Drop It Like It’s Hot” Billboard named its “Most Popular Rap Song of the Decade” in December 2009.
A Year To Remember. Pharrell gave Robin Thicke a Chris Paul-like assist for a dunk that eventually became “Blurred Lines.” Notwithstanding the controversy and legal trouble, what the song did was revitalize Thicke’s musical career and become arguably 2013’s biggest single.
Couple that with writing and feature credits on Daft Punk’s crossover smash (and perhaps last year's second biggest song), “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself To Dance” from the critically lauded Random Access Memories, the former of which went on to capture two of the group's five Grammys at this year’s ceremony. Daft Punk and Pharrell collaborated with the legendary Nile Rogers, who is perhaps the Pharrell of his era, with an enviable and highly diverse catalog of his own.
If the previous distinctions weren’t impressive enough, Pharrell put his own work on the map, too. Despicable Me 2’s “Happy” is not only as great a feel-good record to come around in years, but also a No. 1 Billboard-earning tune with no signs of losing momentum.
Keep in mind, this fails to mention: his mentorship to the rebellious and auspiciously entertaining Odd Future, his captivating performance at this year’s NBA All-Star Game, shooting the world’s first 24-hour music video for “Happy,” 2 Chainz’s hit “Feds Watching,” his work on Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and Mayer Hawthorne’s touching “Reach Out Richard,” assuming the role of executive producer for T.I.’s ninth album Paperwork, announcing March 20 as his inspired International Day of Happiness, his part in Charlie Wilson’s instant-classic BET Awards Tribute and taking the jokes of his awkwardly fashionable Buffalo hat like a champ (which he’s now donating to From One Hand To Another, a charity supporting learning programs for children in at-risk communities).
Rare Company. The Grammys for Producer of the Year, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are already in the books. G I R L is looking to land at the top of the charts this week, with its main competition being Rick Ross’ Mastermind. And though P didn't nab an Oscar, "Happy" was both nominated and performed at this year's ceremony. Where he goes from here, no one could really guess. Expecting the unexpected from a man who has consistently stirred the straw of pop culture ingenuity for the past three decades is the norm.
Place this in perspective. P’s time in music has endured the tail end of the first George Bush’s presidency, all four terms of Clinton and George W.’s and the Obama years-to-date. He was in demand during Michael Jordan’s prime, became a top dollar commodity during Kobe Bryant’s and here he is, still, in the age of LeBron James, taking the steps that see an artist graduate from "star," on to “legend," and eventually, “icon.”
And, somehow, he hasn’t aged a day since.