From The Neptunes to N.E.R.D. to being one of the most prolific producers of all time, Pharrell Williams has carved out a distinctive trajectory in music history that has inspired many since he first dropped in the early 1990s. He is one of the greatest artists of all times—but you'll never hear him admit it.
As Williams' legacy is still being written and consistently evolving, what's always been clear is his commitment to social good and the collective uplift of humankind. The recent Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee pulled off a 3-day iteration of his 2nd Annual Something In The Water music festival. After initially being held in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, the festival has found a new home in Washington, DC, where it is slated to be tentatively hosted for years to come.
Although the Something in the Water fest boasted a strong line-up of phenomenal artists across three stages, from Usher, Chloe x Halle and Tyler the Creator, the festival also included community focused activations and panels that promoted education, environmental consciousness and the power of HBCUs where Pharrell gifted 5 collegiate NAACP leaders with full payment of their student loan debt.
EBONY had an opportunity to talk with the the music legend about his Something In The Water festival, his career, and what it takes to operate at his level.
EBONY: You had an amazing set of your own on Day 2 of Something In The Water. How did it feel performing with some of your dopest collaborators and reviving music moments that had the crowd hype.
Pharrell Williams: I ain't gonna lie—my mind was just on the circumference of the whole entire festival. So I was there but not in the way that I would want to be. I'm a perfectionist and I was just making sure everything went right for everyone else and what they were doing. I'll give myself a 6 out of 10. But I was grateful to be there. I believe 50,000 people showed out although it feels like it was more than that with all of the energy. The amount of unity, love and communal camaraderie that was felt was just on another level.
As mentioned during your performance, having this festival situated in the heart of the nation's capital is such a profound accomplishment and its impact is not lost on any of us. Can you share what went into making sure this event happened in this particular space?
It was a lot of red tape. As you know, DC is a very busy city. On top of that, the federal government is housed here as well. So there was a lot to work through. I have so much love, respect and deep, profound appreciation for the Mayor, Muriel Bowser, for pushing this and making sure we got across the finish line. Her city, city council, staff, all the federal partners— National Park Services, FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, the EMS, the fire department and DC Police— all worked on this and in turn, were in partnership with us. It could not have happened without their support.
When you look out over DC and reflect on Juneteenth now being recognized as a national holiday focused on African American ancestry and two years late emancipation, it's so surreal to see this progress and know we could host Something In The Water here. To know that at one point in DC, the only thing that they would allow groups of like Black folks was march. But we really got a chance to listen to music, have panels, bring great culinary artists, exhibit the work of visual artists, sell merchandise and do all these other cool things. Sure, we have had some kinks, which is what you're gonna have your first time in the market. And Independence Ave is not the widest street like Pennsylvania Ave., which is where it would be normally. However, it's been a cohesive, beautiful thing.
What do you attribute to the success that you've experienced over the course of your career and the longevity you've been able to obtain for almost three decades?
First and foremost, God. That's the first thing. Second, I'm just curious. I remain curious. Third, just having a team that can execute. You gotta have that. There is no constellation if it's just you. You may think and feel that you're a star and you are. You came from the Creator, He made you. But if you really want to be a part of a constellation, then you need to know that it's not just you. That is very important to me. Another word for group, for me, is constellation. So if you're going to be a part of my constellation, you gotta shine. I'm not gonna hate on you and dampen or dim your light, but you can't do that either for yourself. Your job is to stay on fire and shine if you're gonna stand next to me, behind me, or in front of me.
With all your other endeavors— from music, launching a skin care brand to nonprofits— how have you thought about teaching and tapping into younger generations to light the path and learn from your example?
You know, I share with others whenever I get a chance to. My mentors are my friends. I'm fortunate to have friends around me who are more like sages and born with the gift of prophesy. So, when I encounter someone and I feel like there is something that can be shared, I share it.
This is significant because in different spaces, there are people who like to hold on to information to prevent others from excelling.
They hold on to information and slam the door behind them. Dudes like to superglue the door. But you have no usage for the door that way. Why won't you let anybody else in? What's all of that worth if once somebody else gets over there, they can take it from you? What kind of room is that? Then when your time is up, there is no way to pass on that knowledge all because you wanted to be the only one with dominance over the space. That's just not correct behavior.
What would you say to encourage people to kind of tap into their own light and be able to step into their power in order to excel in their respective field?
You gotta go on a personal journey. You've got to challenge yourself to get to that place of self-awareness. That's where your journey begins— in the awareness. Once you understand where you are, you pretty much understand who you are. And then you know what you are and where you're gonna go. You can always analyze it deeper and just say how you are and then when you are with the ultimate piece of understanding is why you are.