• November 26, 2013
With a hand in records by Jay Z, Daft Punk and Robin Thicke, no producer had a more dominant—or exciting—year than Skateboard P. But that’s nothing new. Pharrell’s killer catalog stretches back over 22 years. What better way to honor music's man of the year than with an exhaustive look back on his catalog? Dive in.
Pharrell’s footprints are everywhere. A musician, visual artist and forward-thinking creative, he’s compared himself to a designer in the past and it’s an appropriate analogy—not just because of his fashion-forward style, but also because of his musicianship. He’s tailor-made projects for artists of various genres and styles with the vision and meticulousness of the best visionaries. He’s assisted writers, singers, rappers and producers of all kinds, amassing a dynamic discography over the past few decades.
Beyond his recent success, Pharrell has developed a career that balances diversity with cohesion, from his early work with Surrounded By Idiots where he teamed up with Timbaland and Magoo in high school, to his more recent string of hits alongside Robin Thicke, T.I. and Daft Punk. Throughout the years, Pharrell has consistently released hit after hit, whether working with N.O.R.E. or Gwen Stefani, Busta Rhymes or Britney Spears.
But he’s also consistently evolved. From the Q-Tip-inspired flow of his SBI days to the film score work of his recent years, Pharrell has managed to change while staying true to his sound’s foundation. He’s revived careers by helping others to reinvent themselves, but he’s done the same for himself, year after year, stretching the limits on his range. This ability to transform, to change with the times while maintaining his essence, is what has separated Pharrell from the pack, particularly in 2013. With each season, he’s outfitted radio with something new, inventive and fresh fresh while keeping a classic Pharrell style intact. As this year’s most celebrated producer and artist, here’s a breakdown of every song he’s ever touched.
In the early 1990s, Pharrell was still getting his feet wet. Performing at a local talent show, along with friends Chad Hugo, Shay Haley and Mike Etheridge, the group that later gained notoriety as The Neptunes was discovered by Teddy Riley. Riley owned a studio near Pharrell, where P was able to continue growing under Riley’s tutelage, honing a craft that would launch his career.
In those early experimentations, Pharrell was also in a separate group, Surrounded by Idiots (SBI), consisting of Skateboard P (then going by Magnum), Magoo and Timbaland (then known as DJ Timmy Tim), all ready to make an impact on the music scene. And while that group never took off the way the young artists perhaps imagined, they respectively laid their foundation by warming up the pot with experimental tracks.
That’s what these early years showcase: development. Be it rhyming with SBI or writing for Teddy Riley, these years were about growth and progress towards a career that has lasted more than two decades. This was the beginning.
Song: “It’s Like That”
Contribution: (Writer, Performer)
Surrounded by Idiots (SBI) isn’t as known as it should be. Imagine if Pharrell Williams, Timbaland and Magoo were in a rap group today—it would dominate headlines. But the well-versed understand that this was a group long before any of them made their names (Magoo included, who had a great run with Timbo and Missy in the late ’90s/early ’00s, haters). S.B.I. was the group they created when they were in high school, experimenting with sounds, beats, rhymes and life—which makes sense, considering how apparent A Tribe Called Quest’s influence was on their sound. Over the past few years, their early rough recordings surfaced online, hinting at greatness with raw edges. It’s a true treat to hear these recordings today, knowing what they were able to create later in their careers. They were actually surrounded by talent instead of idiocy, and these recordings are artifacts of Virginia’s musical potency.
“If Ur Freaky Baby”
“The S.B.I.’s are coming through,” Pharrell raps on the first verse of “If Ur Freaky Baby.” The S.B.I. collective dropped another gem here. If you’ve rapped as a high school amateur, freestyling with friends, you understand the enjoyment of “If Ur Freaky Baby.” But it’s also such an awe-inspiring window to the past. It may not be filled with the most complex lyrics (“I get the mic and plus a lot of props / You get the bucket and all the mops”), but it’s a treat to hear the early stages of great musicians under construction.
“Vulnerable” might be the S.B.I. track with the biggest “sign-of-things-to-come” sound. Pharrell uses his now celebrated vocals to sing on the hook with a notable spark. On “Vulnerable,” P also uses a flow that he would later perfect as a solo artist and as a member of N.E.R.D., a collective he name-checks on this cut. In the skyscraping career Pharrell has built, “Vulnerable” is one of the most important units in the foundation.
It’s likely that today’s greatest chef began by toggling ingredients. Some were probably incredible, and others likely less stellar. But the resulting dishes helped him learn about his craft and informed his later work. In 1992, Pharrell broke into something he would one day master: the art of remixes. But beyond that, Pharrell also honed his songwriting skills this year. Through his writing and his ability to flip a pop hit into a hip-hop marvel, P continued to grow in the early ’90s.
Hard or Smooth (MCA Records)
By now, it’s known that Pharrell wrote Teddy Riley’s verse for “Rump Shaker,” making this an important launching pad for P. Even back then, it was clear that Pharrell understood the vital nature of a flow on a track, a melodic twist on rhyming reminiscent of the Native Tongues and A Tribe Called Quest influences that were so prominent in his foundation as an MC and artist. Skateboard P may not have written the hook to this infectious cut, but it undoubtedly foreshadowed his ability to craft hits in the future, an early indication of a star, even if he was behind the scenes.
“All About Love”
The Party feat. Pharrell
Young Magnum offered some rap flavor to this R&B cut. Years later, Pharrell would perfect his ability to inject smooth R&B tracks with a rapper’s flare. This was one of his first opportunities to show that he could do just that. Not quite the Pharrell we know just yet, P still shined on “All About Love” with a remix that made it more about him than The Party. P was just sharpening his remixing sword, one that would eventually help make him and The Neptunes significant hitmakers-for-hire.
“Right Here (UK Remix)”
Right Here (RCA)
Today, many producers and performers pattern their work after Pharrell. (Some even mimic his fashion choices.) He’s a trend-setting, genre-defying, genre-redefining talent. So the style-aping makes sense. But back in 1992, it was clear Skateboard P was getting much of his inspiration from A Tribe Called Quest. The flow on SWV’s “Right Here” is an example of that influence finding its way into his work. Pharrell would eventually hone and master his own style, so this was a diamond in the rough, glimmering in 1992.
Blackstreet feat. Pharrell
“Tonight’s The Night”
(Co-Writer, Assistant Producer)
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