Also Credited As:Pharrell, Pharrell L. Williams
|Actor, Producer, Writer, Music|
|April 5, 1973|
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The son of a schoolteacher and a handyman, Pharrell Williams was born on April 5, 1973 in Virginia Beach, VA. The budding music wiz met Chad Hugo in seventh grade at summer band camp, where Williams played keyboards and drums, while Hugo played tenor saxophone. The duo also performed with the marching band at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach. Aside from music, young Williams' other passion was skateboarding; he even received the nickname "Skateboard P," which he frequently mentioned later in his career. In the 1990s, Williams, Hugo, Shay Haley, and Mike Etheridge formed an R&B quartet and began performing at school talent shows. Their local fame quickly caught the attention of music producer Teddy Riley, who had a recording studio located near Williams' high school. After graduating, The Neptunes signed with Riley's record label. Recognizing Williams' talent not only as a performer but also as a songwriter, Riley tapped the young man to write a verse for the Wrecks-n-Effect song "Rump Shaker" (1992), which landed on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 2.
Even though The Neptunes failed to take off as an R&B group, Williams and Hugo re-branded themselves as a production duo. One of their earliest projects was the track "Tonight's the Night, off the 1994 self-titled album from R&B and New Jack swing quartet Blackstreet (also fronted by Riley). After meeting through a mutual friend, Williams began collaborating with Kelis, which resulted in The Neptunes producing her debut album Kaleidoscope (1999) and the fiery lead single "Caught Out There" that launched the her music career. The Neptunes' steady climb to the top of the charts reached a successful climax in 2001 with the Britney Spears hit "I'm a Slave 4 U," which The Neptunes wrote and produced for her third album Britney. The track's heavy beats - featuring turntables, synthesizers and drum machines - as well as Spears' breathy vocal performance showcased a more mature sound for the pop star and also introduced The Neptunes' uniquely stylized production work to a mainstream audience. Fueled by the success of the Spears' collaboration, Williams, Hugo, and longtime friend Haley released the hip-hop, rock and electronic album In Search Of (2001) as the trio N.E.R.D. (an acronym for No One Ever Really Dies). The group's genre-mashing style, previously heard in The Neptunes' work with Kelis and Spears, received positive reviews from critics at music publications Rolling Stone and Spin. That same year, Williams and Hugo founded their own record label, Star Trak Entertainment that included artists like Kelis and rap duo Clipse on the roster.
The Neptunes' sound dominated radio in 2002 with rapper Nelly's ubiquitous party anthem "Hot in Herre." The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was that year's third biggest-selling single. Williams' voice also increasingly became more familiar to music lovers after he provided guest vocals on hits such as Justin Timberlake's "Senorita" and Jay-Z's "Change Clothes," both released in 2003. The music industry recognized Williams' work in 2004 when he and Hugo received a Grammy Award for Producer of the Year. The Neptunes also won a Grammy that year for Best Pop Vocal Album for producing Timberlake's solo debut Justified (2002). Williams' solo venture proved equally successful when he released the album In My Mind, which included duets with Gwen Stefani ("Can I Have It Like That") and Kanye West ("Number One"). Released under his Star Trak label, In My Mind peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. albums chart and established Williams as a credible solo artist.
Like his music, Williams' personal style evolved through the years. When he launched his career as a producer with The Neptunes and front man for N.E.R.D., Williams' signature look consisted of trucker caps, skate shoes, and baggy clothes that complemented his "Skateboard P" persona. As he began exploring new musical territory, likely influenced by his collaborations with Jay-Z and Kanye West, Williams' sartorial taste shifted to include tailored suits and designer labels. Taking his cue from entrepreneurial artists like Jay-Z, Williams launched two retail lines, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream Footwear, and collaborated with luxury brand Louis Vuitton on designing jewelry and eyewear. In 2005, Esquire magazine named Williams "The World's Best-Dressed Man," beating out everyone from George Clooney to former president Bill Clinton. Williams' stylish aesthetic extended beyond music and fashion, and included working on a sculpture with renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and designing avant-garde furniture.
When Madonna announced she was releasing a hip-hop-inspired album in 2008, she called on The Neptunes to work on tracks for her 11th studio album Hard Candy. Williams co-wrote seven of the album's tracks with Madonna, including the drum-and-bass heavy title track and the dance hit "Give It 2 Me," both of which featured his guest vocals. Hard Candy topped not only the U.S. chart, but also went to No. 1 in Australia, Canada, Japan, and the U.K. In 2010, Williams branched out to Hollywood, composing music and original songs for the computer-animated film "Despicable Me." That same year, N.E.R.D. released its fourth album Nothing, which incorporated classic rock sounds from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Williams added a more contemporary feel to the Academy Awards in 2012 when he teamed up with Hans Zimmer to compose and arrange new music for the Oscars telecast.
But it was in 2013 that Pharrell became an inescapable entertainment icon. In the summer of that year, the two biggest singles, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," were both co-written and sung on by Pharrell. At the 2014 Grammy Awards, when Pharrell spoke on behalf of the non-speaking Daft Punk as they accepted their awards, his odd headgear -- a recreation of the Vivienne Westwood hat that Malcolm McLaren wore in the 1983 video for his pioneering hip-hop crossover single "Buffalo Gals" -- quickly became a pop culture meme. (The fast-food chain Arby's bought the hat in a charity auction, having noted on Twitter its resemblance to the hat in their logo.) Another Pharrell single from 2013 was "Happy," a jubilant bit of 1970s-style soul-jazz originally recorded for the score of "Despicable Me 2" (2013). The song belatedly became a hit single -- Pharrell's first under his own name -- in early 2014 and also won the Best Original Song Oscar that year.By Candy Cuenco