Pharrell Williams – The Soundtrack Of My Life
The N*E*R*D and Neptunes frontman on why he owes his existence to Earth, Wind and Fire, and how he ‘lost his mind’ when he first heard A Tribe Called Quest.
WHEN I WAS A BABY
Earth, Wind and Fire – Can’t Hide Love
I was raised on Earth, Wind and Fire. “Can’t Hide Love” [from the LP Gratitude] was the first record that influenced my life. My mom and dad used to play this song a lot when I was a kid. That song changed me as a kid. I think that’s what made me a singer. In fact Earth, Wind and Fire are probably what made me, full stop – that’s baby-making music, man!
THE RECORD MY AUNT USED TO PLAY ME
Stevie Wonder, Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
My aunt used to play this record a lot. Two songs in particular – “I Wish” and “Summer Soft“. When I heard him sing, “And so you want to see what she’ll do/ Is it sun or rain for you/ But it breaks your heart in two/ When you find it’s October/ And she’s gone…” then I was just done. That was me getting older.
THE FIRST PERFORMANCE I REMEMBER
The Jacksons, “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” (1978)
I remember watching them on television when I was really young, when that record came out. Did it influence my vocal style? I can’t sing like him. I think my vocal style is just what I could scram together. The Thriller album also changed my life. “Billie Jean” changed my life. The songs I wrote for Justin Timberlake’s album [Justified], I originally wrote for Michael Jackson, although we modified them a bit. I told Michael that, and he was like, “You’re kidding me! You’re kidding me! That’s so wonderful!” Then he sang it in Justin‘s style. He could sing just like Justin, just like R Kelly. Michael was one of the most incredible performers of all time, and he was also by far one of the best beatboxers ever.
WHEN I WAS A BREAKDANCER
Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force, “Planet Rock” (1982)
This record changed my life. It was a phenomenon. The whole neighbourhood was playing it on boomboxes. I didn’t understand what the hell it was. It was like some space shit. Then, just after “Planet Rock“, there was Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That“. Those two records were incredible. And Art of Noise [“Beat Box”]. I was a breakdancer back then. I didn’t know I was going to be musician at that stage.
WHEN I FIRST STARTED MAKING MUSIC
A Tribe Called Quest, “Bonita Applebum” (1990)
“Bonita Applebum” was the first single from the album [People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths Of Rhythm], and my friend in Virginia got hold of a copy of it. I was so amazed by that record that I lost my mind. I didn’t know what it was, I was like, “Oh my god!”. I played it day in, day out. Every girl I dated had to listen to it over and over late at night and we had to have nightly discussions about it. We needed to talk about how it took us to other worlds. Those girls are all probably laughing right now, thinking: Damn, he was a musician, but didn’t know it! That’s why we had to do all that dumb shit and talk about it all night! Because I’d be like, “You have to listen to this! If you don’t listen to this, we’re finished!”. After “Bonita Applebum” I went to the other side, and started making music rather than just listening.
THE LAST RECORD THAT BLEW ME AWAY
Daft Punk, Tron Legacy Theme (2010)
The Daft Punk trailer for Tron: Legacy is amazing. I was very jealous when I heard that. I told them so to their faces when I last saw them. The whole production and the mentality that came along with that was amazing.