“That’s my goal, to have the older black folks have their version of mosh pittin’. Just in the church snatching off wigs! That’s when you know you’ve achieved something,” Pharrell Williams says as he whips around his chair, explaining the changes he’s making to “Letter To My Godfather,” from The Black Godfather, which he plans to remaster. “In the third verse, I don’t like what’s happening there. It took it down, and I think it just needs to stay up.”
We’re in Miami for a studio session put together by the president of Beats Electronics, Luke Wood, in celebration of the new More Matte Solo Pro Beats By Dre, which Pharrell is the brand ambassador for. Inside Miami’s Hit Factory, P plays music as he talks through his creative process. Going through original stems of “Happy” and making small updates to “Letter To My Godfather,” he says a form of the word “feel” over 35 times.
Luke Wood: Did you think about being a producer or an artist first?
Pharrell Williams [tumbleweed-long pause]: “Hmm…”
Or is there no difference?
“I never really made a distinction until I was told: ‘You’re not going to get signed as an artist.’ By that time we had already been making music for 10 years, and so when I was told that, it was like: ‘OK, we’ll just stick to production because this is what works for us.’ Really what it was, was that I was going into meetings and blowing the meetings because I was so crazy and just living in the future – not where I knew music would go but just the way I felt. Eventually music caught up and artists were able to express themselves the way that I was in rap music. I had in my mind: ‘OK, we’re going to be producers.’ Because we were The Neptunes as a group, and we produced our own music. So it was more like, we were a group and we were self-contained. But there was no real distinction between the two.”
What was the record where you suddenly said, “we produced this” as The Neptunes?
“I think every time we heard our music go on the radio, we always felt that it was different. There became a time where there was a [Neptunes] sound, and I hated that and I wanted to get away from it. But we always loved… the unorthodox stuff because of the people we looked up to. Tribe [Called Quest], I don’t know if they ever really had a pop hit, I think [1991’s] Check The Rhime was their biggest song. But for us, their music, when it played, it cut through everything. Those were our heroes, so we wanted everything to be unorthodox. Even with straight hard rap records, we wanted them to cut through. It’s like when you heard [Busta Rhymes’] Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See. You’re like: wow. Or NWA – it just cut through. What they were saying, the rhythm of how they were rapping, the melody, the syncopation, the loops that Dre was putting together, the drums that he layered it with. You were just like: what is that? So for us, when we got a chance to make songs, we wanted it to be different.”
Photos by Micaiah Carter. Pharrell Williams: I like to keep things separate. it’s annoying to come off like an arrogant Swiss Army knife I like to keep things separate so that there’s still that element of surprise. I think that’s important when it comes to any kind of art: the element of Wait, what? Rather than I did this, and that, and this, and that… Read the whole interview HERE!
Photos by Gareth Cattermole, Pharrell Williams has likened working on ‘The Lion King‘ to an “apprenticeship” or “college” because he was surrounded by so many legends. The ‘Happy‘ hitmaker collaborated on the soundtrack to the new live action remake of the Disney animated hit and he admits it was a “gift” to be around such “legendary” musicians and work on their versions of the iconic songs.
Pharrell Williams offers inside look at Something In The Water music festival.
Bisnoff: How did it feel for Daytona to receive a Grammy nomination for rap album of the year?
Pusha T: It was really super overwhelming, to be honest with you. I’ve been watching the Grammys for so long and I remember being really young and my favorites never were picked. Initially, they weren’t even nominated and then it got to a point where some of my favorites began to get nominated as I got older and then they were boycotting it. Finally, it got to a time where some really great rap artists, Jay-Z, Kanye West, were recognized and now, just recently, I was made aware that there was a new system being implemented in how they even did the rap category. I thought that was really dope and a good effort in trying to make sure the category was strong and representative of the hip-hop community. I get nominated this year and think the category is phenomenal. These are all albums that I have cosigned in some way, shape or form, whether it be on social media or speaking out about them and I’m just glad to be one of them.
Bisnoff: In the long trajectory of your career, how does it feel to finally get this type of recognition?
Pusha T: I love it, it’s super special. I personally can’t think of a rap artist with my content, this direct street-oriented content, something that is just catered to a rap purest, I don’t know when that’s happened for an artist of my caliber. There are so many subgenres of rap today, somebody who does this, I haven’t seen that, I don’t know when I’ve seen this. Not to liken my album to let’s say a Reasonable Doubt, but just in comparison, I feel like artists like myself or Jay-Z or whoever, we never get recognized at our purest form. We mature and then we hit a level of commercial success and then we get recognized when the critical acclaim is always for our first album. Daytona is still in that running for rap purest street music that people are going to be like ‘wow, I didn’t know albums that took this approach would ever get nominated.'” Read more at forbes.com.
He draws a parallel between collaborating and writing a song.
I think collaborations for me are where I learn about myself and others. It’s where I learn new techniques and new ways of thinking. It’s a means for me to elevate myself. Collaboration has given me so much, just like music has given me so much. It’s the same idea where the collision of two, three, four notes make a chord or a harmony. The same principle applies to when I work with another human being, when you combine different creative minds to make something new. It all comes down to discovery and learning in the end.
The question of cultural appropriation all depends on “who’s holding the paintbrush.”
Well it depends on who’s doing it. Cultural appropriation was born out of different groups feeling like something very dear to them in terms of their customs is being used by a group that wouldn’t normally be associated with those particular customs, but in a situation where it would be deemed offensive. I guess I’m trying to speak with diplomacy and I’m finding it hard to do so [laughs]. Because I would normally just say it in a different way. But I guess the best way to say it is that we in America currently live in a matrix that’s mainly tailored for the benefit of the older, straight white male.
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