By Chad Hoyle (@chadillacgrilz)
Pharrell Williams, a decade removed from the trucker hats and Jay-Z beats that put his group, The Neptunes on the musical map, is in the midst of a career renaissance. The one-time N.E.R.D front man has taken more of a behind-the-scenes role on some of the year’s hottest albums, and in turn, has regained industry relevance and reinvented his perception as one of the most revered producers in the business.
The base camp of Pharrell’s recent ascent is Channel Orange, the second album from Frank Ocean of the Odd Future crew, released in the summer of 2012. The album was praised by critics and gained word-of-mouth notoriety in the latter half of the year, due in part to Pharrell’s co-production on two notable tracks, “Sweet Life” and “Golden Girl."
Alluding to the song’s strength in the first line “The best song wasn't the single…”, “Sweet Life” is one of the album’s many gems, and gets irrefutably stuck in any listener’s head. Channel Orange went on to earn 2 Grammy nominations in 2013 and took home the year’s honor for Best Urban Contemporary album.
Pharrell’s buzz continued to intensify as the prominent French electronic duo Daft Punk prepared for the release of their fourth studio album, Random Access Memories. Amid a wave of pre-release publicity, the media frenzy came to a head with the debut of the album teaser video during the first weekend of the Coachella Festival. The video, barely 90 seconds, featured Pharrell providing the main vocals for the catchy disco throwback, and news of the debut promptly out shined the show’s headlining artists.
The single immediately shot to the top of the Billboard charts, and was quickly anointed as the “song of the summer” around the world. The infectious chorus, ubiquitous robot voices, and Pharrell’s falsetto made the record a staple of beach goers and club rats alike. Pharrell also lent his vocal talents to the track “Lose Yourself to Dance,” arguably a stronger song than “Get Lucky” by a narrow margin, and helped to rocket the album to number one on the charts in its debut week.
Not to be outdone, Pharrell also lent his vocals and production talent to Robin Thicke’s new single “Blurred Lines,” joining rapper T.I. on the list of guests featured in the uber-sexy club track. To little surprise, the track shot up the charts to number one, bouncing “Get Lucky” from the peak position and earning Robin Thicke his biggest worldwide hit to date. Pharrell now had two songs in the top two spots on the US Billboard charts, making him the first artist to do so since the Black Eyed Peas did it in 2009.
Despite his recent success on the pop charts, Pharrell continues to broaden his spectrum by collaborating with renowned film score composer Hans Zimmer, and worked as a sessions drummer on the score of the film Man of Steel. However, this work is not his first foray into the music of the cinema: Pharrell contributed two original songs to the 2010 animated film Despicable Me, and has penned three original songs for the film’s sequel slated for release in summer 2013.
Once perceived as the baby-faced future of hip hop, only to slip under the radar towards the end of the aughts, Pharrell Williams, like the legend of the phoenix, has risen from the ashes of the Neptunes and returned to the music scene as a production powerhouse. Never before has he been in as high demand as he is this year, since it’s been proven that his style and substance are the perfect ingredients for hit records. Say what you will about the arguable “songs of the summer,” but regardless of your camp, there’s no denying that Pharrell has left an indelible impression on the music of all genres in 2013.