Muse Magazine

Friday, July 21, 2006

SOUNDS: Profile

Le visionnaire

Pharrell Williams is conquering so many different subcultures, it's easy to forget he's a music man first

“I just pulled back the curtains too fast. I was being artistically minded and not following protocol,” says Pharrell Williams of his album “In My Mind,” which might be one of the most delayed albums in hip-hop/R&B history. “As a producer, there’s no rush on me for anything, but as an artist, you have to answer to your fans, so I put on my artist hat and finally got it done,” he adds over the phone from Los Angeles. Forget “the trucker” he made trendy — Williams wears so many hats now that it’s a wonder his debut solo release, originally due last December, will finally hit stores Tuesday.

From his new gig as the face of Louis Vuitton to his upcoming work with the rap group the Clipse, Williams seamlessly transitions from the hip-hop world to the cloistered subculture of the fashion elite and back again with more ease than any other “urban” artist. He’s even gained entrée into the world of British royals, with an upcoming collaboration in the works with Prince William.

“In fashion I’m getting great exposure and support,” says Williams, who Esquire magazine declared the best dressed man in the world. He has a cult-like influence over his fans and peers, who have often co-opted his look to the point of becoming an army of Mini Me’s. "Credit is not to be taken,” he says of the legions of men who have rocked foam baseball caps and A Bathing Ape sneakers because of him. “It has to be given. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t invent the trucker hat or Bape or anything else that someone would relate to me. I just saw them and liked them. But I couldn’t take credit for it.”

After years spent producing hits and singing catchy hooks for other artists as one-half of the Neptunes, his foray into solo-dom came about casually. “I don’t know if my aspirations are so clear. I never sat down and said I’m going to conquer the world. I just seized opportunities that presented themselves,” he explains. In this case, Williams’ manager, Rob Walker, encouraged him to record a solo album, which now features seven refreshingly left-of-center R&B songs and seven gritty hip-hop tracks.

“I was like, ‘If I do it it’s going to be incredibly quirky.’ This album is like a great art piece. It’s for people who are down with my movement, which is individuality,” says the 33-year-old who grew up playing drums in his high school marching band and skateboarding in Virginia Beach, Va. “I make records for everybody else that sells 5, 6, 10 million. But I don’t see myself as pop,” he says. “I’m a boutique artist in a lot of ways. I don’t have that kind of audience. My audience is 1.5 to 2 million, but we’re strong in our army. We wear the clothes we want to wear, we make the music we want to make, we listen to what we love. It’s just different.”

-Malcolm Venable


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