In preparation for this weeks’ feature, I immediately turned my thoughts to a previous issue of Weekly Music Commentary on May 20, 2012 that featured singer/songwriter/producer Raphael Saddiq. The article came about a month after Saddiq was placed on the list of Time magazines 100 most influential people. Upon writing that feature I began trying to figure out what makes a musician influential. Well, one of the things that surely lead to Saddiq’s inclusion on the list was a recommendation from Elton John. If Elton John says you are an influential musician, then…you know the rest. More than Elton’s endorsement however was the long list of musicians he worked with as producer and/or musical arranger over the years. Many of you reading today may not readily recognize the name Raphael Saddiq, but there are many popular musicians who definitely know and appreciate his work. Speaking about Raphael Saddiq’s musical resume lead me to understand why this weeks’ featured artist is so well respected inside and outside the music industry. This week we feature Pharrell Williams.
While Raphael Saddiq may not be widely known by music fans, Pharrell Williams has garnered a large profile via his musical accomplishments. The forty year old producer/singer/songwriter from Virginia Beach got his start in his high school marching band which brought about his being discovered by another major producer Teddy Riley, and he would not look back. Williams joined with friend Chad Hugo to form the production team The Neptunes, who are credited with contributing the sound for many successful hip hop, R&B and pop artists in the late-1990s and 2000s.
Many might wonder why Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes have been as successful as record producers. The reason for the success is not unlike any other producer in great demand by record labels: record sales. For over twenty years Pharrell has produced records for most of the largest selling artists today, and now it seems like he has exploded for more major hits. Of course, I knew well that this talented young musician was in huge demand by most in the industry. However, a radio interview on the Angie Martinez Show gave us some insight as to why. Martinez and Pharrell agreed that Pharrell has always been one to produce music outside the box. The point being that he musically does the unexpected. That does not always equal success, but in Pharrell’s case it has been the difference maker. Williams has stated that he does not have any direct influences, but has expressed his admiration for several musicians, including Michael Jackson, J Dilla, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Rakim and Q-Tip. Showing the eclectic nature of Pharrell’s productions is the diversity among his clients. Sure, he has produced records for Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes, but he has also worked in the studio for Brittney Spears and Miley Cyrus. His signature sound just travels across genre lines as artists are looking for hit records.
Several years ago I got a chance to meet Emilio and Gloria Estefan at Criteria Recording Studio here in North Miami, Florida. At the time Gloria was as popular as ever and the Estefan trademarked Miami Latin sound proliferated popular music, and there was Emilio, working with several artists outside the Latin music genre. Today though, Pharrell has reached a place that many producers have not even dreamed about producing and performing on Blurred Lines with Robin Thicke and Get Lucky with Daft Punk, both songs huge hits. Pharrell gave us a quick look at his calendar and he will not slow down. Many more projects are on the way, and certainly more hits.