While imperfect, the first full-length solo album by Pharrell, aka 1/2 of the Neptunes, is mesmerizing. Listeners should be forewarned that significant portions of the content are definitely adult-oriented, but, within that context, there are mini-masterpieces here as well as rare personal insights into the thoughts and emotions of one of of pop and hip hop's idiosyncratic geniuses.
In the Mind of Pharrell
Although Pharrell's first full-length solo flight includes explorations of his own emotional life, advice to youth desiring to follow in his footsteps, and a dissertation on Pharrell's relationship with God, it is the irresistible hip hop/pop workouts that stick in your mind. Pharrell raps frequently throughout the album, but he is at his best when singing and leaving the raps to more talented MC's. Jay-Z is masterful on the track "Young Girl" and Kanye West can't help but steal the show on the minimalist electronic single "Number One." In case you doubt that Pharrell can move beyond his nerdish public image and be truly sexy, you must listen to "Take It Off (Dim the Lights)" and "Baby."
Top Tracks on Pharrell's In My Mind
- Best Friend
- Young Girl featuring Jay-Z
- Take It Off (Dim the Lights)
- Baby featuring Nelly
- Number One featuring Kanye West
The Question of an Audience
As demonstrated by the relatively lackluster chart performance of "Can I Have It Like That," "Angel," and "Number One," the singles already released from In My Mind, Pharrell presents a problem of identity for radio programmers and intended audiences. The extensive use of raps would seem to push him in the direction of hip hop audiences, but Pharrell also liberally tosses in the catchiest of pop melodies and vocals that draw influence from singers ranging from Curtis Mayfield to Prince and everything in between. It is difficult to promote Pharrell first to a specific genre niche and then work on a crossover. Many of these tracks are of high enough quality, here's hoping they appeal equally to pop and hip hop programmers.
So how to define Pharrell? Is he primarily a producer or has he now become primarily an artist? The answer is likely neither and both. Since the moment that he contributed words to the classic "Rump Shaker" by Wreckx-n-Effect 14 years back, Pharrell Williams has followed a multi-path career. The bulk of his work has been as individual producer or in the production partnership the Neptunes. However, he has frequently contributed his own work as primary or featured artist.
This approach has kept enough projects going at the same time that relative failures did not derail the career that has seen such mega-successes as Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl," Nelly's "Hot in Herre," or Pharrell's own "Frontin'" Not every track on In My Mind is a stroke of genius, but the overall quality is high enough, that we should all look forward to the times when Pharrell takes a step out of the producer's chair to concentrate on himself as primary artist.