Phinally! Pharrell Makes Up His 'Mind'
Pharrell Williams' solo debut, "In My Mind," has had almost as many release dates as a cat has lives. First slated to street last November, then December, then early 2006, then April, the Star Trak/InPharrell Williams' solo debut, "In My Mind," has had almost as many release dates as a cat has lives. First slated to street last November, then December, then early 2006, then April, the Star Trak/Interscope album is now locked in for July 25.
And Williams, best-known as one-half of production/writing team the Neptunes, says he has no one but himself to blame for the holdup.
"I'm a big kid," he confesses from London, where he is touring in support of the new disc. "I was being super artistic, and I wasn't listening to anybody. I really didn't give Interscope a chance to catch up with me in terms of promotion."
Eager to push his solo debut, the self-professed perfectionist says he prematurely issued the Gwen Stefani-featured lead single "Can I Have It Like That" late last year, while other tracks remained unmixed. His excitement also drove the release of a music video overseas for second single "Angel." Meanwhile, Interscope had yet to set up marketing and promotional strategies for the project. "At a certain point, [Interscope CEO] Jimmy Iovine was like, 'You gotta slow down a little bit, get us up to speed and explain what you're trying to do,' " Williams says.
But in the interim, the Virginia-raised producer failed to capitalize on any momentum that might have been created by "Can I Have It Like That," which peaked at No. 32 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
"It's always hard to release a successful single and not follow up with an album," Star Trak president Yaneley Arty says. "But Pharrell felt that he had more to add to this record."
One addition is his current self-produced single "Number 1" featuring Kanye West. The track is leisurely creeping up the urban charts but has yet to break onto the Billboard Hot 100.
"Everybody knows Pharrell, but the strategy is to work him like he's a new artist," Interscope urban promotion executive Kevin Black says. "We're marketing him across the board, from clubs and colleges to independent retailers."
Arty views the producer's familiarity as a plus: "Most of his fans recognize that he's always been an artist."
Still, Williams has yielded better results behind the boards (Stefani's "Hollaback Girl," Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot," to name a few of his many hits) than on the mic. The 2003 Neptunes-produced set "The Neptunes Present . . . Clones" (Star Trak/Arista), which featured such artists as Nas, Kelis, Ludacris and Nelly performing alone and with Williams on a few tracks, moved 821,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The album bowed atop The Billboard 200 and spawned Williams' first hit solo record, "Frontin'," featuring Jay-Z. In contrast, N.E.R.D., the trio Williams formed with Neptunes partner Chad Hugo and their childhood pal Shay, sold 674,000 copies of its 2002 Star Trak/Virgin debut, "In Search Of." 2004 follow-up "Fly or Die" shifted 412,000 units.
Williams insists that "In My Mind" is not an attempt to echo the commercial success of his production work. "I don't see myself selling 5 million records," he says. "For me it's about having fun, not trying to fit in. I've already sold tons of records as a producer."
The original premise of "In My Mind" -- seven R&B tracks and seven hip-hop cuts -- stands, as well as the guest slots by Jay-Z, Snoop, Slim Thug and the Clipse. Instrumentation is heavy and reminiscent of the Neptunes' sound, which is dictated by hard drumlines, eccentric keys and lush violins. While the hip-hop tracks test Williams' rhyming skills, the jazzier R&B cuts boast his signature Prince-like falsetto.
With the album release drawing near, Williams seems to be back on track. A new N.E.R.D. disc is in the works, plus upcoming production projects for Slim Thug, the Clipse, Robin Thicke, Fam-Lay, Jay-Z, Ludacris and Velvet Revolver, among others. Additionally, Louis Vuitton recently drafted Williams for its fall and winter ad campaigns. He also plans to expand Star Trak.
If fans don't tag along for his solo ride, they will still be able to find him easily. "It's great when the rest of the world gets my music," he says, "but if they don't, I can connect with them through Snoop, Jay, Beyonce, Ludacris ..." And the list goes on.