At a Smirnoff press conference at the Bowery Hotel last year, Pharrell Williams admitted that he doesn’t sleep. “I’m just operating in a fog,” he told the crowd. Williams has plenty of reasons to be worn out. Aside from his thriving career as a producer (of the new Usher album, among other projects), he performs with N*E*R*D (which is finishing a new album), runs a clothing line (Billionaire Boys Club) and a shoe line (Ice Cream) and will soon launch a branding agency with Cornerstone (see story, page 22). He even has starlets lining up to work with him: A gossip column reported that Lindsay Lohan was overheard telling friends he wouldn’t return her calls.
Williams’ break arrived in 1992 when Teddy Riley got him a gig writing a verse of the Wreckx-N-Effect hit “Rump Shaker.” He then produced songs for performers from Kelis to Mystikal, before landing his first No. 1 with his production work on Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U.” In 2004, Williams won two Grammy Awards for his production on Justin Timberlake’s “Justified.”
Along the way he released five albums—three with N*E*R*D, one with the Neptunes and one on his own—and found time to launch two fashion lines. Now he’s preparing for the release of the Usher album, finishing the next N*E*R*D project and working with Shakira.
You’re well-known for being a tastemaker, and you have a solid understanding of branding. How did you get started thinking about that in a strategic way?
Sabina Belli from the Moet Hennessy Co., which is part of L.V.M.H., gave me an opportunity to work on the Hennessy campaign a couple years back, and I worked in creative there. I was learning on the job, and there were a couple of ideas that worked. They were very supportive, and I learned so much from that one opportunity.
How did you first connect with Cornerstone?
I met them when they put me on the cover of the Fader in 2002. They’re great guys and Cornerstone is a huge business, but Fader has stand-alone power in itself because of what they do. They’re all about discovering what is hot. Once they get on an artist, they really go all out to support them. They not only give them a cover, but they’ll try and figure out a way to get involved and work on making sure that artist breaks in the mass media.
Wasn’t Cornerstone also involved in promoting and marketing the first N*E*R*D releases?
Click here for the full story including details on his clothing line, the new platform he has created to supports artists, how colleges like Vanderbilt, Harvard and Yale fit in to the venture and more.