Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Pharrell: the comeback kid

How the man responsible for 43 per cent of the songs on American radio a decade ago came back out on top again

Look who's back!

Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 09:49


It’s like 2003 all over again. Back then, it was estimated that 20 per cent of the records played on British radio – 43 per cent in the United States – were produced by The Neptunes, a partnership between Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo.

They were the hippest producers around, the duo everyone from Justin Timberlake, Jay Z and Snoop Dogg to Britney Spears, Nelly and Beyonce called for a musical dig-out. And then, like most things, fashions changed, sounds moved on and someone else took those pay-cheques.

2013, though, is also turning into the year of Pharrell. You’ll find him on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, two of the singles of the year. He’s in and around the new albums from Jay Z and Kanye West. He’s also contribited some fantastic pop tunes on the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack. It’s like he never went away.

But even though Williams hadn’t a hit in years (his last Top 40 appearance was back in 2006 on Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up”), he was still around. He worked with Swedish House Mafia, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, “Watch the Throne”, Usher and many more on tracks and albums. “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” didn’t appear out of nowhere.

Williams also wasn’t just relying on music to pay the bills. He built a great niche for himself with brands and corporates seeking the same cool associations as Britney and Justin were after a decade earlier. His I Am Other creative group got involved in everything from skateboards, furniture and fashion to art and liquers.

Ideas became Williams’ currency and he was canny enough to work with like-minded souls and willing collaborators to bring those ideas to life. A little like, you could say, his now resurgent pop career.