Grammy Award winning record producer, rapper, singer and songwriter Pharrell Williams is famous as part of the successful music production duo The Neptunes, along with childhood friend Chad Hugo. They have produced hit singles for various artists, including Britney Spears, Madonna, Nelly, Jay-Z, NSYNC, Babyface, and Ludacris, to name a few. They won Grammy Awards in 2004 for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical and Best Pop Vocal Album for Justin Timberlake's debut album “Justified,” and an additional Grammy Award in 2007 for the Lucadris hit single “Money Maker,” where Williams was also featured on the song. Williams also enjoyed Grammy nominations on a few songs he has appeared in as a featured performer, like Snoop Dogg's “Beautiful” (2003) and “Drop It Like It's Hot” (2004), and Jay Z's “Excuse Me Miss” (2003).
Williams is also the lead singer of the hip hop rock group N.E.R.D, whose members include Hugo and rapper Shay Haley. Founded in 2001, the group has released the albums “In Search Of...” (2002), “Fly or Die” (2004) and “Seeing Sounds” (2008). As a soloist, Williams released the Grammy nominated debut album “In My Mind” (2006), which he also produced. In addition to Grammy recognition, Williams and The Neptunes were handed Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards for Producer of the Year (2003) and Producer of the Decade (2009).
Named Esquire's “The Best Dressed Man in the World” in 2005, Williams has his own clothing line called the Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) and a line of shoes and t-shirts called Ice-Cream. In 2008, he co-designed (with Camille Miceli) glasses and jewelry for Louis Vuitton.
Childhood and Family:
Pharrell Williams was born on April 5, 1973, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Pharoah Williams, a service man, and Carolyn Williams, a teacher. He has two younger brothers named Cato and Psolomon. He also has two half-brothers named Pharoah and David. Growing up in Virginia Beach, Pharrell developed a friendship with future collaborator Chad Hugo. They first met in a summer band camp when they were seventh graders. At the time, Pharrell played the keyboards and drums and Chad played tenor saxophone. They went on to attend the same high school at Virginia Beach's Princess Anne High School, where the two played in the school band. In the 1990s, they founded a group called The Neptunes, with Shay Haley and Mike Etheridge. They caught the eye of record producer Teddy Riley while participating in a high school talent show.
In My Mind
Spotted in a high school talent show, Pharrell Williams and his rap group The Neptunes signed with Teddy Riley after graduating high school. His first break in the music industry arrived in 1992 when Riley asked him to write a verse for the hip hop group Wreckx-N-Effect's hit single “Rump Shaker,” which was produced by and featured Riley. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, No. 1 on the Hot Rap Singles, and No. 9 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play. The same year, his voice could be heard on SWV's hit “Right Here (UK Remix).”
In 1994, Williams and Chad Hugo established themselves as a production duo under the name The Neptunes and produced “Tonight's The Night” from Blackstreet's self titled debut. The song rose to No. 27 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. They went on to produce occasionally for the next three years, with credits ranging from rap trio Total's “When Boy Meets Girl” (1996), SWV's R&B hit “Use Your Heart” and Mase's “Lookin' At Me” (1997). They began gaining widespread recognition in 1998 when they produced the hip hop hit single “Superthug (What What)” for rapper Noreaga. The song, featuring Williams and Tammy Lucas, rose to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 15 on the U.S. Hip-Hop chart. 1998 also saw them produce other singles, including M.C. Lyte's “It's All Yours,” “I Can't Make A Mistake” and The Lox's “If You Think I'm Jiggy.”
In 1999, The Neptunes produced Kelis' debut album “Kaleidoscope,” which was released on December 7, 1999, by Virgin Records. They also served as executive producers and arranges on the album. The album spawned the three hit singles “Caught out There,” “Good Stuff” and “Get Along with You” (all written by Williams and Hugo). The duo also produced Noreaga's “Oh No,” Ol' Dirty Bastard's “Recognize,” “Got Your Money” and Clipse's” The Funeral.”
In 2000, Williams and Hugo cemented their reputation as successful producers with popular hit singles like Ludacris' “Southern Hospitality” and Mystikal's “Shake Ya Ass,” and “Danger (Been So Long).” Released as the second single of Ludacris' album “Back for the First Time,” “Southern Hospitality,” composed by The Neptunes, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles, No. 6 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs and No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single “Shake Ya Ass,” released from Mystikal's fourth album, rose to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and No. 7 on the Hot Rap Singles. Mystikal's next single, “Danger (Been So Long)” went to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaked at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and No. 3 on the Hot Rap Singles. The year also saw The Neptunes produce many other singles, including Jay-Z's “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” Guru’s “Supa Luv,” Beenie Man's “Girls Dem Sugar” and Lil' Kim's “How Many Licks” (Remix). Williams was also featured in several of the songs.
The following year, The Neptunes wrote and produced “I'm A Slave 4 U” for pop star Britney Spears, which was released on September 24, 2001, as the lead single from her third album “Britney.” The song received good reviews from critics and was a commercial success. It peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 35 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, but fared better on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, where the song rose to No. 4. “I'm A Slave 4 U” became Spears' first dance hit. The Neptunes also collaborated with Spears in the fourth single “Boy.” 2001 also found the producing duo working on Noreaga's “Grimey,” Jadakiss' “Knock Yourself Out” (featuring Williams), Angie Martinez's “Dem Thangz,” Foxy Brown's “Candy,” Ray J's “Wait a Minute” (featuring Williams and Lil’ Kim) and “Formal Invite” (featuring Williams), Fabolous' “Young'n (Holla Back),” Tha Alkaholiks' “Best U Can” (featuring Williams), (P. Diddy's “Diddy” (featuring Williams), Babyface's “There She Goes,” T.I.'s “I'm Serious,” Kelis' “Young, Fresh n' New,” and Busta Rhymes' “As I Come Back” and “What It Is.”
It was also in 2001 that Williams and Hugo formed the group N.E.R.D. (No One Ever Really Dies) with longtime friend Shay Haley as a side project of The Neptunes, with Williams singing leads vocals and playing the piano/keyboards, rhythm guitar and percussion. Their debut album, “In Search Of...,” was released in Europe in September 2001 and worldwide in March 2002, with live instruments provided by the rock band Spymob. It rose to No. 56 in the U.S. and received gold certification from RIAA. The album also charted at No. 28 in the U.K. The lead single “Lapdance,” produced by The Neptunes, peaked at No. 85 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 20 on the U.K. Singles Chart. It was followed by “Rock Star” (#15 UK) and “Provide” (# 20).
Williams and The Neptunes went on to produce a number of singles during 2002, including the No. 1 pop and R&B hit “Hot in Herre” from Nelly's second studio album, Lil' Bow Wow's “Take Ya Home,” 'N Sync's “Girlfriend,” (#5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the UK Singles Chart) Clipse's “Grindin'” (# 30 Billboard's Hot 100; # 10 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks) and “When the Last Time” (#19 Hot 100; #8 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs), LL Cool J's “Luv U Better,” Snoop Dogg's “From tha Chuuuch to da Palace” (#23 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and #16 Hot Rap Tracks), Beyoncé Knowles' “Work It Out” (#11 US Hot Dance Club Play and #7 UK), Common's “Come Close” (#21 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) and Tony Braxton's “Hit the Freeway” (#2 US Hot Dance Club Play). The Neptunes earned nominations for Songwriter of the Year and Producer of the Year at the 2002 Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards.
It was also in 2002 that The Neptune, in collaboration with Timbaland, Brian McKnight, Claus Norreen, The Underdogs, and Scott Storch, produced the solo debut album of Justin Timberlake, “Justified.” The album was a massive commercial success and earned Grammys in 2004 in the categories of Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (for the song “Cry Me a River”). At the same 46th Grammy Awards ceremony, Williams also won Producer of the Year for Non-Classical, which he shared with his partner Hugo. The Neptunes produced several songs on the album, including the first single “Like I Love You,” “Rock Your Body,” “Señorita,” “Take It from Here” and “Let's Take a Ride.”
On August 23, 2003, The Neptunes released an album called “The Neptunes Present... Clones” under Star Trek Entertainment, a hip hop record label founded by Williams and Hugo in 2002. Containing songs from various artists, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and stayed at the position for a week. The same year, Williams and The Neptunes remained in the spotlight thanks in part to their partnership with Jay-Z on the rapper's album “The Black Album.” On the album, they produced two tracks, including the first single “Change Clothes,” which rose to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Neptunes won their first Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Award in 2003 for Producer of the Year. They were also nominated for Songwriter of the Year.
Still in 2003, Williams performed the popular song “Frontin’” with Jay-Z. Written by Williams, Hugo and Shawn Carter and produced by The Neptunes, “Frontin’” emerged as a summer hit in 2003 when it peaked at No. 5 on The Billboard Hot 100, No.1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Tracks charts, and No. 6 in the U.K. It brought Williams a 2004 Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Williams also became a featured performer on Snoop Dogg's Top Ten hit single “Beautiful” (2003) along with Charlie Wilson, and jointly nabbed a 2004 Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Produced by The Neptunes, “Beautiful” also earned an additional Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song.
In March 2004, Williams was reunited with N.E.R.D. to launch the second album “Fly or Die,” which rose to No. 6 in the U.S. and No. 4 in the U.K. It spawned two U.K. hits with the songs “She Wants to Move” (#5) and “Maybe” (#25). Later that same year, Williams made a featured performance on Snoop Dogg's rap No.1 hit single “Drop It Like It's Hot,” which received Grammy nominations in 2005 for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Rap Song.
N.E.R.D. parted ways with Virgin Records in 2005 and took a break. Throughout the year, Williams and Hugo remained busy with The Neptunes produced singles like Omarion's “Touch” (written by Williams), Beanie Siegel's “Don’t Stop,” Snoop Dogg's “Signs,” Gwen Stefani's “Hollaback Girl,” Robin Thicke's “Wanna Love U Girl” (featuring Williams) and Slim Thug's “I Ain't Heard of That” (featuring Williams, all 2005).
Williams was reunited with Gwen Stefani for the song “Can I Have It Like That,” released on October 31, 2005. Produced, performed and written by Williams, the song received primarily negative reviews from music critics and was a commercial failure in the U.S. The single had better luck in Europe, where it peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard European Hot 100 Singles chart and debuted at No. 3 on the Singles Chart.
Williams' first solo album, “In My Mind,” followed on July 25, 2006. The album, produced by Williams, received mixed reviews from critics. It peaked at No. 3 in the U.S. and No. 7 in the U.K. In addition to “Can I Have It Like That,” the album also featured the singles “Angel” (released in the UK), “Number One” (featuring Kanye West) and “That Girl” (featuring Snoop Dogg & Charlie Wilson). “In My Mind” was nominated for a Grammy in 2007 for Best Rap Album.
Also in 2006, Williams was featured in Robin Thicke's “Wanna Love You Girl,” Clipse's “Mr. Me Too” and Paul Oakenfold's “Sex 'n' Money.” He also made a guest appearance in Ludacris' No. 1 hit single “Money Maker” (2006), from Ludacris' album “Release Therapy.” The song won a 2007 Grammy for Best Rap Song. For the next two years, he continued to guest star in other artists' singles, including Twista's “Give It Up” (2007), Jay-Z's “Blue Magic” (2007) and “I Know” (2008), Common's “Announcement” (2008) and Hope's “I Apologize” (2008). He also produced (with The Neptunes) the singles “Green Light” (Beyoncé Knowles), “Hooked On” and “Why Should I Be Sad” (both Britney Spears), “Give It 2 Me” (Madonna) and “I Decided: (Solange Knowles), to name a few.
Williams rejoined N.E.R.D. in 2008 for their third album, “Seeing Sounds,” which was released under Star Trak/Interscope on June 6. The album debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and made the top 20 in the U.K, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and Switzerland. The album spawned the singles “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)” (#41 UK) and “Spaz” (#106 US).
In 2009, Williams was featured on Teriyaki Boyz's “Work That” (also with Chris Brown), Pitbull's “Blanco,” Clipse's “I'm Good” and Clipse's “Popular Demand (Popeyes).” He and The Neptunes also produced Shakira's “Did It Again.” The same year, The Neptunes were honored with the Producer of the Decade Award at the 2009 Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards.
Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop: Producer of the Decade (The Neptunes), 2009
Grammy: Best Rap Song, “Money Maker” (with Lucadris), 2007
Grammy: Producer of the Year, Non-Classical (The Neptunes), 2004
Grammy: Best Pop Vocal Album, “Justified,” 2004
Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop: Producer of the Year (The Neptunes), 2003