The words “low profile” and “Pharrell” rarely find themselves in the same sentence.
The uber-cool songwriter and producer, one half-of the superduo production team The Neptunes, is arguably the most omnipresent hitmaker on the planet. His slightly off-key falsetto is heard on smashes for artists ranging from Jay-Z to Snoop Dogg to Justin Timberlake, while his sleek visage is prominently featured in their videos.
He’s also fronted his own punk/hip-hop hybrid group, N.E.R.D, has his own Billionaire Boys Club clothing line, his own skater-boy Ice Cream sneaker and was recently named as the face of the luxury goods staple Louis Vuitton.
But the 32-year-old insists that his solo CD debut, “In My Mind, is designed to be a low-key, affair — despite the presence of such superstars as Kanye West, Gwen Stefani and Jay-Z.
Pharrell explained the contradiction in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
AP: This album has a lot of superstar cameos. Did you ever think of just putting out a record without the collaborations?
Pharrell: I got with people who understand what I was trying to do, something small and boutique. Something special that was to the left of everything else. If you think about your favorite artists, you think about their singles, there is always that one song on the album that you love, that’s what I tried to do. I tried to make an album filled with those kind of records that weren’t meant to be singles but are very special to you. You like the way the hook sounds or you just like the beat, not necessarily meant for radio.
AP: How does this project differ from the smashes you’ve written for others?
Pharrell: Just kind of like making records I ordinarily wouldn’t do. I ordinarily wouldn’t make R&B-ish records for myself. I probably wouldn’t make rap records for myself. It’s like putting Steven Spielberg in his own film. For me it is more about the writing, the direction, the production and creating soundscapes for other artists. It’s like a music makers’ album and a fans’ album. It’s not a huge 10 million sales thing. I am not pop. I am not mainstream like that. As an artist I am more underground.
AP: Have you ever wanted to have that mainstream success for yourself?
Pharrell: I thought about it before but it’s too much of a headache. It’s too much work. Interviews, all of the revealing things about it — I ain’t really into that.
AP: Yet you have a very big persona — you are always in videos and you have a very high profile. Are you seeking fame?
Pharrell: I don’t know. I’m thankful for my involvement in the music industry but I don’t really like being too vocal. That’s why all of my interviews are terrible because I don’t like revealing anything. I feel like if I do that, I might as well turn my career into a reality show, right? I should just bring the cameras in while I’m making beats and whoever I am in love with at the time, it’s just us, the camera. When I’m home with my mom and dad it’s like, ’Hi mom. Hi dad. Hi camera.’ I’m not into that. Artists are built for that, people who are celebrities. They are built for that kind of exposure. I ain’t built for it.
AP: So why put out a solo album at all?
Pharrell: Because it’s for my fans. It’s still going to be low key, It’s not going to be the biggest thing in the world. I’m not Usher or Beyonce or Jay-Z or Linkin Park. It’s boutique, it really is. If it catches, it’ll be great, but if not, it’s meant for my fans. My fans go out and get it.
AP: And who are Pharrell’s fans?
Pharrell: They are aspirational; kids who not only buy my sneakers but they design their own sneakers. They not only buy my clothes they design their own clothes. They’re making their own albums, they are producing their own beats. I speak for a generation of kids who want to change things, do some things differently and are unafraid to be different. It’s not seen as a white or black thing, it’s just multicultural, it is what it is, and if you like it, you’re into it, if you’re not, cool. We don’t care if you like it.