In My Mind
This album has been in the works for some time. Its first single ("Can I Have it Like That" feat. Gwen Stefani) was released so long ago that I was surprised to actually see it on the album. Pharrell (aka Skateboard P) does his trademark Pharrell thing: soft yet arrogant verse recital over Hip Pop production. Stefani only adds to the mood. "How Does it Feel" is a similar tune, only this time Pharrell struggles to stay on beat. "Raspy Shit" elaborates on the memorable bar from "Drop It Like It's Hot" ("don't try to come up in my ear talking all that raspy shit, tryin to ask me shit"). "Best Friend" is a brief departure from the superficial baller-rhymes; Pharrell gets introspective giving us some insight into how he met Chad Hugo, his family life, and all of the problems that come along with selling millions of records worldwide. The hook on "You Can Do It Too" sounds inspirational but turns out to be more thinly veiled arrogance and over-the-top materialism. Yes, we know you're fly. It wouldn't be so bad if the production weren't so soft and gushy.
And then, on cue, Pharrell ushers in an impressive barrage of A-List artists in an obvious effort to keep this album on the Hip Hop charts (as opposed to the pop charts). In the next 9 tracks, Pharrell features Slim Thug, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, The Clipse, Nelly, and Kanye West). Unfortunately none of them can save this album.
Think the album will sell? Yezzur.
Look. I realize that Pharrell's production duo The Neptunes have produced hit songs/albums for mega-artists from just about every music genre. I also realize that his vocal talent is well documented on tracks like Snoop's "Beautiful," Jay's "Excuse Me Miss," and Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass (to name only a few)." I even give him credit for pushing the Hip Hop envelope. In an industry where Hip Hop artists are pressured to cater to the formulaic tastes of record companies, Pharrell is a shining contradiction with his eclectic blend of old school sounds and new age "make-you-bling-like-the-Neptune's-sound" techno brilliance.
But, I have to call a spade a spade. Pharrell Williams cannot rap. Not even a little bit. Okay, he's got a good flow, but that's it. In My Mind only confirms suspicions that Skateboard P tends to hide behind vague references to far-off vacation spots, luxury cars, and trendy Euro-fashions on the mic because he can't spit. With very few exceptions, this album does not offer any lyrical (or for that matter stylistic) evidence that Pharell belongs in the producer-turned-rapper category beside Kanye West, the late J.Dilla and others.
Where this album does succeed is in reinforcing his niche ability to make a good rap artist sound even better. This is what he has done for Jay-Z, this is what he has done for Snoop Dogg, and on and on. "Number One" epitomizes that ability, as Pharrell does wonders for the Louis Vuitton Don with his cognac-smooth, almost electric flair on the album's best track. He will certainly catch criticism for sounding a bit like Michael Jackson circa 1979, and for the ruthless onslaught of big-name cameos...but in the end Pharrell's first solo album should be a commercial success, even if it is an unsure blend of R&B and Hip Hop. What it will not be is a reason for anyone to change their opinion of Pharrell Williams as a Hip Hop artist.