Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams didn't only help change the face of pop music during the late '90s and early 2000s. He also was one of the faces of pop music -- as a charismatic star who often stole the show when producing and/or guesting on other artists' hit singles. His presence was unfading, whether he was in front of a music video or behind a beat. To trace the beginning of his ascent, you have to go back to 1992, when Teddy Riley tapped him to write a verse for Wreckx-n-Effect's "Rump Shaker." Since the late '90s, Williams and longtime friend Chad Hugo -- known together as the Neptunes -- began scoring songwriting and production assignments that slowly but steadily infiltrated mainstream music, whether it was via dance-pop (Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U"), hardcore rap (Clipse's "Grindin'"), or contemporary R&B (Babyface's "There She Goes"). Williams and Hugo were relatively obscure during the mid-'90s, doing spare work for the likes of SWV, Total, and Mase, but they would eventually develop a style that would become as recognized and as mimicked as that of fellow Virginia Beach native Timbaland. (Prior to stardom, all three producers were in a band together called Surrounded by Idiots.)

As the duo took on more work, Williams' voice became increasingly familiar. He was now more likely to provide the chorus and the background vocals of the same song, in addition to appearing in the video. (Hear/see Jay-Z's "Excuse Me Miss" and Snoop Dogg's "Beautiful" for two examples.) It wasn't until the summer of 2003 that he truly stepped out on his own. He released his first solo single, "Frontin'." Produced with Hugo and featuring a guest verse from Jay-Z, the song built anticipation for The Neptunes Present... Clones, a compilation of all-new tracks from artists produced by the duo. "Frontin'" was a ubiquitous summer hit and kept Williams' momentum running up to the release of Hugo and Williams' second funk/rock-oriented N.E.R.D. album, released in March 2004. On the same day, Clipse's own second album hit stores, featuring more of the Neptunes touch.

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