From a member of a teenage R&B band to an award-winning musician, producer artist, designer, entrepreneur and philanthro-pist, Pharrell Williams has displayed creativity, a strong work ethic and, most of all, the ability to successfully collaborate with others. His umbrella organization, i am OTHER, has a You Tube channel of the same name, a record label, Billionaire Boys Club (a clothing line), Ice Cream (footwear) and Bionic Tam (a textile company). He has also established the educational foundation From One Hand To AnOTHER in his hometown, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

In American culture, young boys and girls are often told, “You can be anything you want to be.” In the case of Pharrell Williams, that advice certainly seemed to take hold. He has apparently decided to be everything he possibly could be: musician, songwriter, producer, artist, designer, business entrepreneur, marketing expert, television producer and has now established an educational foundation. He is best known for his ability to collaborate with other musicians, designers and artists, building a reputation as someone who works well with others in order to create something new and valuable.

Early Years

Pharrell Williams was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia on April 5, 1973. His father was a handyman and his mother a teacher. Very early in life, music became extremely important to him, initially as a listener and later as a musician. He would purchase record albums in basement rummage shops for a few dimes, listening and learning from a wide range of musical artists. Not surprisingly, he took classes in music at school and joined his school marching band as a snare drummer.

While attending band camp in the summer of 1985, he met and soon became friends with Chad Hugo, who played tenor saxophone and was a student conductor. Although they attended different schools, they kept in close contact. In the early 1990s, Williams and Hugo brought in other school friends, Shay Haley and Mike Etheridge, to form the four-piece R&B band –The Neptunes. When they played in their high school talent show they were noticed by local producer Teddy Riley, who was so impressed with the band that he signed them as soon as they had graduated from high school.

Kanye West & Pharrell Williams

Kanye West, Pharrell Williams on stage for ABC’s ‘Good Morning America Concert’ with Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Bryant Park, New York City, NY
PHOTO: Everett Collection

Writing, Production and Collaborative Projects

Although they had been signed as a band, Williams and the other members of The Neptunes soon found themselves involved in different roles in the music industry. With Teddy Riley’s guidance and contacts and Williams’ strong work ethic, they soon found themselves working with such famous hip hop groups as Wreckx-N-Effects and Backstreet, and with individual artists – including Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Mase (Maron Betha) and Kelis (Kelis Rogers). Their work was so well respected that, in 2002, The Neptunes were named “Producers of the Year” by both The Source Awards and the Billboard Music Awards.

Since The Neptunes had become identified as a production group, rather than a performing band, in 2001 they formed a new funk rock band, N.E.R.D. (for “Nobody Ever Really Dies”) and released their first album, “In Search of…” In addition to their own performances, N.E.R.D. also toured with the group Gorillaz on their “Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.” Later albums, Fly or Die and Seeing Sounds, cemented their reputation as musicians before they disbanded in 2005.

Production, writing and other collaborative projects remained the focus of Williams’ work. In 2003, his group released the album, “The Neptunes Present… Clones.” The album featured songs and remixes from various artists and showed, once again, Williams’ talent for working in collaboration with other artists. As a showcase album, “Clones” was an unqualified success, soon rising to the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums chart. By 2003, The Neptunes had so established itself as the premiere production company in the rock and hip hop genres that they were credited with producing 43% of all songs played on U.S. radio stations. Never one to rest on his laurels, Williams took on yet another challenge: In 2010 he composed the soundtrack to the animated movie, Despicable Me.

Designer, Artist, Entrepreneur

Music is certainly the centre of Pharrell Williams’ work and life, but he has never felt bound by just one field. In 2005, he was involved with the founding of Billionaire Boys Club, a clothing label, and Ice Cream, which makes footwear. In 2008, he co-designed the jewellery series “Blason” and a line of eyeglasses for Louis Vuitton. He designed furniture in collaboration with the French maker Domeau & Pérès and worked on a collaborative sculpture with Takashi Murakami at the gallery Art Basel in Switzerland. With his experience in eyeglass design, he developed a line for Moncler called “Lunettes”. Williams’ standing in the fashion world has become so well established that in 2014 he signed a “long-term partnership” with Adidas.

Williams has also become involved in television and video projects. In 2011, he was named Creative Director for Karmaloop TV, an internet television station. Karmaloop is a multi-platform retailer specializing in street wear e-commerce, which fits in very well with Williams’ other talents. He is also taking a part in the television reality/competition musical show, “The Voice.” As one of the coaches on the show, Williams helps to bring different amateur musicians together into a collaborative group.

In order to combine all of his projects and businesses under one umbrella organization, Pharrell Williams launched “i am OTHER” in 2011. This multi-media organization includes a You Tube channel of the same name, a record label, his clothing companies Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, plus his textile company, Bionic Yarn. This umbrella organization has allowed him to provide creative and collaborative opportunities within a single structure.

Pharrell Williams

Justin Timberlake, Charlie Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams at the 2013 BET Awards at Nokia Theater L.A. Live on June 30, 2013
PHOTO: Joe Seer

Philanthropy

Although it has been many years since he grew up there, Williams is working to “give something back” to his home town, Virginia Beach. He established a non-profit educational foundation, “From One Hand To AnOTHER” (FOHTA). Its purpose is to empower children to learn through new technology, the arts, media and motivation. He is currently building a $35 million after-school centre in Virginia Beach.

Another philanthropic project that Williams has taken on is linked to one of his songs. Williams partnered with the United Nations Foundation to celebrate The International Day of Happiness on June 28, 2012. Its purpose was to inspire individuals all over the world to demonstrate how they express the feeling of happiness. Then, in 2013, he wrote and performed the song “Happy” for the Despicable Me 2 movie soundtrack. The song was first released in the soundtrack album and then by Williams as a lead single in his studio album, Girl. The song instantly went viral, topping the charts in 25 countries and selling millions of copies. It also motivated the production of many “tribute videos” around the world: young men and women from places as diverse as Detroit and Albania used the song as a soundtrack for their interpretation of what made them happy. In May of 2014, six young Iranians made a “Happy” tribute video, featuring them dancing to the song in various Iranian locales, which was released on the internet. Unfortunately, the Iranian government soon tracked down and arrested the six, charging them with “affronting traditional behaviour.”

Now in his early 40s, Pharrell Williams has established his reputation as a musician and producer; he has won numerous accolades, including 7 Grammy awards and Esquire’s title of “Best Dressed Man in the World”. The clothing and shoe lines continue to enjoy great popularity. He is married to the model/designer Helen Lasichanh with whom he has a son, Rocket. For many people, that would represent sufficient success to allow for a period of quiet down time. But not for Pharrell Williams: He is currently on the “Dear Girl Tour”, a solo tour that is also linked to an art show in Paris featuring 37 artists and the release of a unisex fragrance, GIRL. He continues to collaborate, combine and produce in music and the arts, with energy and, yes, happiness.