Well it was to be expected that Pharrell Williams, the charismatic half of the uber-producer hit-making duo -- The Neptunes -- was going to fly solo sooner or later. After co-producing hit after hit and singing many of the hooks for artists such as Jay-Z and Britney Spears, as well as fronting the urban alternative band, N*E*R*D, Mr. Williams decided to test the waters in summer 2003 with the single "Frontin" from the Neptunes compilation "Clones". It became a huge summer anthem, but Williams claimed it was only a novelty thing.
However, when we finally heard that Williams was going to be releasing a solo album, many of us were thinking what part of "his mind" he would be portraying. I mean we have seen him sing sultry falsetto hooks, flirt with gangster rap and he has shown an affinity to skate culture and bands such as Steely Dan.
After first-single "Can I Have It Like That" featuring Gwen Stefani dropped in the later quarter of 2005, anticipation for Williams' "In My Mind" was quite high. However whatever momentum Pharrell had for "In My Mind" steeply fell as delay after delay prolonged the release date to July 2006.
So after waiting more than half a year, was the wait worth it?
Not quite. It seems that Pharrell has a schizophrenic personality. The album can be divided in half -- half hip-hop and half R&B. He isn't sure if he wants to be a "rapping ass nigga" (as evidenced on "How Does It Feel?") or a crooner. If schizophrenia was the only problem with the album then that would be okay. But for someone that has produced catchy, #1 smash hits, it seems that Pharrell couldn't keep some of his quality beats for himself. Perhaps we can attribute the blame to Williams, as his producing partner, Chad Hugo, is nowhere to be found on the album. Some tracks seem either half-finished or missing that extra "humph!" factor. Bridges seem that they still need to be reinforced before cars drive over them.
Case in point, "You Can Do It Too" starts with a nice, mellow jazzy sound with Pharrell proclaiming how anyone can make it with enough drive. However the bridge seems sloppy as Jamie Cullum's sudden appearance doesn't fit in with the arrangement. The same goes for the super-collaboration between himself and Kanye West, "Number One". It would be understatement to say that expectations for this track weren't high. The chorus is the track's only redeeming value, as we hear a lacklustre piano beat and too many Kanye adlibs during verses.
"How Does It Feel?" is perhaps Pharrell's best hip-hop track. As Williams brags about his best-dressed status among other things over an electronic horn section and fast-paced drum programming to help fuel the frantic pace of the track.
The highlight of the entire album is the second half to "Young Girl", "I Really Love You". IRLY sounds what most listeners expected when we heard that Pharrell was going to release a solo album -- crooner extraordinaire, Mayfield-esque falsetto, and catchy hooks. The bridge itself for IRLY is enough to sustain old-school Neptunes lovers with its throwback to Stevie Wonder.
Upcoming single, "Baby" featuring Nelly sounds like Pharrell is channelling Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl". It's dirty and gritty with its sleazy guitar, staccato-induced drumline, and 80s synth-powered hook. Pharrell is at his best when he is serenading or seducing girls -- either as a player or a romantic -- which is why this track works.
In the end, perhaps if "Skateboard P" spent more time perfecting this record instead of dividing his time to his non-musical side projects -- clothing lines, BBC and Ice Cream, we might have a more-concentrated effort. If you look at it on paper, "In My Mind" should be a hit -- collaborations with Stefani, Slim Thugg, Snoop, Jay-Z, Nelly, Kanye and production by one-half of the Neptunes! -- however, Pharrell's mind seems to be his own worst enemy.