How A Tribe Called Quest made Pharrell Williams start making music
(Credit: Frank Schwichtenberg)

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How A Tribe Called Quest made Pharrell Williams start making music

Pharrell Williams’ production has given the world so much. He’s worked with everyone from ODB to Jay-Z, is one-third of N.E.R.D. However, his journey wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for A Tribe Called Quest.

When Williams was in seventh grade, he met Chad Hugo. Together the duo would later form production duo The Neptunes and N.E.R.D. They bonded over their shared taste in music, with both of them attending a summer band camp. However, they were yet to experiment with hip-hop, with Pharrell, a drummer, while Hugo played the saxophone. It would be a few more years before they finally started making original music of their own,

1990 was the year that everything changed for Pharrell. He was at the formative age of 17, and A Tribe Called Quest had just released their debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Specifically, the lead single, ‘Bonita Applebum’, caused Williams to have a musical epiphany. From that day on, he has been one-track minded, and it paid off royally.

“‘Bonita Applebum’ was the first single from the album [People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm], and my friend in Virginia got hold of a copy of it,” he told The Guardian in 2010. “I was so amazed by that record that I lost my mind. I didn’t know what it was, I was like, ‘Oh my god!’.

“I played it day in, day out. Every girl I dated had to listen to it over and over late at night and we had to have nightly discussions about it. We needed to talk about how it took us to other worlds. Those girls are all probably laughing right now, thinking: ‘Damn, he was a musician, but didn’t know it!'”

Pharrell continued, “That’s why we had to do all that dumb shit and talk about it all night! Because I’d be like, ‘You have to listen to this! If you don’t listen to this, we’re finished!’. After ‘Bonita Applebum’ I went to the other side, and started making music rather than just listening.”

Ever since making that voyage to the other side, Pharrell has never looked back. Although collaborating with A Tribe Called Quest has always escaped him, Williams enjoyed the next best thing.

After it became public knowledge that ‘Bonita Applebum’ had a life-affirming impact on him, ATCQ asked him to remix it. Of course, Pharrell obliged. On his 2015 reimagination, Pharrell put everything he’s learnt since hearing the original to good use in his creation.