The song that made Pharrell Williams start making music
(Credit: Frank Schwichtenberg)

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The song that made Pharrell Williams start making music

Pharrell Williams has had a stellar career in music and has been a mainstay as a producer since the turn of the millennium. The producer who rose to fame as part of The Neptunes alongside Chad Hugo is also a rapper, songwriter, and entrepreneur who has helped many artists get onto the charts. The beatmaker’s unique sound and beautifully simplistic sonics captivated listeners, and with songs such as ‘Milkshake’ shaking up the charts, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Born and raised in Virginia Beach, the tycoon is one of the wealthiest men to come out of hip-hop. Akin to Kanye West and Timbaland, Pharrell will forever be remembered as a super-producer who shifted the culture and moved it forward. Alongside Chad Hugo by 2003, Williams was the brains behind 43% of songs on US radio, and he has dominated ever since.  Although fans do know a little bit about Williams’ life before music and how he met his partner in crime, Chad Hugo, not many are aware of what he listened to growing up.

In a 2010 sit-down interview with The Guardian, Williams opened up about his world and musical experiences before his stardom. When asked about what his earliest musical memory was the producer revealed he was exposed to a lot of Earth, Wind and Fire stating, “I was raised on Earth, Wind and Fire. ‘Can’t Hide Love’ (from the LP Gratitude) was the first record that influenced my life. My mom and dad used to play this song a lot when I was a kid. That song changed me as a kid. I think that’s what made me a singer. In fact, Earth, Wind and Fire are probably what made me, full stop – that’s baby-making music, man!”

Williams proceeded to unveil that he used to be a breakdancer before he got into skateboarding. Continuing on from this, the musician revealed that his number one b-boy jam was ‘Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force. Detailing how the track impacted him Williams declared, “This record changed my life. It was a phenomenon. The whole neighbourhood was playing it on boomboxes. I didn’t understand what the hell it was. It was like some space sh*t. Then, just after ‘Planet Rock’, there was Run-DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’. Those two records were incredible. And Art of Noise. I was a breakdancer back then. I didn’t know I was going to be a musician at that stage.”

However, one of the most interesting facts that the Virginia native disclosed was the track that inspired him to start making music. In an assured fashion, the mogul cited Tribe Called Quest as the group that made him begin producing. In particular, their 1990 single, ‘Bonita Applebum.’ Williams explained how the track entranced him: “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!’”

Williams 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!” You can listen to ‘Bonita Applebum’ in the video below.