It’s always interesting to revisit the early work of artists who are now considered legends in their fields. It’s not just about the nostalgia, although that’s a big part of the attraction, but it’s also fun to see the artist’s growth (or lack of growth). On this day in 2006, visionary Pharrell Williams’ solo album, In My Mind, was released and we’re taking a hard look back.
In the era of hip hop Internet forums, Imeem playlists, message boards and Myspace URLs, the Virginia producer was considered a beacon of individuality and creative expression. As one half of the genre-bending production duo The Neptunes and one-third of Rap/Rock/Whatever else they wanted to make band N*E*R*D, the man affectionately known as “Skateboard P” was the embodiment of “cool” for a generation learning that their interests could stretch beyond whatever they were expected to like. But before the release of In My Mind, fans were used to Williams’ work with his production partner Chad Hugo and fellow bandmate Shay Haley in the form of two N*E*R*D albums (In Search Of…, Fly Or Die), a collaborative album (The Neptunes Present…Clones), and chart-topping hit after chart-topping hit. And although Williams struck gold with his 2003 single “Frontin'” with Jay-Z, many didn’t consider that Williams would have success doubling as an actual artist.
In My Mind received mixed reviews from critics upon its release, further promoting the notion that Williams should stick to production. The album’s single, “Can I Have It Like That,” featuring frequent collaborator Gwen Stefani, peaked at #49 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and sold substantially better in Europe than in the U.S. Even Williams himself offered criticism of the album and the state of mind he was in while creating it, saying, it had “no purpose,” in a 2014 GQ article. “I wrote those songs out of ego,” Williams continued.
Talking about the money I was making and the by-products of living that lifestyle. What was good about that? What’d you get out of it? I was so under the wrong impression at that time.
But to dismiss the album as quickly as the press (and Williams himself) did would be a great disservice to the body of work and the impact it did have on its listeners. Sure, the album didn’t have anything on par with “Happy” (the 2014 über smash that became a movement in itself and still sees Pharrell getting placements today), but it does have “Best Friend,” the emotional outpouring of self-help that shows Williams acknowledging painful losses in his life. It may not have a hit like “Get Lucky,” but it did have “Young Girl/I Really Like You,” which featured a verse from Jay-Z that many believe references his early infatuation with Beyoncé. And maybe the album didn’t have a cut with the power of “Blurred Lines,” but it featured “Our Father,” Williams declaration of his faith in a Higher Being as the reason for his success.
Although the songs on In My Mind came from an self-admitted egotistically-driven place, they serve as an important entry to the brilliant musical workings of Pharrell Williams. Yes, it may not have been the blockbuster smash that his team desired, but it was a turning point in Williams’ career. He’d go on to release a second solo album, G I R L, featuring the infectious lead single “Happy.” The song sold over 13.9 million units and become one of the best selling singles of all time, garnering four Grammy Awards in 2015.
Counting all of the individual achievements, accomplishments and milestones Williams has achieved in the 11 years since In My Mind‘s release, it’s easy to see that his career took a giant leap once he stepped out on his own. Williams hustled and pushed through a faulty first step to find his way to the top. He just may be the coolest nerd on the planet.