PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Pharrell: In My Mind

Pharrell has in the past few years endeavored to pitch himself as an average schmoe, a N*E*R*D, a guy just like you n' golly gosh me -- he goes far enough to include in the tray art a pint-size pixilated version of himself reporting: "Wealth is of the heart and mind, not of the pocket."


In My Mind

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2006-07-25
UK Release Date: 2006-07-24

When an artist pushes the release of his record back and back and back again, the implicit pre-verdict is that it's probably a steaming pile of monkey poop, or else it would have been natural and organic and expeditious and out already. Constant, publicized delays have the same net effect as a studio failing to pre-screen a film for critics: Just hold your nose, put the damn thing out and be done with it. (Two words: Chinese F*#!ing Democracy, and frankly I'm not holding my breath about OutKast either).

Take Skateboard P. Pharrell Williams' solo debut, originally scheduled for release in 1948, has been subject to more delays than the year's first snowstorm night at O'Hare; as recently as last week the diminutive Neptune told Billboard of the street-date shuffle: "I was being super artistic, and I wasn't listening to anybody. I really didn't give Interscope a chance to catch up with me in terms of promotion."

OK, fine. Or, what might have happened is that Pharrell was given more money than God and a blank calendar, and spent his sweet time coming up with what proves to be the aural equivalent of one of those giant-budget explosionpaloozas by, say, Michael Bay. In one sense, In My Mind quite literally represents the alignment of some of the best hip-hop talent money can buy (Gwen! Jay-Z! Kanye! Production by Pharrell Williams!). In another, more accurate sense, it's unfocused, overwrought and ultimately kind of boring.

That first issue is the most pressing one. Among the myriad problems of "In My Mind" is Pharrell's fairly evident identity crisis. Putting aside the fact that he's taken to billing himself for some reason as Skateboard P, who no doubt shares a homeroom table with Chris Gaines, Pharrell has in the past few years endeavored to pitch himself as an average schmoe, a N*E*R*D, a guy just like you n' golly gosh me -- he goes far enough to include in the tray art a pint-size pixilated version of himself reporting: "Wealth is of the heart and mind, not of the pocket." His track record, of course, makes such a proclamation fairly hilarious; it's not like one regularly works with Snoop Dogg to explore the troubled complexity of the human condition. Besides, the strict parameters of the brand of hip-hop that Pharrell has invested himself in -- that would be the blingy, club-worthy, look-at-me kind -- demands he at least spend part of his time reporting how cool he is, while also contributing tracks like the go-get-'em-tiger anthem "You Can Do It Too". So, what you've got is the nerd who sits with the football players at the lunch table trying to convince his RPG buddies and the ladies he's still down with them too.

That's a small taste of the problems with Pharrell's Mind. The rest are that it's in desperate need of connecting tissue and beset by the sense that Pharrell's driving all over the road while twiddling with the stereo. Pharrell understandably wants to pack this proper debut with as many of the myriad ideas he's come up with in the past few years while working on tracks with every rapper on the planet. But he quickly falls into the solo-debut beartrap of trying to jam as many styles, ideas, thoughts, and lunges for artistic invulnerability as possible; he tries to be the walking connection between man and mixtape. Yes, he can do hip-hop and yes, he can take a swing at R&B -- we know this. We want him to do it well, do it better than he's done it before, as opposed to shovel large helpings of it down our throats.

There are a few cases where he does do it better than before. "Raspy Shit" bangs perfectly along on a great effect and a riff on that line from "Drop It Like It's Hot" and stands among his best beats. "Show You How to Hustle," which is "presented" by Skateboard P for reasons that will never cease to befuddle me, is a similar hip-hop call-to-arms that illustrated Pharrell's ability to balance inventiveness with banging beats, and how much better he is when he's not overthinking it. There's a strong diversity to them, too -- some disco, some '70s horns, some minimalist bang -- that's all part of that bring-the-house vibe that permeates the whole thing.

But as a lyricist, Pharrell is a quite a producer. Skateboard has cleaned out the address book for his cameos -- Jay-Z shows up, as do Nelly, Snoop, Kanye, Slim Thug and, er Jamie Cullum -- but each has the unfortunate effect of throwing a spotlight on their host's shortcomings (especially Kanye, who in the otherwise forgettable "Number One" drops this gem: "Now we fresh as a prince while they're Jazzy Jeff."). As for his detours into synthetic loverman R&B -- people, this man cannot sing! "Angel" proves a featherweight enough bedroom snoozer to not really register; "Young Girl", the track with Jay-Z, piles cliché upon cliché, and "Take It Off" sounds truly like something you'd hear at center court at a mall. It's not that they show a lack of expertise; it's that they show a lack of hook, or melody, or catchy anything.

In My Mind ends up being an argument for setting a deadline and sticking with it, for walking out of the door at night, for leaving something on the cutting room floor. It's an ambitious mess, but it's a mess. And it boils quite simply down to a case of -- someone should really cut this out and paste it in every hip-hop studio on the planet -- less is more.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.