Pharrell Williams rose from teenage prodigy to 13-time Grammy winner while establishing himself as one of the music industry’s most original and versatile figures. He was a member of the well-known production duo The Neptunes, as well as co-founding and singing lead vocals for the alt-rock/hip-hop band N.E.R.D. Nelly, Jay-Z, Britney Spears, Busta Rhymes, P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg, No Doubt, Usher, and Limp Bizkit are among the artists Williams has worked with.
He’s composed music and lyrics for films such as the animated Despicable Me and its sequels. His song “Happy,” written for Despicable Me 2, charted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks and was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song. “If it had been for my album, that song would never have been the same song,” he explained, “but because it was for an animation, the only thing I could do was put pure emotion into it—make a song for a man just walking down the street with pure happiness because he fell in love for the first time.” Time magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014.
Pharrell Williams was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on April 5, 1973, to parents Pharoah Williams and Caroline Randall Williams. According to Vanity Fair, his early influences included “hip-hop, hair band music, and grunge.”
He met saxophonist Chad Hugo at band camp as a percussionist for his high school band, and the two became friends through music, forming the Neptunes. Teddy Riley, a music producer, signed them, and the Neptunes eventually became a production team. They produced the song “Tonight’s the Night” for Blackstreet’s debut album in 1994.
N.E.R.D and production credits
Mary J. Blige‘s “Steal Away,” Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” were all produced by The Neptunes. In 2022, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. N.E.R.D was formed by Williams, Hugo, and drummer Shay Haley, and its first album, In Search Of…, was released in 2001, followed by Fly or Die (2004), Seeing Sounds (2008), and Nothing (2010). The band reformed in 2017 with the release of No One Ever Really Dies, an album that took a more political stance than their previous work.
Williams won a Grammy for producing Timberlake’s first solo album, Justified, in 2003. “When I decided to work on my first solo album in 2002, Pharrell was the first musician I spoke to,” Timberlake wrote in a tribute to Williams. I was 21 years old and ready to make my mark on the world. But I needed someone to assist me in translating what that something was. I knew he was that person from our first conversation… He gave me courage, which I’ve carried with me for the rest of my life.”
Williams won a Grammy in 2004 for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, and capped it off by playing drums at the Grammys with Sting, Dave Matthews, and Vince Gill in a cover tribute to the Beatles’ classic “I Saw Her Standing There.” He was named Billboard’s Producer of the Decade in 2010. Williams sang and co-wrote the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky,” which won the Grammy for best pop duo/group performance and Record of the Year in 2014.
He co-wrote and produced Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit song “Blurred Lines,” but a Los Angeles jury found the song infringed on the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” two years later. Gaye’s estate was awarded $7.3 million by the jury, which was later reduced to around $5 million.
Williams has also appeared on television and in films. Aside from his work on the Despicable Me films, he also contributed to the soundtrack for the 2014 film The Amazing Spider-Man 2. He received an Oscar nomination in 2017 for his work on the film Hidden Figures, which he co-produced. Williams narrated the 2018 animated film The Grinch and starred in the 2015 films Entourage and Pitch Perfect 2. He also served as a coach on “The Voice,” a reality television singing competition, from 2014 to 2016.
Williams wrote five songs for Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King. He and Hugo also co-wrote and co-produced the song “Letter to My Godfather” for Netflix’s The Black Godfather.
Fashion Icon and Other Work
Williams was named the world’s best-dressed man by Esquire in 2005, praising him for “injecting dressed-up luxury into hip-hop style.” He stated to the publication, “It’s all about ease and flow. It never matters if I’m the best-dressed guy in the room. ‘Oh, I’m killing em tonight!’ I never say. Things just need to fall into place naturally. Fashion is more about intuition than science.”
He co-founded the clothing lines Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream with Japanese music producer Nigo Williams.
Williams is also involved in the hospitality industry, owning Swan, a Miami indoor/outdoor restaurant, and the Goodtime Hotel in Miami Beach.
Williams launched Something in the Water, a multi-day music festival in his hometown of Virginia Beach, in 2019. (SITW). He relocated the event to Washington, D.C. in 2022 after becoming dissatisfied with the city of Virginia Beach’s response to the fatal shooting of his cousin, Donovan Lynch, by police in 2021. However, in November 2022, Williams announced that the festival would return to his hometown in 2023, explaining, “I need to come back home. Almost everyone agrees that the festival belongs in Virginia Beach, and the time has come to bring it back.”
Williams founded the nonprofit One Hand to Another in 2008 with the goal of providing underserved youth with the educational tools they need for future success.
Wife and children
Williams is married to Helen Lasichanh. They have four children, including triplets.