8 Times You Didn’t Know You Were Listening to Pharrell
By Courtney E. Smith
In this universe, there are plenty of hit tracks you know Pharrell had a hand in: Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Jay Z’s “Change Clothes,” Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” All of Ma$e’s smash debut Harlem World. Both of 2013’s songs of the summer, Robin Thick’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
But what about the hits you didn’t realize came from the DNA of Pharrell? Tracks he only had fingerprints on, but perhaps didn’t build from the ground up? Tracks he kept on the down-low? The ones that just slipped through the cracks?
We’re happy to present to you the eight tracks you may or may not have realized had a little Pharrell sprinkled on them.
1. Wreckx-N-Effects “Rump Shaker” – 1992
Don’t get it twisted: this was not a Neptunes production. Teddy Riley and Ty Fyffe twiddled the knobs on this early ’90s R&B smash hit. But Pharrell does have a credit on the song. Several people have incorrectly identified his fingerprints as the sax solo, but Fyffe cleared it up to Rolling Stone, telling them, “A lot of people got credit…shouts out to Pharrell; he was down with the camp back in the day. But he really didn’t produce ‘Rumpshaker.’ No disrespect; Pharrell’s a genius…But he only wrote Ted’s rap.”
Only wrote Ted’s rap! You mean the legendary second verse that starts off, “Yup yup it’s Teddy, ready with the one-two checker/Wreckx-N-Effect is in effects but I’m the wrecker” and ends with a series of stump delivery lines capped off with the whole crew going “UH!” into the mic? Yeah, no big deal in a mind-blowing, proto-Pharrell way. And that was Pharrell’s first proper credit on a song.
2. Blackstreet f/ SWV and Craig Mack “Tonight’s The Night” – 1994
Way back in the mid ’90s, when Pharrell and Chad Hugo were in Teddy Riley’s camp but not yet The Neptunes, they worked on this super-star track. They’d be all over SWV’s first two albums as well before they’d land that breaker spot producing on Ma$e’s Harlem World, but this particular New Jack Swing single was one of the first big looks for the duo and an album Pharrell cut his production teeth working on. Note that the track samples Isaac Hayes’s “A Few More Kisses to Go” — even then and with non-original source material that Pharrell/Neptunes space-age sounding production was coming into play.
3. Ol’ Dirty Bastard feat. Kelis “Got Your Money” – 1999
Things would absolutely blow up for the Neptunes by 2000. In the next five years they’d work on hit tracks with Jay Z, No Doubt, Britney Spears, NSYNC, Usher, Nelly and Justin Timberlake among many others. And they’d release their first album as N.E.R.D. But the thing that kicked it off was this ODB track. It was Big Baby Jesus’s biggest forray into mainstream pop culture since his memorable verse on Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” back in 1995. The work he did with Pharrell & Chad Hugo made everyone want him, even though he was a handful. And this track put the guys in touch with Kelis, who sung backing vocals on it. They’d go on to produce several of her albums, including the break out debut and it’s very memorable lead single “Caught Out There.”
4. Snoop Dogg “Deez Nutz (Get Off)” – 2004
Sorry that was a bait ‘n’ switch. No, we are not referring to the unforgettable sketch from Dr. Dre’s landmark debut The Chronic. How old do you think Pharrell is, anyway? When Snoop teamed up with the Neptunes for his comeback album The Masterpiece there were some unreleased tracks, including this remake/remodel version of the old skit. Listen closely for Pharrell’s signature croon of “deeeeeeeeeez nuts” in the background, upping the sexiness of the silliness.
5. Vanessa Carlton “Who’s To Say” – 2004
Speaking of backing vocals and stuff Pharrell did in 2004, did you know he hooked up with Vanessa Carlton on this track from her album Harmonium? The track was never released as a single and, frankly, producer (and at-the-time Carlton boyfriend) Stephan Jenkins puts him pretty far back in the mix. No one would blame you for not knowing you were listening to Pharrell on this one. The album also featured collaborations with Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. It was the follow-up to her debut album with the ultra-successful single, “1000 Miles,” but even a little help from Pharrell and two rock legacy artists help didn’t stop this one from tanking.
6. Beyoncé “Green Light” – 2006
Everybody knows that The Neptunes handled production duties on Beyoncé’s first ever solo track, “Work It Out,” from the Austin Powers in Goldmember soundtrack in 2002. And while they didn’t have a finger in her debut solo album, the production team did some audio engineer work on B’Day, including the Pharrell written single “Green Light” and album track “Kitty Kat.”
7. Chelsea Lately’s Theme and Bumper Music – 2012-2014
It’s a sound you’ll be hearing for the last time on August 26, when Chelesa Handler leaves her long-running E! talk show for the greener pastures of a new talk show on Netflix. BUT! When Handler got a new studio she also got a new theme song and bumper music composed by Pharrell. That’s a solid two years of listening to Pharrell every time you saw a promo, channel surfed to the show or watched a highlight clip online. And you didn’t even remember it happened.
8. Paloma Faith “Can’t Rely on You” – 2014
In 2013 and 2014, Pharrell was ubiquitous. He was “Happy,” he “Blurred Lines” and he won GRAMMYs for “Get Lucky.” One piece of his proficient work you might have missed, however, is the track “Can’t Rely on You” from British blue-eyed-soul singer and walking art project Paloma Faith. Apparently the collaboration happened because Pharrell is a fan. The Official Charts Company reports, “The pair…met at New York’s Metropolitan Museum with Pharrell approaching Paloma singing her 2009 Top 20 hit, ‘New York.’ He then took her phone, punched his number in and told her, ‘I’m ready to work.'”