Beards, Blazers & Glasses or Will Someone Please Make Pharrell Retire From the Stage?
There are two kinds of legitimate artists. There are the all-time-greats capable of sustaining brilliance over a prolonged period of time. Such artists are led, not by the caprices of popular culture, but by their own innate artistic compass. Neil Young and Bob Dylan are perfect examples of such a genius, as they've transformed themselves again and again, not out of any sense of gimmickry, but out of true artistic evolution. The second type of artists are those who are blessed with a slim window of brilliance. During this window of brilliance, the musicians in question often blow up and become icons. This is usually the point when the wheels start to come off. For the duration of their careers, they are able to easily capitalize on their tremendous fame, but have nothing left to say or contribute. Their careers typically drift rudderless, lacking all sense of urgency and immediacy. Perry Farrell is this type of artist. Weezer also fits this bill, as does Oasis. And certainly, so does Pharrell.
From 1997-2001, it's tough to argue that there were many better producers in hip-hop than the Neptunes. Starting with Mase's "Lookin' At Me," their spaceship synths, futuristic snares and kick-the-door-down drums sounded like nothing hip-hop had ever heard. Over the next four years, The Neptunes dropped a flurry of classic beats: Jay-Z's "The City is Mine," and "I Just Wanna' Luv U," Noreaga's "Superthug," Ol Dirty Bastard's "Recognize" and "Got Your Money," Guru's "All I Said," Ludacris' "Southern Hospitality," Mystikal's "Shake Ya' Ass" and "Danger," Jadakiss' "Knock Yourself Out," and Tha Liks "Best You Can."
It's not hard to pinpoint the end of this era, as it arrived on August 6th 2001, when the Neptunes dropped their N.E.R.D. album, making the pair bonafide superstars. Cue the precipitious decline. After the release of the NERD album, the Neptunes started making beats for artists as lame as Ray J, N' Sync, Britney Spears, L'il Bow Wow, Nelly and Papa Roach. Sure, occasionally, the duo would make a good beat (usually for the Clipse) but for the most part, the Neptunes were just doing tired re-hashes of the sound that had made them famous. In short, they proved the rule that those who can't adapt are forced to die.
Even Pharrell had to Make the Gas Face After Listening to His Solo Album
Oh, but that rule has little bearing in the world of popular culture and Pharrell has been able to coast for years on the goodwill he built up half a decade ago. Despite having exhausted the limited permuations of extraterrestrial beats that they could cook up and even less to say lyrically, Pharrell launched a solo album, In My Mind that even the Pharrell apologists couldn't make excuses for. In short, it was a disaster of Hindenburg proportion.
But apparently no one told that to the promotors of the Samsung Blackjack party held at the Boulevard 3 nightclub on Monday, who booked Pharrell to entertain the very not-hip-hop crowd of celebrities, the people who love them and the people who smirked condescendingly in the corner at this toxic Hollywood cesspool (e.g. myself). Trust me, if you didn't like his solo jaunt, it looked brilliant in comparison to his live show.
In Pharrell's defense, he was playing a party, the majority of whom think the epitome of good hip-hop is Will Smith's Big Willie Style album. (Gettin' Jiggy with It anyone?) However, the performance was mailed in even by those standards. With eyes blood-shot red and squinting, a very stoned looking Pharrell took the mic and immediately asked the crowd who was "fucked up?" The crowd, filled mostly with dim-bulb barbies in high heels and the men who love them, went crazy. Figures.
Please God, I Don't Ask You for Much...But Please Please Please Lemme Make Another Good Song AgainPharrell then lit into two or three songs from In My Mind. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you which ones. After giving that CD a cursory listening, I immediately deleted it from my computer, ran away screaming and bathed my ears in arsenic. It was fun. Pharrell's live persona basically consisted of nothing more than standing arrogantly on-stage, face permanently cocked in an "I'm Better Than You" sneer and the occasional stoned holler to the audience. In person, his reedy falsetto sounded frail, as he hit all the high notes, but sounded off-kilter and disoriented.
But the most amazing part of the performance wasn't that he somehow managed to make his In My Mind even worse than it sounded on wax. No, the amazing thing was that after about three of four songs, Pharrell just started played tracks that he'd produced and danced along with them. Few things seemed more ridiculous than watching him try to pull off, "I Just Wanna' Luv U" without Jay-Z, "Shake Your Moneymaker" sans Ludacris, or "Drop It Like It's Hot" with Snoop Dogg nowhere in sight. The crowd didn't seem to know the difference though and continued braying like adulatory donkeys. It was all sorts of awful.
After about 30 minutes, I'd had enough and left. Some things are too much for even me. At that point, it wasn't even worth laughing at, it was just boring and validated what I've thought for some time: at 33 years of age Pharrell is washed up. Sure, he might contribute the occasional decent beat, but the man needs to take cues from Dr. Dre and stay behind the production console where he belongs. At least, in my mind.
Download These Songs From When The Neptunes Were Actually Good
Noreaga: "Superthug" from N.O.R.E. (left-click)
Ol' Dirty Bastard: "Recognize" from Nigga Please (left-click)
Head over to Information Leafblower for the 2006 edition of the Best 40 Bands in America (as voted on by bloggers). I was asked to be a part of the list and it features several of my quotes. The list was restricted to American bands, because you know all of us bloggers get xenophobic like that (not really). The list isn't neccesarily the 10 Best Bands in America but rather the 10 Best American Bands in 2006 alone. Therefore, bands that didn't release albums this year (Spoon, Wilco first and foremost in my mind) didn't rank as high as they probably will next year. The list was also intended to factor in how much a band toured and how good their live set was (this is why the Raconteurs ranked so high on my list). At any rate, if anyone was wondering my list was, here it is. Their actual Leafblower list ranking is in parentheses.
10. Voxtrot (20)
9. Comets on Fire (not ranked)
8. The Black Keys (not ranked)
7. Beirut (18)
6. Grizzly Bear (11)
5. The Decemberists (3)
4. The Raconteurs (not ranked)
3. My Morning Jacket (5)
2. Ghostface (4)
1. The Hold Steady (2)
If you still have time, I highly encourage everyone to check out 33 Jones and Dallas Penn's reviews of the Jay-Z album. 33 Jones gives an eloquent defense of Kingdom Come while Dallas' viewpoint effectively capsizes everything I could hope to have said and more. Both are excellent.
Lastly, Chuck Klosterman gave a great interview to the AV Club this week, reaffirming my faith in him after the slightly disappointing Klosterman IV.