DJ Drama and Pharrell
In My Mind: The Prequel
he shift from geeky Prince-germinated bass-lines and falsetto hooks to plain-spoken, emotionless, rich-boy malaise rapping—“Me and a few shorties / Landing on a tarmac / Paris Hilton right before me”—makes Pharrell’s In My Mind: The Prequel in equal turns gratingly obnoxious, clearly unnecessary, and a dark omen for his long-delayed solo album, In My Mind.
Pharrell has long been the dandy boy-wonder of hip-hop’s melodies, and the whole selling point of In My Mind proper is to have maximum Neptunes goodness. But, in true mix-tape form, Pharrell leans on old melodic chestnuts (Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” Erik B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” and a shit-load of Wu-Tang).
Then he sputters through the dozen and a half tracks, reminding us that he’s one call away from the CEO’s at Vuitton, Prada et al. His preoccupation with his childhood obsession with conscious rap is on easy display; Williams seems to think emotional depth is talking about being a nerd for two bars from an otherwise-gilded birdcage.
That or he’s blandly violent and a bit blunt in constructing his new “bad-ass” persona: “Killin’ niggaz at fifteen / Cool as a fan.” It’s a rip-off line, but more importantly it’s horribly done, delivered with no urgency, tone, or involvement. There’s no attempt at shape or flow—lines just spill from his mouth like dry sand. When Pharrell is at his best (“Frontin,” “Shake Ya Ass”), he’s rude and boyish in the same breath. On Prequel he just sounds like a pest.
?uestlove made a trenchant point in an interview recently: personality means everything in contemporary rap. He isn’t completely right. It’s both talent and personality and it’s got nothing to do with rap. Audiences have been fascinated with people-as-artists since artists started making their personal lives a part of the art itself (Plath, Ginsberg, Pollock, Simone, Scarface, Jay-Z). Here, Pharrell’s down on both counts. There are no Neptunes beats—only out-of-his league samples and a consistent overloading of syllables and garbled words during verses. Personality tanks, too: now just another disagreeable vaudeville act and “superstar” producer, Pharrell veers off into the self-indulgent stage show right when he’s supposed to be pulling us in for a trip into that precocious Mind of his.