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posted: 3/12/2014 6:00 AM

Hitmaker Pharrell selects his producing faves

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  • Pharrell Williams, seen here performing at The Night that Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles, just released his sophomore solo album, "G I R L," which features the Oscar-nominated hit, "Happy."

      Pharrell Williams, seen here performing at The Night that Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles, just released his sophomore solo album, "G I R L," which features the Oscar-nominated hit, "Happy."
    Associated Press

  • Pharrell Williams' favorite producing collaborations include his work with Usher and Daft Punk.

      Pharrell Williams' favorite producing collaborations include his work with Usher and Daft Punk.
    Associated Press

 
By Mesfin Fekadu
Associated Press

Who hasn't Pharrell produced for?

The hitmaker's Rolodex includes pop heavyweights from Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake, maestros like Hans Zimmer and Heitor Pereira, and wild cards such as Daft Punk and Scissor Sisters.

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The 40-year-old said his diverse background heavily aided in the making of "G I R L," his funky new album released last week.

"I wanted to work with all cultures and all kinds of people so it could teach me more about my own craft," said Pharrell, who has produced songs on his own, but many as part of the Neptunes with Chad Hugo. "All of the artists we were blessed to work with that didn't look like us, that didn't sound like us or didn't dance like us, all of that was the very reason I was able to make this album."

Pharrell won nonclassical producer of the year at the Grammy Awards in January, thanks to his work on Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." And now he's back on top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Happy," which was nominated for an Academy Award.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Pharrell breaks down his favorite five songs he's produced. We also have him weigh in on our Phavorites.

Pharrell's picks:


• Usher, "U Don't Have to Call" from "8701" (2001): Solely written by Pharrell, "U Don't Have to Call" was another hit in Usher's epic run as pop's leading man in the early 2000s. "He's just a maestro ... his voice is unmatched ... he supersedes what most people think he can do," Pharrell said. "I just love when we're able to do colorful black music. There's nothing like that. I love all kinds of music and all genres, but obviously just colorful black music is a good feeling for me personally ... We were even able to squeeze in two bridges, which is a rarity for pop radio."

Jay Z featuring Pharrell, "So Ambitious" from "The Blueprint 3" (2009): Pharrell's first success with Jay Z came when "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" burst on the scene in 2000, and since the two have collaborated nonstop. "He just continues to get better -- it's like fine wine," Pharrell said of the rap veteran. "He's something else. When you talk to him, you see purple. He's wisdom."

• Pharrell featuring Daft Punk, "Gust of Wind" from "G I R L" (2014): Pharrell says creating "Gust of Wind" was like designing a room in your house where some of the accent pieces don't quite fit. So robots came to the rescue. "A song tells you what it needs, where it goes, or what melody is missing, or if there could be more ... with 'Gust of Wind,' it felt good and I loved the song, but I was like, 'Man, you know, this just feels perfect for the robots to get on the chorus and harmonize with me,'" he said. "I played it for them and instantly, you know, they're robots and they just got right to it. There was no lag time."

• Missy Elliott, "On & On" from "The Cookbook" (2005): "That's one of my favorite hip-hop beats I've done of all-time because it's so unorthodox," Pharrell said. "It's Missy, so you're working with a person that's genius. She morphs into anything. Her spirit is super-colorful and larger than life. And she knows how to tap into another zone."

• N.E.R.D., "Life As a Fish" and "Inside of Clouds" from "Nothing" (2010): "That was an ode to awareness and the value of awareness," he said of the reflective groove "Life As a Fish." He adds that "Inside of Clouds" is about "the appreciation for water and what it means to our own biosphere."

AP's picks:


• Britney Spears, "I'm a Slave 4 U" from "Britney" (2001): Thanks to knowing Jay Z, Pharrell met Justin Timberlake. Thanks to Timberlake being a great boyfriend, Pharrell met Britney Spears, and "I'm a Slave 4 U" was born. "Jay Z introduced me to him (at a club) in New York. He was there with a couple guys from N'Sync and Jay was like, 'You have to meet this guy Justin Timberlake from N'Sync.' I was like, 'Oh, OK, cool.' Jay was like, 'Y'all need to work together.' And I was like, 'Yeah. Sure.' So we met up and we did 'Girlfriend' and funny thing is the song's called 'Girlfriend' and Justin's like, 'I want you to work with my girl' and I was like, 'All right, cool,'" Pharrell explained. "So he set it up and we did like two songs. You know, we thought it was interesting, but I remember people going, 'Oh you shouldn't do that. You shouldn't work with people in pop.' And I was like, 'Man, we have to have way more vision than that and we have to be open to ... other types of creativity and what that may bring ... If you're just closed-minded and you think categorical all the time, then you're going to be a categorical producer and I didn't want to do that."

Beyoncé, "Blow" from "Beyoncé" (2013): Pharrell says while Beyoncé gives 2,000 percent, others can barely give 90. "Sis is like another level, dude. She is like a freak of nature. She's such a perfectionist," said Pharrell, who produced the upbeat jam from Beyoncé's surprise album, which is sexually charged, much like Bey's "Kitty Kat" from "B'Day," a song Pharrell also worked on.

• Mase featuring Puff Daddy, "Lookin' at Me" from "Harlem World" (1997): Pharrell was still establishing himself, so when he and Hugo came up with "Lookin at You," a Top 10 pop hit, he originally sang on the song. "And I was on (the hook) first, but Puff was like, 'No, no,'" he recalled. But getting a chance to produce for the premier Bad Boy label was a lifetime dream for young Pharrell. "Puff is still one of my heroes. And Mase -- he had the golden voice, and no one was touching that. And to allow us to go in and do a track with them, it was like, 'Man, thank you, Puff, and thank you, Mase.' And I was hoping that we could have got with Biggie, but we never got a chance to, but it was still like a moment for us because those were our heroes."

• Ray J featuring Lil Kim and Pharrell, "Wait a Minute" from "This Ain't a Game" (2001): Before Kim Kardashian, Ray J was a singer on the rise, sort of. The Neptunes produced some of his second album, which included the addictive hit "Wait a Minute." "We just wanted to make something different and something that felt different," Pharrell said. "I was just glad the folks wanted to go there. It's awesome when the people want to go there. It feels like there's a shift right now in music, you know. There's so many really good and brave artists taking chances."

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