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Top 10 Pharrell Williams songs featuring the artist as lead vocalist



OPINION: In celebration of Pharrell Williams’ 50th birthday, theGrio counts down his 10 best songs as the featured singer or rapper.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Pharrell Williams has been one of the most prolific forces in music for nearly three decades. Forming the songwriting-production duo The Neptunes with Chad Hugo, Williams has crafted hit after hit like En Vogue’s “Use Your Heart,” Britney Spears’ “Slave 4 U” and Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like it’s Hot.” 

While Williams has amassed legendary status as a producer (whether with Hugo or on his own), he has also become one of the most recognizable vocalists during his reign, singing hooks on songs like The Clipse’s “When the Last Time,” Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Azz” and Busta Rhymes’ “Pass the Courvoisier.” 

Over the years, Williams has come into his own as an artist, first as the frontman of the trio, N.E.R.D., and as a solo act. TheGrio lists the Top 10 Williams songs featuring him as the lead artist.

10. “Come Get It Bae (solo)

In 2013, Williams reached a new peak as a performer with the success of “Happy,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” The following year, he capitalized on that wave with his second solo album, “GIRL.” Featuring pop/R&B hybrids like “Gush,” “Brand New” and “Come Get It Bae” with Miley Cyrus, it was a rhythmic anomaly that drove people to the dance floor. 

9. “That Girl” (solo)

After two N.E.R.D. albums and writing several hits for others with Hugo, Williams took the inevitable leap to fly on his own. In 2006, he released his debut solo album, “In My Mind.” The album contained much hip-hop-inspired braggadocio and bravado, but the standout was “That Girl.” The combination of Charlie Wilson and Snoop Dogg on this mid-tempo jam proved bewitching.

8. “Rock Star – Poser” (N.E.R.D.)

As Williams and Hugo continued to build their reputation as hitmaking producers and songwriters, they decided to make a statement as recording artists. “Rock Star — Poser” from their group N.E.R.D.’s debut album, “In Search of…,” showed the world that there was more to Williams and crew than just R&B and hip-hop. The song had a lumbering punk feel, especially in its hook, “It’s almost over now.”

7. “Everybody Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)” (N.E.R.D.)

Williams returned with Hugo and Shay to make another N.E.R.D. album in 2008. Williams titled it “Seeing Sounds” as a homage to synesthesia. The first single, “Everybody Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom),” is a frantic, sparse club banger that comments on underground drug culture.

6. “She Wants to Move” (N.E.R.D.)

N.E.R.D.’s “In Search Of…” album indicated that Williams had charisma as a performer and frontman. For their next project, 2004’s “Fly or Die,” Williams and Hugo increased their production and orchestration abilities. This is evident on the album’s first single, “She Wants to Move,” a tune with a driving bassline, a rumbling live drum pattern and searing electric guitar flourishes. 

5. “Sooner or Later” (N.E.R.D.)

On N.E.R.D.’s “Seeing Sounds,” Williams and Hugo continued to push the envelope as a group. It allowed them to experiment in ways their production-for-hire assignment couldn’t. With that, the crown jewel on “Seeing Sounds” is “Sooner or Later,” a dynamic, cautionary tale that goes from quiet, contemplative moments in the verses to an explosive musical attack during the hook and outro.

4. “Get Lucky” (with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers)

Daft Punk was working on its magnum opus and eventual swan song album, “Random Access Memories.” Group members contacted Williams to help contribute material to the album in collaboration with Chic co-founder and guitarist Nile Rodgers. Together, they crafted two songs, “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky.” The latter, an infectious combination of pop, disco and funk, would become one of 2013’s biggest hits.

3. “Lapdance” (N.E.R.D.)

By 2002, Williams had sung hooks on hits he penned with Hugo for acts like Mystical and Jay-Z. When it came time to establish himself as a lead artist, he did so with N.E.R.D. in the form of “Lapdance.” It had that recognizable Neptune sound, but it was more sinister, as he used the lyrics as an allegory for the shadiness of government officials and politicians.

2. “Happy” (solo)

In 2010, Williams was selected to compose the score for the animated film, “Despicable Me.” Three years later, he returned for its sequel, “Despicable Me 2.” For the soundtrack, he originally crafted “Happy” as a song for singer Cee-Lo Green. Because of record label politics, Green could not appear on the soundtrack, leaving Williams to sing the song himself. It proved to be a blessing in disguise, becoming a Grammy-winning smash and his biggest hit to date as a solo artist. 

1. “Frontin’” (solo)

After five years of radio dominance, Williams and Hugo were ready to flex their powers on wax. In 2003, they dropped the compilation album, “The Neptunes Presents… Clones.” The project featured artists like Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg and Ludacris, but the song that stood out was Williams’ “Frontin’,” featuring Jay-Z. Written initially with Prince in mind, according to Williams, it is Williams’ signature song as a solo artist.

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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