Tag Archives: The Neptunes

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake is an artist whose creative (as well as commercially success) has surprised me on some level. A Memphis native who came directly out of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club along with Brittney Spears (who he dated for a short time),Timerlake was the lead singer of N’Sync,who came to be the poster child for what a lot of art house rock music people hated about “manufactured boy bands” as they’d put it. My late paternal grandfather,however,agreed with me Timberlake-with his soulful voice and beat boxing,came at music with a very different attitude.

This very musical oriented ethic even my grandpa,a man never into youth culture of any kind,was confirmed in late 2002 when he made his solo debut Justified. Its an album I got into a decade after it came out. Coming out during a time when most pop albums were being made by one or two people and was focused mainly on vocals,Timberlake’s debut featured not only The Neptunes (featuring Pharell Williams) and Timbaland,but also 70’s/80’s session great Nathan East along with Harvey Mason Jr. There was one song on it that remains my personal favorite. Its called “Rock Your Body”.

This is one of those songs where the refrains and choruses are carried by Timberlake’s vocal call and responses with himself. Musically however,this basic groove is extremely funkified. The high pitched rhythm guitar-like Clavicord synthesizer and bass line are both playing the same 8 note pattern-on opposite ends of the scale. A pulsing synth expands in and out lightly in the back round. The choruses and refrains are separated by calculated breaks in the music. After a jazzier chorded bridge,the song fades out with the bass line,drum and Timberlake beat boxing the bass line building back into itself.

“Rock Your Body” is a masterful production,one of Pharrell’s strongest overall. First time I heard it,it reminded me of Michael Jackson. Turns out Pharell had originally recorded the track for inclusion on MJ’s 2001 album Invincible. The late Jackson apparently turned it down,so Timberlake got one of his first major solo hits with it instead. The song has a grinding,glittery post disco funk sound to it that was very atypical for a lot of pop music of the early aughts. The build,structure and especially the singled out beatboxing at the end showcased Justin Timberlake totally living up to the musical promise he always exhibited.

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Anatomy Of THE Groove for 5/1/2015: “Peaches ‘N Cream” by Snoop Dogg,Pharrell Williams and Charlie Wilson

A dozen years ago,Snoop Dogg’s career was revitalized by The Neptunes. Half of which is Pharrell Williams,now the modern day Quincy Jones (as producer) himself. This was on the song “Let’s Get Blown”,featuring guest singer “Uncle Charlie” Wilson himself-the original Gapper. Today Pharrell,withdrawn musically from The Neptunes is absolutely on fire as a funky hit making producer/musician in his own right. And having the same effect on Snoop and Charlie yet again on the new song “Peaches ‘N Cream”.

A rigid,insistent beat counts down the full body of the song. The chorus consists of a clean,bubbling mid to higher toned electric bass line backed by a looser and slower 4/4 beat,accented with the ringing percussion on the last bar of the that bass line. The refrain of the song,which showcases Snoop’s melodic singsong rap, adds in a wonderfully Nile Rodgers style rhythm guitar along with a very dreamy style 70’s jazz/funk high electric piano solo wash hugging the guitar like a musical pillow to a blanket.  This dynamic stretches in and out in variations as the melody and rhythm evolve as the song itself fades out.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this song is how musically elastic it is. On that level alone? It treats funk as a genre worthy of great respect and dignity. The main rhythmic thrust of it is very much out of the boogie/post disco late 70’s/early 80’s dance-funk kick that’s defined Pharell’s current productions. Also in classic P-Funk style? The danceable mean beat really concentrates ones attention on the Paulinho Da Costa like ringing percussion and other rhythmic accents. That harmonic element of jazziness that comes from the keyboard playing on this song helps expand out it’s funky elasticity.

The vocal arrangement is fantastic. It seems to melt Snoop,Charlie and perhaps Pharrell himself on a thick vocal chorus of male tenor funkiness. Charlie himself provides his typically thick (and in this case distant) call and response cries in the back round. Snoop Dogg is clearly keeping up with the playing sexuality that’s at the core of his lyricism. Only thing is? I’ve heard him do this so many times before,in exactly the same way. Snoops lyricism goes very much to the core of funk at it’s most lustful end. Just feel he sounds bored here-as if it’s become a bit of a formula. Nonetheless that cannot diminish the musical power and funky serenity this songs instrumental and vocal arrangement provides.

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Filed under 2015, Boogie Funk, Charlie Wilson, dance funk, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, Nile Rodgers, P-Funk, Pharrell Willaims, post disco, Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, The Neptunes

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/17/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Stressed Out” by Babyface

By the time the new millennium had officially arrived? Kenneth Babyface Edmunds found himself in a position of becoming nearly a total musical cliche’. His high,soft voice matched with coaxing lyrical insinuation and an instrumental preference for very soft adult contemporary pop ballads-quite often oriented around the acoustic guitar, gave the impression of an artist barely capable of expressing either yearning sexuality or vitality of character. Inwardly the man had a very different side however. So ‘Face rounded on than new producer Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes to showcase another side of his musical talent that,even from his days as a member of the 80’s boy band The Deele,had been rather subdued. This is showcased most heavily on the song “Stressed Out” from the 2000 album Face2Face.

After a whispered declaration of “make your dreams come true” from Babyface,a keyboard/guitar oriented melodic solo kicks in with a pulsing choir sound. This melody,backed up by a marching beat,comes to a refrain of these phrase that features a straight up funky…well either it’s a guitar or a synthesizer simulating one. Due to the technological progression of the time it’s hard to tell. This stop/start funkiness is basically the instrumental bed for Babyface’s vocals on this songs-which he delivers in both straight ahead and more dragging vocal drawls that accompany the harmonic flow of the song. Toward the end of the final refrain,there is a beautifully written Stevie Wonder-like chord progression before the last verse of the song.

This song is also a case where I feel it’s important to focus on the lyrical content of the song,and how Babyface’s vocals present them. As mentioned earlier, Babyface presented himself as a man who was willing to sacrifice his own confidence to secure a given romantic association. On this particular song? Not only is physical sex more then a little implied, but Babyface is telling the lady in his life (unsure if this was written with Tracy Edmunds in mind or not) that her own fears of intimacy and distant attitude can only really be successfully alleviated if she merely relaxes (as he tells her not to “stress out”) and simply allows herself to feel some sense of joy and life in the experience. So here,Babyface is a romantically uplifting and encouraging force rather than a merely submissive one.

Musically speaking this song is not merely about Babyface changing his own approach to his craft,but also part of the ever evolving sound of Pharrel’s production as part of The Neptunes. With the success of similar minded songs to this,in particular Nelly’s famous “Hot In Here”? The sound that The Neptunes were developing during the early aughts were to become the popular R&B/dance sound of that era-spawning a number of very half baked imitations of their sound in what became known as “contemporary R&B”. This was a very similar chain of events that occurred with Teddy Riley’s innovation of new jack swing over a decade before this. But on this song and others from the source of The Neptunes? The sound had a strong,uptempo groove travelling on a vital musical road. A road right into the rhythmic nucleus of funk. And for Babyface that was just what the metaphorical Dr.Funkenstein ordered!

 

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Filed under Babyface, Contemporary R&B, Funk, Pharrell Willaims, The Neptunes

Anatomy of THE Groove 9/19/14 Rique’s Pick: “Work it Out” by Beyonce

The Queen Bee’s solo debut, “Work it Out”, was a song for the soundtrack of the Austin Powers franchise’s ’70s film, “Austin Powers Goldmember.” On this funky delight, B performs somewhat in character, the movies heroine Foxxy Cleopatra, a Foxxy Brown/Cleopatra Jones mash up that represents the “bad ass soul sister” image of 1970s blaxploitation. But, I also suspect B’s alter ego “Sasha” was in the house as well with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo on the recording session for this one. “Work it Out” is brimming with soulful sexual confidence, with B telling her man, “we can’t wait for the bedroom, we just hit the floor.” I must admit, as a fledgling musican dying to drop the funk bomb, this joint had me kinda jelly in ’02. Skateboard P and Chad made some real true ’70s funk in 2002, and at the same time it was old school, it had the instrumental tone of the Neptunes space age funk as well.

“Work it Out” is an example of the Neptunes mastery at the song writing skill called “interpolation.” Of course, they’re being sued right now for doing the same thing on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” When I heard this song, I knew it was an arch funky riff but I couldn’t figure out where I’d heard similar. It was something about the combination of the heavy bassline that leaves space enough for God to walk through it and the rhythmically active Clavinet part. It just hit me recently: “Work it Out” is an interpolation of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 version of his song “Watermelon Man” from the “Headhunters” LP. Just dig on “Watermelon Man’s” intro. Heavy bass hitting on the one, and then jumping into the upper registers after that opening statement, with the clavinet dancing over and through the holes the bass leaves. For this song though, Pharrell and Chad make the clavinet line a little bit more repetitive and simpler, cutting it down to a one bar pattern. Of course, the interpolation is interesting because “Watermelon Man” in it’s Headhunters version was also a cut MC’s loved to rhyme over in the ’90s.

The Neptunes borrow that basic funky motif, just as a funk band would, and lay a unique track for B to show her ass performance wise over. The drum track is very heavy on snare drum, like a New Orleans beat, with very little kick drum, the kicks only thump on the upbeat leading into beat one and on beat one. On the chourus of “Work it Out”, a sax riffs behind B, which I thought was a corny synth sax sound at first but I can stomach more now. When B says, “Chad blow your horn now”, we get a taste of baritone sax, which gives the piece a James Brown vibe, reminiscent of the James Brown Orchestra (not the J.B’s), when the Baritone sax added to the bottom of the music.

B takes this funky track and goes off, singing super soulful melismas, and adding all kinds of soul ad libs, like “looka here.” At one point she says, “Now that you’ve given me a taste of your honey/I want the whole beehive.” Which might be interesting to her similarly named fans. B’s vocal performance though, is magic, confident, sexy, powerful, soulful and funky. The video is also an orgy of groovy ’70s funk band aesthetics, rivaled in that time period maybe only by Cee Lo’s unheralded classic, “Closet Freak.” Beyonce began her solo career with a bang, deep in Neptunes assisted, Herbie Hancock and James Brown derived funk, channeling strong women like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin and strong men like James Brown. And therein lies my admiration for B, her ability to dominate on funky groove tunes while the whole world thinks R&B is simply about slow love songs. Of course, this is an avenue I’d love to see her pursue more, let Sasha out girl! Now that some 12 years have passed I have to go back on my earlier resistence to this as light funk and put it up there on the one where it belongs. And also, with the time period of Virgo drawing near its end, I have to send a big shot out to the one thing I always dug about the video, namely, the word “Virgo” written across the back of B’s low ride Jeans and her hula hooping. Whew…. we gonna work it out indeed!

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Filed under 1970's, Beyonce', Blogging, Destiny's Child, Funk, Funk Bass, Herbie Hancock, Hip-Hop, Pharrell Willaims

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Andre’s Pick : “Touch” by Omarion

Never ceases to amaze me how much Pharrell Williams was involved in so many of what I feel are the most instrumentally exciting funk of the past decade or so. As one half of The Neptunes with Chad Hugo,Pharrell helped spin musical gold for everyone from Kelis,Justin Timberlake,Jay Z,Snoog Dogg and even Britney Spears. And by 2004 Pharrell on his own was already being singled out as a pie in the sky artist/producer whom,like Quincy Jones before him was able to showcase the connectivity of soul/funk through the post millennial hip-hop era. Then in 2005,Pharrell turned his magic to Omarian,lead singer of the hip-hop/dance boy band B2K,as he released his debut solo album ‘O’ and,most impressively on the song “Touch”.

Follow a soft “huh” by Omarian,the song kicks right into gear at full power. The drum machine kicks out a very percussive Afro-Latin uptempo groove. Layered carefully within this rhythmic bed are two powerful synthesizer lines. One is a higher,almost digitized clavinet style effect playing a complex three chord sequence in very syncopated time. Below that is a very rubbery and flamboyant Moog bass line that has a lot of jazz/blues oriented “blue notes” and is almost played in fast paced be-bop style. As Omarian asks us to get comfortable,he begins to illustrate how he has “visions and fantasies”,and lyrically stays on the one with them throughout the song-illustrating both lyrically along with The Neptunes instrumentation the seductive energy of the song itself.

It was actually my blog-mate here Henrique who first introduced me to this songs several years ago. Having had a musical education that was equal parts Stevie Wonder,Prince,Teena Marie,Steve Winwood and Todd Rundgren? I always had the utmost admiration for musically eloquent multi instrumentalists. This song simply gave me goosebumps when I first heard it. So much so I totally forgot it even had any lyrics to it. The instrumental futurism and complexity of the drum machines and harmonizing lead/bass synthesizer was simply amazing. Especially with the tremendous physical energy and vigor with which it was played. This song revealed itself to me as an outstanding template for modern day,electronically derived instrumental funk. And forever had me digging deep to see what this apparently musically ingenius Pharrell Williams was up to.

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Filed under Funk, Hip-Hop, Omarion, Pharrell Willaims, Quincy Jones, Radio, Stevie Wonder, The Neptunes

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/25/14 Andre’s Pick: “Jerk Ribs” by Kelis

Harlem native Kelis Rogers comes from the area of New York known for its black cultural renaissance of the 1920’s. She comes from a background of both fashion and music-her father Kenneth being a jazz pianist. Over time she developed a flamboyant personality that,while stereotypically getting her in some trouble at different points in her life,has also given her a somewhat rare understanding about the vitality,soul and groove of the music she’s done. Making a name for herself in the millennial transition produced by Pharrell Williams/The Neptunes on songs such as the hugely successful and influential “Milkshake”,Kelis has continued to move forward towards a musical sound that would successfully fuse the music she listened to and loved growing up with contemporary production elements. Realizing perhaps the frustration in trying to achieve that musical fusion, Kelis has opted this time around for the full on live band for her newest album Food and its lead off song release “Jerk Ribs”

It all starts out with this slow,shuffling percussive groove with a bass line that’s lifted directly of the influence of James Brown’s early 70’s musical innovations. In a chocked,dreamy tone of voice,Kelis paints an autobiographic picture of a life growing up where-even during the more difficult late 20th century in Harlem,  the very streets seemed to be wrapped up in musical rhythms. She spoke with great veneration for her father-singing the moving line of “He played the notes and keys/he said to look for melody in everything”. Before each chorus, her horn section plays a melodic fanfare that seems to be calling out to the listener to physically participate before scaling strings introduce the chorus illustrating “it feels just like it should”. As the song goes on, Kelis sings of the bass (note she mentions that first),the brass and strings vibrate through her-stating of it all that “I love everything”. By the end of the song,her happily nostalgic state elevates even to her present day as the fanfare of the horns keeps up steadily until the groove finishes off.

One of the most important things about this song is that it strongly emphasizes the influence on James Brown’s funk music style from Ghanaian “highlife” music from that era. The joyous sounding fanfare of the horns that instrumentally help define this song drip alternately with precision and a strong appreciation for the Afro-Pop interpretation of the blues. The bass line is,as is a signature of funk in general mixed up very high. Its clear Kelis wants it to be known strongly that the electric bass is a key factor to keep a fat bottomed groove strong and vital. In a way this song more eloquently extends on themes her former producer Pharrell has recently coined on his enormously successful “Happy”-the idea that being in a state of joy is a source of strength. In the case of Kelis,the source of her joyful strength comes from the joy of music that was always with her from childhood. Her picturesque imagery of music itself in these lyrics make musical sounds seem like a tangible thing one can wrap themselves around like a blanket. It is the funk/soul groove as a source of love,joy and inner peace. And the more I hear it? The more I realize this song just has to resonnate with many other people on that level-the way it does with me. Truly Kelis’s most powerful musical visitations upon humanity this far.

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Pharrell Willaims, Rhythm, Soul

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’- Rique’s outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation Part Duex

 

 

 

Pharrell Williams recent triumph with an infectious ditty about human joy and the movements of the human spirit is one that fills me with tremendous joy and that I  identify with very personally. I see it as the culmination of a career spent highlighting the spirit enhancing aspects of Black music at a time when darkness was accepted as the norm.

Back in my high school days, my main friends who I referred to as my brothers,  Jesse, Osceola, and Frank use to spend our time before, after, and sometimes during school hours at OC’s house, eating gumbo, cooking, playing bass and discussing and debating how we were to make it in the world.  Often times we looked at the current culture around us, in the days of bling rap and very ignorant music as inadequate to the views we had of ourselves and how we wished our lives to be, not to mention the attitudes we’d inherited from our well meaning parents. The late 1990s seemed to be an extremely long ways away from the vitality we associated with other days of black culture in particular.

Outkast was the closest of any group at the time to who we felt we were. There were many other groups we liked bits and pieces of, but no one captured it as well as them. Then, at some point in 1999 we started to hear another groove. It was electronic, sparse, and FUNKY. It was heard on records like Mase’s “Lookin at Me”, ODB’s “Got Your Money” and “Recognize” and especially Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Then one day out of nowhere, we heard that same beat but we got some vocals, on a track called “Oh No” by Nore, we saw a handsome, carmel skinned brother with throwback aviator shades on, giving an old school hip hop chorus in a falsetto voice. Osceola, ever the sharp eyed visionary, said simply, “I like that dude.”

As the milenium turned, the hits rolled in, like Mystikals James Brown influenced “Shake Ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Bustin Loose” influenced “Hot in Herre”, and several records that referenced The Vanity 6’s eternal Purple Funk classic “Nasty Girls” (“Milkshake”, “Slave”, etc). Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, could give you aural images of Run DMC’s “Sucker M.C’s” on a track like the Clipse’s “Grindin'”, and recall both Cameo and Slave on Snoop Dogg’s “Lets Get Blown.” And Pharrell’s own “Frontin”, may be one of the few R&B love songs that came out in the last decade that I truly identified with, not just as music, but as experience.

The Neptunes music took the black historical sound of funk, and edited it, filtered it through hip hop, and presented it as the hottest party sound of the new milenium. Pharrell’s falsetto, used in the beginning simpy to guide singers on demo’s, recalled Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and many other legends, who I’ve heard him all reference in interviews. I was always amazed at Chad and Pharrells skill at interpolation, building new funk off old funk and making an ahistorical young urban audience accept it as THE THING.

This past year has been one of special triumph, with Daft Punk’s directly late ’70s influenced “Get Lucky”, Robin Thicke’s “Got to Give It Up” tribute “Blurred Lines”, and now, the ’60s get back in the alley groove of “Happy.”

In the black church, the moment of the utmost jubilation, when people speak in tounges and do the holy dance, and the organ and drums begin to vamp, is called “Getting Happy.” Pharrell mentioned on his interview with Oprah that after 9 tries at nailing down a song to represent the joy of the villian on the film “Despicable Me 2”, he finally hit on this groove. He said the chords were gospel, because that’s the aim of gospel music, to get people “happy”, on a profound spiritual level that gives a glimpse of the eternal joy that all religions promise, with the goal of getting people through an often rough existence on this here earth.

Pharrell accomplishes this in the most spiritual, profound way on this song. He has always aimed to make people happy, his litany of dance hits is proof of that, but this  one hits on another level. The ’60s back beat, straight out of the book of Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, is matched with a low down electric piano and bluesy tone. The blues scale is an actual rarity in “R&B” music these days, it seems black musicians RUN from that historic tone. But the triumph of blues music borne of the black experience is the ability to acknowledge sadness while promoting joy. That is why it is universal, because all of humanity seeks that, the combination of reality and hope. Pharrell embraces a bluesy, funky sound with an uplifiting beat that will make your backbone slip into the jerk, the mashed potatoes, and the monkey if you let it!

The R&B singer Tank, when asked about the struggles of R&B in recent years, made some very illuminating comments. He basically said R&B’s obssessive focus on sex and love have limited it. He mentioned “Happy” in particular as a type of song that “used to be R&B.” And it makes me proud that an artist primarily associated with hip hop laid this on the world. The reason is, for all the bad rap (pun intended) hip hop often takes (and gives), I do feel hip hop is the repository of black musical history and musical history in general that no other music is. Songs like “Hey Ya” by Andre 3000, “My Umi Says” by Mos Def, “Sexual Eruption” by Snoop Dogg, even Ol Dirty Basterd’s rendition of “Coldblooded”, reference the past and the fun spirits of past musics in a way few contemporary R&B artists ever attempt.

But the true genius of Pharrell is in his vision and his uniqueness. Pharrell and a handful of other artists, have always made me feel it was okay to be myself and pursue my own path. They brough the spirit I admired in Miles Davis, James Brown, George Clinton, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, etc, into the present day, when most of my peers would tell me, “That was back THEN.” And it is an amazing act for a black male artist at this time to stand up and make the whole world dance singing a song that says “I’m Happy.”

From the beginning, Pharrell understood this song was the people’s song.  I was amazed when he created the worlds first 24 hour music video, with people uploading their own videos dancing to the song, a truly democratic and positive use of current technology! And his song has become so big that the U.N used it as their theme for their “International Day of Happiness.” The video I posted is from Liberia, my mothers home country and a country both of my parents love dearly. Liberia’s main image currently is one of 19 years of one of the most brutal civil wars seen in recent memory.  But this was a country founded as a country of hope for individuals who were not allowed much in their home land. But Pharrell’s song and the “Happy” video show that the human spirit lives on, as it always has. My mother, who usually does not dig the message of many current musics, actually asked me to bring home Pharrell’s album for HER the other day. I often bemoan the fact that todays black music, in contrast to a song such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, is not often something kids and grown ups can share together. How can a consciounable parent bring their kids out to dance at 2 am to “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe?” But “Happy” is most definitely a song that makes both me and my mother dance. I heard another young lady say that she plays that for her kids in the morning when she’s taking them to school. At that, I’ll say Pharrell has made quite a contribution in his time to the never ending, always elusive human quest, and for 3 mintues and 53 seconds at a time, he plants his flag on that tall and distant summit of joy.

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Filed under Motown, Music, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Williams

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’-Andre’s Outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation

It would seem that during 2013,with his involvement in the major hit records of Justin Timberlake,Daft Punk and Robin Thicke,that Pharrell Williams was suddenly everywhere. He is by no means an unknown to the world. Much as with Quincy Jones before him,Pharrell represents a strong symbol of the music producer-as-artist-someone who both maintains a musical stamp all his own yet is able to adapt his sound,along with that of his partnership team The Neptunes to suit the musical flavors everyone from Brittney Spears to Nelly. Earlier this year Pharrell released a single from his then forthcoming album GIRL entitled “Happy”. At first it didn’t have much success. Finally it began to take off in Europe when a music video was released and then its appearance in the Pixar film Despicable Me 2.  Instead of our usual duel song format,Henrique and myself have decided to do a two part special presentation this week. That is due to the suddenly evident importance of this song.

Musically the song kicks into gear with a count down of sorts,using a repeating electric piano chord five times before the a sturdy rock ‘n soul style drum comes in,accompanied by a bluesy electric piano and Pharrell’s smoothly soulful voice declaring “It might seem crazy what I’m about to say”-dipping in and out of his sleek falsetto into his high tenor with great ease. Throughout the song Pharrell describes the emotion of happiness not as a theoretical concept,but as a living entity that has a physical nature he describes as “sunshine,she’s here”-the sun often being a revered symbol for a regal type of joy.  On the chorus of asking “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”,clapping does ensue before a second verse-fading out with the same clapping refrain that began this song to start with.

Instrumentally this song has much of the melodically upbeat and sophisticated atmosphere of 60’s Motown while the stripped down and bluesy funk style of instrumentation also calls to mind both the Muscle Shoals sound of that era as well as the jazz-funk of early 70’s Crusaders. What is most impressive is the nature of this songs massive cultural impact. While trendy songs and dances have always come and gone in the past,even ones that had a message to them,its been a very long time since a song that represented funk and soul’s musically meaningful and sophisticated nature has been such a positive source of inspiration in the post internet world community. This week even Pharrell himself has said to have been moved to tears by seeing many people creating videos of their own to his song-in particular a video created by those of the Muslim faith.

Having lived through almost half of the life cycle of Generation X,Pharell himself has seen many people (in particular in the black community) lose hope and fall into a never never land of hopelessness,despair,cynicism and lack of interest in getting involved. Having seen Pharell interviewed several times myself recently? He is a musically and sociologically grounded man who understands exactly what he is doing. Part of that sight is of a world where a black man in particular seems to have to be edgy and angry to make any sort of difference. Knowing from second hand experience with producing other artists that those conditions tend to feed back on themselves with time? Pharrell declares in this song that he is assuming a quality of happiness-that despite such negative conditions slowly improving around him that he can harness that inner assumption of joy within him to instill those feelings in others. After all,what is more satisfying than feeling genuinely hopeful and optimistic? That’s part of what people need to make conditions in the world better. And Pharell’s song “Happy” appears to be effecting that kind of change in many different people-including myself and my family. I thank Pharrell for his message of goodwill to music lovers everywhere,and hope people continue to heed and take creative inspiration from his vision!

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Filed under Blues, Funk, Jazz, Motown, Pharrell Willaims, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archives for March 22nd,2014-Pharrell Williams ‘GIRL’

Pharrell  Pharrell Williams is one of a scant few who’ve emerged,both on his own and as one half of the Neptunes,that has been striving for musical eloquence in his approach to soul/funk. And as much as I admire the uniquely vital musicality of the artists I’m about to mention,for Pharrell finding that sound for himself has been largely dipping into the often under explored well of the post James Brown/pre-Prince funk era-which would encompass approximately 1977-1980. When I first heard his music with NERD,it deep seem that one challenge Pharrell might be facing in the long run was a tendency to be too self consciously eclectic in terms of his musical approach. If rhythmic and instrumental diversity flow through you organically,that’s fine. However if one is just doing it to fit in or be critically credible,it can eat up ones creativity from within. I am still not sure in Pharrell’s case here where he came from in that regard. What I do know is that last year his productions for Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience,Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and of course the Grammy winning Daft Punk album Random Access Memories demonstrated that Pharrell was strongly re-introducing pre hip-hop era funk aesthetics back into the modern soul/R&B framework. So when I learned just under a week ago he was releasing his first solo album in many years,I was very excited to hear how this funky revelation as a producer would effect his own music.

“Marilyn Monroe” begins the album with a very insistent bass/guitar oriented dance funk groove that’s bought further to life by some sumptuously soulful string arrangements. “Brand New”,featuring Justin Timberlake’s showcases the similarity in Timberlake’s and Pharrell’s approach to a groove: again in this case a very thick African inspired percussion part with a lot of breaks and slippery,catchy melodies,and of course some wonderfully bright and fan-faring horns. “Hunter” is one of my very favorite pieces on this album. It has a very thick and metallic bass line and a very steady percussive flavor which recalls some of the deepest and most authentically funk oriented songs one could ever imagine. “Gush” and “Gust Of Wind”,featuring Daft Punk on vocorder, showcase how perfectly comfortable Pharrell is in the milieu of that late 70’s disco era funk sound-when the genre’s uptempo music was retreating from the “4 on the floor” stereotype into the more streamlined and sleeker productions and instrumentation. The sounds of Chic and even the somewhat lesser known funk band Slave are all over these songs from top to bottom-along with Pharrell’s strong adhesion to staying eternally on the one. “Happy”,the big soundtrack hit from this album is a lively uptempo soul number strongly recalling the mid 60’s uptempo soul vibe of Arthur Conley and such-especially with it’s clever outlook on human emotion with it’s chorus of “Clap your hands if you feel like happiness is the truth”. “Lost Queen” goes for melding a modern hip-hop arrangement with a South African folk styled focus and percussion arrangement. Personally? I don’t really feel the meld takes on this particular musical fusion.

“Know Who You Are” is a strongly crafted and instrumentally thick soul/funk/pop number featuring a duet with Alicia Keys. Keys,not known much these days for doing live instrumental uptempo tunes,shines like a glistening crystal on this song. The last number “It Girl” features a somewhat cooler approach to the same sound,and a jazzier one at that with an instrumental electric piano section closing out the final minute or so from the song. This album completely succeeds on almost every level instrumentally. By focusing on studio production of live instrumentation,Pharrell has actually broadened his musical horizons as a solo artist quite significantly. And his non stop focus on funk,percussive rhythms and new ways of re inventing melody on this album fully explores his true musical heart. As wonderfully colorful as the funk on this album is? It is by no means a near perfect masterpiece. Sometimes,if you can imagine it Pharrell stays on the one a bit too much on some songs. This gives the effect of being more like a digitized skipping record than a fluid live band (even though that is present here quite a bit) now and then. And though he does approach the subject eloquently on many occasions,Pharrell’s constant skirt chasing here also drags on which,in the case of me being a very commitment minded homosexual is sometimes downright lyrically un-relatable. But even if one is emphasizing this albums flaws,its definitely a step in the right direction if we’re talking about funk functioning in the contemporary musical idiom. And definitely another feather in Pharrell’s musical cap and for a second time in his career,doing it with himself as the star of the show.

Originally Posted On March 4th,2014

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Amazon.com, Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Soul