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3. Pharrell – In My Mind – Once you listen to ‘In My Mind’ without tbe expectation of fifteen tracks of ‘Hot in Herre’ and ‘Milkshake’ and instead, enter into this new-age, Micheal Jackson, rap/soul trance, you realize that Pharrell made some kind of misunderstood masterpiece. Pharrell isn’t a great rapper or singer, but it all works. He says witty things and sincere personal things (he was in marching band, he longs for teenagers, he masturbates with bras). The album sounds like you’re in Pharrell’s brain which is exactly what the title suggests.The feeling is, Pharrell doesn’t seem to be worried about looking lame or seeming weird. R. Kelly and Cody Chesnutt are the only r & b singers I can think of that seem perfectly okay with singing totally weird shit that is at least half-serious. If you look at the inner sleeve (the one that holds the record) of ‘Thriller’ you’ll see these two bizarre Daniel Johnston-esque sketches drawn by Micheal Jackson. I think Pharrell touches some of that un-self conscious weirdness on ‘In My Mind’. Most r & b singers, oddly enough, are less soul-bearing and emotional than rappers. Just about every singer fully inhabits some infallible “mack” persona, where the only thing they ever sing about is getting girls. Usher’s ‘Confessions’ may have been “soul-bearing” and maybe truly confessional, but he was basically confessing to cheating and a sex addiction; while in confessional mode, he’s still bragging because its still about getting-with women. Pharrell recounts a story in ‘That Girl’ about wanting to take a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas but the girl is disinterested. In one way, it’s Pharrell just bragging even as he’s being dumped (he has money to randomly fly to Vegas) but it’s also about how sad it is when someone loses enthusiasm or can’t be spontaneous. This is the same song that has the simple phrase “but it wasn’t like that, back when I met her” which pretty much sums up how everything eventually turns shitty. Rappers get so much crap for being misogynist or self-serious but they are a lot more apt to be emotional, confess, or make themselves look kind of like losers. Although it seems to be hated on, ‘Girl’ by Paul Wall is the perfect example of the kind of sad soul song that r & b singers never touch anymore.

Pharrell’s on some kind of deconstructive trip with the production and track sequencing, totally blurring the lines between hardcore rap and soft r & b and showing how the two are weirdly connected. The album is conceptually muddled in that there is not a true rap side and r & b side, but that makes sense. What even constitutes rapping and singing on ‘In My Mind’? Are ‘Best Friend’ and ‘You Can Do It Too’ rap songs? There isn’t an answer to that question, that’s the point. The general movement into soul begins with ‘Best Friend’ and is in full-effect by ‘Angel’ but is complicated when we get Pharrell singing on songs that have rappers-guests like Jay-Z and Pusha-T. It’s all muddled in a good way. Pharrell is wise to return the album in the direction of rap for ‘Number One’ and ‘Skateboard P Shows You How to Hustle’ because the album suffers something of a lull after ‘Young Girl/I Really Like You’ particularly through the just plain-gross ‘Take It Off’. So yeah, I can’t really front and say this album is perfect, but I do think it is really weird in a really good way, not in a “Pharrell has lost his mind” way as some think (Pitchfork gave it a 3.9!). When Andre 3000 channels Prince or Funkadelic, everything about it is derivative. Pharrell’s debt to M.J is pretty huge but by refusing to reject all of his rap qualities, Pharrell comes off sounding original even when it’s clear he’s stealing from M.J. I recall an interview on 92Q around the time ‘In My Mind’ was released. Pharrell described the album as being an album full of tracks like ‘Human Nature’; presumably meaning, no obvious hits. That’s a better explanation of ‘In My Mind’ than I can think up, it just depends on how excited or scared you are of an album of 15 tracks that sound like ‘Human Nature’.

Written by Brandon

December 24th, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Posted in 2006, In My Mind, Pharrell