Beating his own game

Pharrell stops making beats for others, and keeps ’em for his solo debut

by Sara Nicole Miller

Best known as the flashy, squeaky-sounding guy from the duo The Neptunes, Pharrell Williams is no doubt a musical mogul when it comes to producing phat beats and infectious, heavy drum lines.

He is, after all, the man who brought you Jay-Z’s “Change Clothes,” Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U” and Justin Timberlake’s “Justified.” But after turning that curly-haired teen-Ken doll from *NSYNC into a dripping sex god, Pharrell decided to spill his mind (and his libido) on a solo album.

This isn’t the first time he has strayed from the producer role to sing and spit out rhymes. Pharrell, along with fellow producer Chad Hugo and friend Shae Thorton, formed the drum and bass, alternative hip-hop trio N.E.R.D. The trio released two platinum albums in 2002 and 2004, “In Search OfĂ–” and “Fly or Die.”

On “In My Mind,” Pharrell’s debut solo album, the heavy peppering of percussion and freak-mode falsetto that makes up trademark Pharrell fuses with nostalgic, sampled melodies frequently heard in vintage hip-hop. Half soul-pop R&B and half bubbly hip-hop jams, the tracks include collaborations with artists such as Gwen Stefani, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg.

He whips out his fair share of wooing-and-cooing, nooky-time preludes and viscous bedtime jams in all their synthesized splendor.

While his bouncy hip-hop tracks make for a jubilee of introspective boasting and predictable cattle-calling, he does perform well as an MC. His delivery is sharp, animated and well-poised. And there are some moments of witty, self-reflective lyricism that his unabashed ego doesn’t completely drone out.

Most of the album, such as the song “Angel,” is charming and intriguing enough to enjoy – just don’t expect a rap masterpiece to unfold before you.

There are a few tracks that come off as tacky and chauvinistic. For example, in his song titled “You Can Do It Too” – an inspirational, lazy-funk ditty encouraging young men to pursue their ambitions – he attempts to create a sympathetic and meaningful message. But he undermines the track by creating a crass imagery of his success as measured through an act of fellatio. The result is a tasteless and overcooked melodramatic ballad.

The album’s aftertaste can be even better understood in light of viewing the fold-out album photo showing a cheeky Pharrell posed under palm trees in the California twilight.

Pharrell is clad head-to-toe in one of his two cartoon-like clothing lines, Ice Cream and Billionaire Boys Club, and wearing a gaudy bling necklace with a design that resembles three tweeked-out Lego figurines. The outfit, like the album, is colorful and showy, but behind the bling, there’s not much there. “In My Mind” testifies to the fact that Pharrell is no longer a N.E.R.D. but not yet a man.