None of my recent successes was my idea, says Pharrell Williams

The rapper shares some wisdom while signing limited-edition adidas sneakers in Sandton

02 December 2018 - 00:00
By Andrea Nagel
Pharrell Williams believes Africa is in his DNA.
Image: Getty Images / Brian Bowen Smith Pharrell Williams believes Africa is in his DNA.

If you want some advice on how to be Happy, US rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur and fashion designer Pharrell Williams is the man to ask, and he won't tell you to "clap along if you feel like a room without a roof".

The man radiates good vibes, as the throng of fans who showed up to see him in Sandton City last Saturday will attest.

Williams was in town for the Global Citizen concert, which took place at FNB Stadium last Sunday. During a busy weekend he took time out to launch his latest collaboration with adidas, the adidas Originals limited new colourway of BYW LVL X (which retail at R3,999).

Sneakerheads were up early to be the first in line as the shop opened - the first 10 shoppers to buy a pair would win a seat at an interview with Williams and a chance to get their kicks signed by him.

The new shoes were launched in SA ahead of the global launch, allowing local sneaker enthusiasts to get their hands on a pair before the rest of the world.

Williams opened the interview by saying he feels Africa is in his DNA, and he believes it's high time pop culture became more inclusive of African people.

"I want to see beautiful dark-skinned human beings in popular culture and I want to use my platform to showcase that beauty," he said.

I want to see beautiful dark-skinned human beings in popular culture and I want to use my platform to showcase that beauty
Pharrell Williams

"I'm so influenced by my African brothers and sisters, and I wanted to get into the running arena, and what better way to do it than by also looking to the Kenyan marathon runners for inspiration?

"I want to use my collaboration with adidas to shed light on other cultures that have an interesting history to share. I did the same thing with Native American culture. I want to lift those that deserve elevation just like everybody else."

Williams then stopped the interview to ask what music was playing in the background. "Gqom," came a chorus from the influencers invited to meet him.

"I gotta get me some of that," he said.

Pharrell William adidas Originals limited-edition BYW LVL X, R3,999.
Image: Supplied Pharrell William adidas Originals limited-edition BYW LVL X, R3,999.

He continued: "Young people today have so many choices available to them, unlike their parents, who grew up offline, so the way older folks look at things is very analogue. Kids now do not have to choose one interest.

"What's the difference between an interest and a job?" he asked. "Your job must start with an interest and if it doesn't, you should not be doing it. In fact, ask yourself what your favourite hobby is and find a job connected to that. Then ask yourself if there's a way you can service humanity. If you can do those things in your life, don't look back."

Then he added with characteristic humility: "If you want to be really good at something, hang around people who are better at it than you - they'll sharpen you up."

Williams doesn't take all the credit for his worldwide success: "There's no room for ego. It's a scary thing because it creeps up on you and muddies your decisions. The way to see through it is to ask yourself if you are putting other people before yourself. If you do, you will make sound decisions."

Pharrell Williams among his fans in Sandton City last Saturday.
Image: Supplied Pharrell Williams among his fans in Sandton City last Saturday.

Last year Williams launched a new song, 100 Years, that will be released in 2117, when, climate change permitting, the water-soluble clay disc on which it's stored will be retrieved from its resting place. The project was conceived to highlight the threats posed by climate change and is central to Williams's personal commitment to responsibility and legacy.

"When I turned 40 I realised that everything I'd done before was done purely out of vanity. I compared myself to my peers and said 'Yes, I've done that too'. But at the end of the day, none of that matters. The universe tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a bunch of success that I hadn't predicted," he said.

"It humbled me and I didn't look at anything the same afterwards. The universe is bigger than me - I set out intentions and when they're successful I don't think it's because of me.

"I'm successful because of my fans, because of the broadcasters, the media, online, supporters, even the naysayers - these are the forces that really determine what happens to your stuff.

"There are people singing on the street corner who make way better music than me," he said. "None of my recent success was my idea. I was asked to write a song for Despicable Me. It took me more than 10 attempts to get it right. The Robin Thicke song [Blurred Lines] wasn't mine, but it kept being attributed to me. I kept getting all this success that I did not forecast. It made me look past myself and say, It was never me. I am just a participant in a long chain of events."

So what's next for this man who seems to be able to do anything?

"There's a lot of stuff, but I hate talking about things before they happen - music, growing partnership with adidas - using the collaboration to elevate people and help them be the best they can be. We want to offer people a health ultimatum: did I run that extra lap last night? Am I going to do the extra reps this morning?"

With that last thought hanging in the air, Williams was ready to meet his fans. He spent the morning signing precious kicks and letting his particular brand of happy rub off on his fans outside.