When famed New York publisher Rizzoli approached rapper, record producer, composer and fashion designer Pharrell Williams to produce a book; “The one thing I said to Rizzoli was that I couldn’t do a book about me,” the ‘Happy’ star recalls, his face straining as he emphasises the word couldn’t.
“The only way I wanted to do a book was to make it about the people who have influenced me along the way, which afforded me the opportunity to speak passionately about something other than myself.”
Williams’ book, ‘Places and Spaces I’ve Been’, is a dissection – a truthful and passionate insight into all of the people, places and things that have shaped and influenced a man who is arguably one of this generation’s greatest influencers.
“One of the things that is particularly inspiring to me the functionality of things versus just the aesthetic. So many people focus on the surface level of things and that becomes boring to me,” says Williams. “Some people forget about the importance of the silhouette, the DNA and the structure of something, like what makes something what it is.”
The 250-page book includes contributions by internationally recognised luminaries from an array of industries and backgrounds, including Jay-Z, American Vogue’s Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and artist Takashi Murakami.
“It’s been a journey,” says Williams when asked about how he chose which voices were to be heard – or read - in his book. “Honestly I don’t know how we ended up choosing the ones we did, there are so many people who have influenced me. This book is about the people who have been incredible mentors.”
The conversation then shifts from his mentors to music to philosophy to how he stays inspired. Unsurprisingly, he has a great deal to say and much of it is profound. He speaks with passion, knowledge, and always with respect.
“Our lives are mosaics and each tile is a moment. How can we say which one has the most importance? We are all a work in progress.” In the end, he managed to slice it down to a clean 15 for ‘Places and Spaces I’ve Been’.
“What we represent is individuality, we celebrate people not being separated from the masses but who go out looking,” Williams explains, his voice gradually rising with enthusiasm. “Experience is the new wealth. That’s what you can take with you. You can’t take all the things that are tangible. If you listen to science, the sages of old, matter is an illusion. Under a microscope, all these things are wispy fluff. Not to get all philosophical on you.”
It’s phenomenal what Williams has achieved in the span of his career and he continues to face forward with an unyielding curiosity and an infectious energy.
I asked if there was anyone he would want to speak with, dead or alive, that he hasn’t had a chance to yet. His answer came out like a reflex – like a bullet I had just pulled the trigger to and rather unexpected – God.
“The closest thing to God in its purest form is electricity. That’s what activates everything in the universe. We are units made up of 85 percent water and everything else is flesh. We are conduits of electricity,” he states philosophically. “The closest representation to what God is like is a collective consciousness, like the Internet; the billions of people out there are a massive unit of awareness. I equate God to that massive unit of awareness, to electricity, to the Universe, and I also equate it to love.”
It seemed somewhat surreal that on this particular rainy night, here was Pharrell openly sharing with me his deeper thoughts and beliefs.
“I could be on a corner begging. But instead, here I am standing in an alleyway, in a state of delirium, answering questions about things you don’t need to care about.”
I’m taken aback.
“But you do. And for that, I’m thankful.”